The Mindshare Brand Equity Compass 2009 summit was held on February 12, 2009 at Taj Lands End, Mumbai. The session, Next Marketing Challenge- Engaging the 'Real' India focused on how brands can reach rural consumers.
The panel comprised Sudhanshu Vats, vice-president, home care and skin cleansing, Hindustan Unilever; Vikram Mehra, chief marketing officer, Tata Sky; Chandrashekhar Radhakrishnan (Chandru), head, brand and media, Airtel and Pradeep Shrivastava, chief marketing officer, Idea Cellular. Meenakshi Madhvani, founder and managing partner, Spatial Access Media Solutions moderated the session.
Mehra said that most brands still focus on consumers from metros. Also, most marketers feel that rural consumers focus on a product's price more than anything else. He added that even in rural India, people want value for their money and are ready to pay a little more, if they are getting extra benefit.
Vats stated that Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities were growing rapidly, even though marketers face some challenges in targeting these cities. Some of the challenges at the rural level are creating product awareness and ensuring availability of products. A bigger challenge is the relevance of what brands offer to the rural consumers.
Shrivastava took the issue of relevance forward and supported it with an example of how Idea provides Telugu music for their consumer base in Andhra Pradesh.
Just like Vats, Chandru also said that marketers have to deal with certain challenges if they are working in the rural space. Besides reach and product awareness, marketers need to look after the engagement of the consumer with the product.
Shrivastava added that different markets require different business models and brands that can experiment will get high returns.
Madhvani then quizzed the panelists about the role of activation in rural markets and whether that is a better way to reach out to rural consumers, as compared to traditional media.
Mehra replied that advertising through traditional media makes rural consumers aware about a brand, while activation makes them brand conscious. He said that, for instance, an urban consumer would ask for Tata Sky, while a rural consumer would ask the dealer for DTH, and not for a specific brand. Hence, activation is important in rural areas.
Chandru added that the question to ask was what sort of activation would work for a brand, because each brand will have a separate objective.
Shrivastava said that the distribution network was another big challenge, because this network was poorly developed in some rural markets. He added that a good distributor also makes a positive impact on the brand image.
Mehra feels that sometimes rural consumers are underrated and they have as much knowledge about brands as their urban counterparts.
Vats opined that rural consumers are difficult to reach as they contain a mixture of mindsets. Shrivastava and Mehra endorsed this.
The panelists felt that although the rural consumer is hard to reach now, over time, they will be brand conscious and hence, easier to target.