Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Rural India

Creating Brands For Rural India

By Harish Bijoor

I spent the first four years of my career entirely in rural markets. I used every mode of travel to enter into the gut and gore of the slice of market I had the privilege to look after. The bullock-cart, the camel-driven cart and the boat were all means to penetrate a terrain no MBA in his right mind wanted to. Dirty rat-infested lodges, police-raids that had me ashamed of my neighbours in the rooms around and food that had me running to the nearby field even in broad daylight are tales my early life in the rough and tumble of Indian marketing is made of.

These four years taught me one thing clearly! There are two Indias! Real India and Virtual India!

Real India was this piece of terrain I sold tea, coffee, spices and condoms to. It was a big chunk of the land mass. It occupies bulk of the landmass and houses 742 million people as of now! It is populous, multi-cultural and multi-faceted. India started here. This is the residence of the arts, the culture, the food, the ethnic fashion, the agricultural practice, the nuance of language and diction and everything else that we in Urban India have morphed to our needs as of today. Remember, in the very beginning there was no urban at all! It was all rural! All real!

Virtual India was where I came from. Virtual India was where I was shaped into a being capable of commercial, social and cultural existence. The size of pie of land I came from was an urban island of sorts. An aberration even! The populace that lives here comprised a fourth of the size of the population of India on the whole.

There sure was a Matrix at play! While politics of the nation was governed largely by what Real India had to say, government policy did not necessarily tread the very same path. There was this huge gap in understanding what was right for the masses and what was politically expedient. In the bargain, policy was hijacked by the politician.

While politics was the domain of the politician and the bureaucrat that ran the nation in many ways, commerce was largely played in the very same way. Till the wave of liberalization set in. And when this happened, Indian businesses actually steered Virtual India. What’s more, Virtual India took charge of the way Real India was to be run as well.

And in Virtual India, the businesses that dictate the soap that needs to be placed in your toilet and the detergent in your bathroom and the cooking gas in your kitchen, actually ran Real India.

Real India is today run by Virtual India. The largest part of land-mass and the larger part of the population base is controlled in many-many ways by the way the urban man in urban India wants it run. A true blue hegemony of the Urban Indian!

Remember again that all marketing men and their kin in advertising, market research and branding are mostly urban souls. Many in disguise as well!

Real India (read as: rural India henceforth) is fast morphing to the needs, wants, desires and aspirations discovered by the urban man. Television as a medium has created awareness, a raging interest in brands, a latent desire to consume and possess what is shown on the not-such-an-idiot-afterall-box! Television has spurred on consumptive action and has acted as a brand consumption catalyst in many ways. And television has continually shown us images that make everything Urban desirable and everything Rural as something that is basic….too basic!

Look keenly at the statistics that tell us the growth of urbanization. In 1951 we had 2,843 Urban Agglomerations(UA) and towns. Today, the number is close to 4000! The Urban population in 1951 stood at 17.3 per cent of total. Today, the number is a proud and unidimensional 27.8 per cent! In the last fifty years, we have had what I would call creeping urbanization. In the next fifty, it is time to expect a galloping rate! Thanks to television…and thanks fundamentally to the Brand movement, which is poised to make a big movement in the heart and hearth of the rural dweller!

The two Indias mean two sets of peoples. The rural man, woman, child, dog and cat for a start! Remember, dog-food and cat-food companies will definitely want to invade the vast rural hinterland sometime in the future for sure!

How then does one go about creating brands for the rural person in the rural dwelling?

There are two ways really. The first is the insensitive way most marketers have adopted to date. The second is a more sensitive rendering of what marketers and brand-evangelists in the future could adopt.

The first is really the easy way. Pioneer marketers in rural areas used it to good advantage. Take the urban brand,

1) Tweak the product a wee bit (read: make it rustic, rugged and even lower-quality if necessary),

2) Lower the price (read: offer inferior grade teas to the rural market and superior grades to the urban one in the same brand),

3) Extend the brand to Low Unit Packs (read: lower unit packs will be cheaper in price and inferior in quality as well. Higher unit packs will take in superior quality. Urban markets use High unit packs and rural markets use LUPs)

4) Modify the packaging marginally (read: add the brand name in Hindi and four other prominent vernaculars)

5) Advertise (read: Take the English rendering of the standard urban storyboard and make a film in Hindi. Take this film and dub it in the vernacular. Never mind the lip sync even….in the early days!)

6) Promote (Read: Use Cinema widely. Use wall-site paintings. Sponsor the local boat race and the temple festival alike! Use rural publicity vans to percolate the brand message through television sets that would carry a VCR and a large-format screen as well)

7) Market Research (Read as: find out more about the rural dweller. Use the intrusive and alien questionnaire format to find out more. Use probes of every kind. Use the focus group at times if you are feeling particularly qualitative in your yearnings for data.)

The easy way is the insensitive way to create and build brands in the rural markets that still remain on the landscape. My clarion call: Forget the easy way you have used all these years. Take the tough route of branding in the rural market. Preserve rural India and what it represents. Bring back pride to rural India in terms of what it has to offer in its multi-variable format.

But why? Is this a return to socialism? A form of retro-appeal? Of retro-fashion?

No, the logic is strong enough for us to pursue the new rules of branding for rural India. For one, take the case of the fertilizer and pesticide situation.

