In rural India, mobile handset penetration is much higher than TV. This leaves brands with no option but to use the mobile medium creatively to reach this rather large segment of consumers on a ‘one to one’ basis
In 2013, a mobile radio made waves across the globe. We’re talking of Hindustan Unilever’s (HUL) Kan Khajura Tesan (KKT), which was aimed at media dark regions, especially Bihar and Jharkhand. KKT provided free entertainment to people who gave a missed call to a given number, which also promoted HUL’s numerous brands.
KKT wasn’t the only one. From 2011 to 2015, calong with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation worked in Bihar to reduce child mortality, improve maternal health and reduce infectious diseases through its campaign, Ananya. One of the initiatives was Mobile Kunji which reached its beneficiaries through mobile, since traditional media wasn’t going to work in targeted areas.
Mobile seems to be a simple answer to connect effectively with the otherwise media-disconnected rural audience, while their metro counterparts are spoilt for choice with an overload of entertainment on traditional and digital mediums.
Customers in rural markets may not have access to television sets, desktops or newspapers, but they are highly likely to own a mobile phone and that’s where a brand’s communication needs to be present. A mobile-first strategy also equips a business with highly enriched customer-centric data which can be used for future brand building initiatives, and for product refinement and enhancing the targeting approach.
The numbers speak for themselves. According to Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, currently there are 499 million mobile subscribers in rural India (June, 2017) of which 109 million users own smartphones. Furthermore, 47 million use mobile internet (IAMAI and Kantar IMRB’s Mobile Internet Report 2016). As brands take the mobile route to reach and engage their target audience in rural areas, it is clear that innovation is the need of the hour.
Dalveer Singh, head of experiential marketing APAC at Dialogue Factory (a WPP company), says, “India is a scattered market wherein unlike top cities, there are about six lakh villages which are not only media dark but lack proper infrastructure as well.” As the urban market gradually reaches saturation, rural geographies are increasingly becoming the destination of choice for brands to ensure growth and traction. A large portion of rural-driven marketing campaigns are mobile-first, which are then complemented by billboards, wall paintings, and other OOH marketing initiatives for an omni-channel experience.
“Rural markets in India account for 60% of the new mobile subscription growth. This figure itself demonstrates the strengths of being mobile-first in rural geographies which are typically media dark,” points out Ambika Sharma, founder and MD at Pulp Strategy. And typically, mobile campaigns in rural India involve some variant or the other of the ‘missed call’ phenomenon.
For instance, Colgate-Palmolive (India) Limited which has low unit packs across its mass sub-brands and also has a low priced sub-brand Cibaca that caters to the rural consumer, launched the ‘Pocket Dentist’ initiative (Jul 1, 2016 to Dec 31, 2017). It is Colgate’s mobile ring-back service providing access to dental care information in rural India.
“From a communication perspective, we have through-the-year initiatives which are a combination of local media, digital and mobile targeting, OOH and participation in haats and melas. With high penetration of mobiles especially in rural India, we run a number of campaigns that leverage this touchpoint,” says a Colgate-Palmolive (India) Limited spokesperson, adding, “With growing connectivity, increasing smartphone penetration and data adoption, mobile-first will definitely be a key strategy to reach the rural TG.”
Sunil Kataria, business head — India and SAARC, Godrej Consumer Products Limited (GCPL) concurs that mobile is the only medium that allows for personalisation and geo-targeting. “For example, in the ongoing Fast Card mobile OBD (outbound dialing) campaign in rural parts of Maharashtra, we are geo-targeting consumers in relevant districts to deliver customised messages for stronger engagement,” Kataria shares. Rural markets contribute Rs 1,500 crore to GCPL’s topline revenue. The biggest strength is the sheer reach and affordability of the mobile medium. With smartphones becoming more affordable, consumers now have a handheld device that allows brands to experiment beyond SMS-led messaging.
Falling on deaf ears?
As is anyone’s guess, the pattern of mobile usage differs starkly across rural and urban populations. While services such as emails, social networking and online shopping are prevalent in urban India, entertainment in the form of video and audio content drives internet consumption in rural parts of the country. “Rural India has leapfrogged to mobile technology with lower penetration of computers,” highlights Zenith and Performics.Resultrix group CEO Tanmay Mohanty.
For brands to replicate the relatability of word of mouth through a medium like mobile has its set of shortcomings too. Sharma says, “Rural geographies are home to about two-thirds of India’s 1.3 billion strong population. Yet, this high-potential segment largely remains out of bounds for businesses due to its inherent dispersed nature.” One of the biggest issues is that rural areas have to be targeted with specific strategies, as they are primarily more receptive to and prefer regional languages — which poses a significant problem considering the cultural diversity in India.
Singh goes on to add that a marketer needs to keep the 4Ms in mind to ensure that a campaign is successful — a brand needs to be very clear on which ‘markets’ it wants to capture, what is the exact ‘message’ it wants to deliver, the best ‘medium’ to use, and lastly, how does it plan to ‘measure’ its impact/reach.
What also poses a problem for brands, especially FMCG, to reach women consumers in the rural set-up is the fact that the ratio between male to female mobile internet users is 75:25.
“Literacy still continues to be a challenge, hence consumers are apprehensive about clicking on links that they might receive on their phones if they can’t understand the context,” highlights Arvind Nevatia, national head, consumer marketing, Vodafone India which has over 50% rural consumers. Hence, the solution is to move to a more audio-visual delivery on mobile. The simple act of moving from text-based messages to visual messages increases the conversion by 1.5 times. And all is not lost. Due to the government’s outreach programme on Digital India, a lot of consumers are now aware of possibilities that the internet offers. One can foresee an inflection point coming soon, when rural consumers will discover and try digital services on their own.
Size of rural marketing in India
- Rural marketing grew by 10-12% in FY17 over FY16
- Digital media outpaced traditional forms, growing 50% in FY17 over FY16
- Rural markets account for 60% of the new mobile subscription growth India to reach 1.2 billion mobile subscribers by 2020
- Ad spends on mobile form more than half of the estimated Rs 7,300 cr digital media ad spends
Source: Zenith and Performics.Resultrix