|In a market where life has revolved around deep rooted community values, joint families, and social customs and taboos (women, for example, are not allowed to wear trousers), marketers realize that the traditional routes of market entry and brand building employed in urban India are often not feasible. As Adi Godrej, Chairman of the Godrej Group, says, “The challenge [for brands] is to understand the [psyche] of the rural consumer, create better distribution, and [appreciate] the heterogeneity.”In recent times, rural India has witnessed a wave of change. Dinesh Malhotra, general manager of Linterland (rural arm of Lintas), points out, “With media exposure and increasing literacy levels, people in rural India are now demanding a better lifestyle.” The educated “rural yuppie” (males in the 15-34 age group) is moving out to work in nearby towns and cities, and sending money home to his family. This has created an indirect increase in disposable incomes and a surge in demand for consumer goods. The rural youth are slowly evolving as “opinion leaders” in influencing brand and product decisions in a market that was swayed by village elders for centuries.When building a brand in rural India, word-of-mouth is a huge motivator. Focused brand-building initiatives—like participation at community events such as “melas” (village fairs), “haats” (markets), street theater, van campaigns, and puppet shows—generate positive word-of-mouth and influence buying decisions.Cholayil Ltd., a purveyor of the herbal soap “Medimix,” campaigned in mobile vans to promote its brand. “We run a van campaign which visits the interior villages where there are no distributors. We halt the van at specific points [where village folks congregate and watch videos shown on these vans] and give out product samples.” However, contrary to claims of Medimix’s success, Malhotra believes that “van campaigns can be very expensive. [Alternatively, promoting one’s brand] in large congregation points like village markets and fairs has a far wider reach, and is more cost effective.”
Direct media promotions have helped build knowledge of product categories and change long-entrenched living habits. Colgate-Palmolive, a leading oral hygiene product manufacturer, entered the rural market at a time when “Neem” twigs (the Neem tree has herbal properties) and non-dentifrice products like ash, charcoal, or salt were the norm for brushing teeth (in fact in some rural pockets, this tradition still continues). In 2001, Colgate-Palmolive launched “Operation Jagruti” to educate villagers about oral hygiene and its benefits vis-à-vis traditional products like “Neem.” Through product trials and free samples, the company was able to generate awareness in this new market. On a similar note, CK Ranganathan, managing director of Cavin Kare, notes, “When we entered the rural areas in South India, people used to wash their hair with soap. When we launched the ‘Chik’ brand of shampoo we educated the people on how to use it through live ‘touch and feel’ demonstrations and also distributed free sachets at fairs. This strategy worked wonders in the rural areas of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh—two important states in India.”
Colgate and Cavin Kare have shown that communication is key when it comes to building brands in rural markets. As R. V. Rajan, managing director of the Anugrah Advertising Agency, adds, “To communicate effectively, it is important to understand the fears, aspirations, and hopes of the rural consumer.” Not to mention the traditions and stereotypes that have governed their lives for centuries.