In the very beginning, all of India was organic. We grew everything we did to cater to a population size that was manageable without the use of pesticides and fertilizers. Natural organic manure and very innovative natural practices that used plant and animal waste distinguished the agricultural practices of India.

And then came the revolution everyone wanted. The men in the Gandhi caps (except Gandhiji of course) wanted a bigger yield from the land and the cow and the factory alike. Practices morphed and India became yet another dumping ground for the pesticide and fertilizer that came from far and near. The countryside morphed. Yields doubled.

The year is 2003! The world is discovering health and the joy of consuming the organic produce. It’s back to nature…the pure way! And India has lost it! Imagine a situation where India could emerge as a 100 per cent producer of the organic product! And remember still that the organic produce today commands a premium in the key consumption markets of the world! We lost it!

The rural terrain we still boast of can be preserved. I seek a sensitivity among the marketing man. A sensitivity that promises not to harm commercial intent, which is the salient driving force of all business intent. A sensitivity that could well carve out for the marketing man a commercial space one can be truly proud of.

The case I present in this piece therefore, is a case that seeks to preserve the sanctity of Rural India and discover commerce and sense in it all! A plea to really stop this one-sided movement that seeks to make the rural man a consumptive animal of cornflake and dog biscuit alike!

Create brands keeping in mind rural imperatives then. Here goes the ideal rural brand map. My ultimate want as a Marketing man.

1.Reverse-engineered brands:

Rural markets are different than the urban. Understanding is the key point. Reverse-engineer the brand quite unlike what we have done in the past. Go to the rural market and find out its wants, needs, aspirations, dreams and expectations. Go and meet up with a million villagers and create the product that is relevant to their needs. Stop depending on research numbers that run in the hundreds and a few thousands at the best!

Ask the rural man what he wants. Engineer the product and the brand appeal and get back to him for a ratification. This time round as well, go back to the million hearts you reached out the first time to. Show it to him. Get it ratified. Insulate it all from the urban paradigm you have operated thus far within.

2. The name itself:

Seek out the vernacular. Seek out the different. Seek out the name that is futuristic for sure, but seek it out in the ethos of the land the brand will sell within. Seek it out within the social milieu it will swim in.

And don’t pass value judgment on the name that you seek out wearing tinted urban glares! And this goes for the slogan, the colour, and every component of brand appeal you will build for your brand of biscuit or bubblegum or bottle-cleaner or whatever!

3. The glitz and glamour of the advertising execution:

Tread carefully here. Don’t for heaven’s sake decimate rural dress, culture, lingua franca, habit and rustic appeal. The point is to preserve and not decimate. Preserve and not clonalize!

Watch out for the attitude that you covey. Look carefully for those hidden meanings that the hegemony of the urban marketer has cultivated in all of us. Take it through a thorough check and weed out the urban bias with a candour that will come more out of practice than upbringing and education.

The fashion statement, the habit burr and the style-irreverence modern advertising seeks to throw at the viewer in the marketplace can on most occasions swim against the tide of social acceptance. Watch out for these signs and avoid them like the SARS!

4. Do a consciously aggressive rural job:

Generations of wrong advertising and marketing norm has punctured the ego of the rural market for a while now. Go out there into the rural market with a passion to set right these wrongs. Do such an aggressive job on it that you will make rural a fashion statement even! Enough to make the urban man sit up and want to ape!!

Position the rural ethos right. Position it uniquely with a yen to create a differentiation that is truly a world apart. Very few developed economies can boast a size of rural population that is multi-variegated as ours! Use it to advantage!

5.Packaging Right:

Look for the ways and means that packaging will deliver freshness and maintain equity with the environment as well!

The plastic revolution we witness today in urban markets is proving to be disaster! Fortunately for India, this revolution is as yet at a nascent stage in our rural markets. Imagine what would happen if the key issues of disposal were to affect three fourths a mass larger than it affects today in the country! The problem would multiply by a factor of four! Avoid this altogether and invent for the rural market forms of packaging that will be close to the environment we want to gift to our grandchildren marketers!

Break away from the quality differentiation standards adopted by the modern marketer for Urban and Rural marketer. No apartheid here dear marketer! Equal money must deserve equal value!

6. The Price and Promotion Mechanics:

The rural consumer has been through the throes of the games the urban marketer has played in terms of price and promotion. The rural dweller is tired really of collecting those inane sets of combs and tumblers and calendars alike.

The rural consumer needs to be approached with a savvy sense of understanding his needs. Is it value that he seeks? If so what kind of value? Is it a value dictated by price? By quality? By quantity? Or by appeal? Functional or Emotional?

Creating brands for rural India is a science that will require many ardent students who are willing to participate in this great big task of doing the different thing altogether in branding. It will require quite a bit of swimming against the tide of all that we have done in marketing in the past. It will require decimating many a myth. It will demand many years of hard work, something the urban marketer will find daunting.

The rural market for brands is a powder keg of an opportunity waiting to be explored……not exploited! The traditional means of taking the urban brand and its appeal into the rural heartland will only destroy the fragile rural mind and milieu.

I really hope the harm has not already been done! If it has, I rest my case…..a defeated soul in search of the ideal rural market!

The author is a brand-domain specialist and CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc. with a consulting presence in Hong Kong, London and the Indian sub-continent.


Mobile: +91 98440 83491

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good fill someone in on and this post helped me alot in my college assignement. Thanks you for your information.