By: M G Parameswaran
There was a time when city-bred marketers looked down at rural consumers with green-tinted lenses. Their country brethren were pictured as less educated, less sophisticated, less exposed and by and large, less savvy consumers. When I visited my grandfather’s village Melarkode, Kerala, two decades ago (yes, I know that Kerala villages are not really villages), I discovered that while the home we visited did not have a built in lavatory, it had a colour TV and a VCR. Interestingly, when I visited the same village last year, not only did I see a lot of development from the sanitation aspect, roads and houses, I even spotted a Mercedes Benz.
That is the new rural consumer of India — matching aspirations and desires with their urban cousins! So if you are looking at marketing to rural Indian consumers, you may have to reexamine some old myths:
- A rural consumer is less knowledgeable about products and services
No, she knows as much as her urban cousin.
- A rural consumer cannot afford to pay for sophisticated products/services, so you need to dilute the offering
No, the rural consumer wants exactly what is sold in an urban centre. She can afford to pay for the product if she sees value.
- A rural consumer lives in a media dark environment and needs communication in traditional and non-traditional ways
Not anymore. Most parts of India are today covered by satellite television. Doordarshan has distributed its Free Dish all over India. And internet is progressively reaching rural hinterlands. So, the rural consumer is no longer living in the dark ages. And there can be many more such myths that need to be relooked and rehashed.
I may have oversimplified the situation. Yes, some parts of India are still media dark. But as road connectivity improves, the rural consumer will become more connected to urban centres.
Brands that are adopting a mobile-first strategy to reach rural will also need to reevaluate their strategy as the power situation and DD Free Dish penetration improves, and the cost of mobile message delivery moves up in rural India. Mobile-first worked when there was no other medium available; that may not be true for long.
It is interesting to draw a parallel between rural economy and what we observe in urban India. In every large town of India, there are pockets of poor income households that are no different from the rural poor. But these consumers are categorised as urban, for all practical purposes. I suspect, in a similar vein we should see the rural consumer as nothing but an urban consumer living in a serene surrounding with fields, trees and now even a toilet inside the house.
The author is founder, Brand-Building.com