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Hoping for new light in `media dark` India

India's vast "media dark" rural market is the recipient of something new: empathy from urban marketers.

Rural India is the real India, rural marketers have grown hoarse telling us. Yet, few of India’s marketing success stories seem to come from the vast rural heartland everyone talks about. Could that be changing?

Telecom marketers hope so. Not only service providers, but handset companies also. If India is to ever get close to China’s mobile penetration, its rural consumers who’ll have to sign on in droves. And they’re tough nuts to crack.

“It’s no secret that volumes for companies come from rural areas, but implementing strategies there can be a tough task,” says Priya Monga, business head, RC&M, a unit which has done rural work for companies like Mahindra & Mahindra, GM, Marico and Parle.

Much of rural India is “media dark” — in the sense of lying beyond its reach. But that’s just one constraint among many. There’s sometimes a rigid power matrix to negotiate. Often, just as much as establishing contact with the female consumer is a huge challenge.

Thankfully, there’s always a way. Nobody, for example, ever said that the contact must be door-to-door or even face-to-face. Even without media, indirect relationships can be built (as cinema did long before the media explosion).

Says Monga, “ Mobile exhibits and street plays are one of the most used rural marketing techniques — as it helps deliver the message in an attractive and powerful manner.”

Aiming for the male, as insurers do, is much easier. “As urban markets saturate,” says Gary Bennett, CEO, Max New York Life, “the business will come from the rural hinterland.”

To his mind, the rural success formula entails the creation of products designed specifically for rural needs. Apart from protection, insurance must address the children’s future: getting them educated, and in the case of daughters, married.

Regardless of the gender targeted, all marketers agree that a rural strategy has to take rural realities into account.

Motorola’s BharatMoto initiative, for example, operates in alliance with DCM Shriram’s Hariyali Kisaan Bazaar, a chain of rural/semi-urban utility marts, to retail its handsets. It’s the latter that takes care of front end sales, but it’s the product/deal formulation that holds the lure.

Rural empathy is now the game. Everyone agrees, though, that there’s much learning left to do.

“Though companies are getting more into rural markets,” says Monga, “they should understand that choosing the appropriate vehicle for promoting products is the most important aspect of rural marketing.” And “vehicle”, in this context, is not necessarily something literal with multiple wheels.



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