MUMBAI: Marketers need to identify and target a new category of Indian rural consumer, one who is connected digitally, who appreciates branded goods and, crucially, who can influence others to make similar choices.

Nielsen India surveyed 2,000 rural opinion leaders across Andhra Pardesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Punjab, and found that where once these would have been successful farmers, they were increasingly including non-agricultural workers such as doctors, teachers and even retailers, depending on the advice being sought.

"The parameters of success have changed," Ashish Bhasin, chairman and CEO - South Asia, Dentsu Aegis Network, told the Economic Times. "The guy building the biggest house or the man who bought a motorcycle is a bigger influencer than the village elder who used to be the know-all for financial decisions or even political choice."

Nielsen also observed that there were other areas where marketers might need to rethink their views on this market, one example being the widespread belief that rural consumers only need education about those categories they are unfamiliar with. But Ritesh Sahu, Nielsen India director, reported that "Many of them said they needed more information even about the core area of farming".

His colleague Adrian Terron argued that it was now easier than ever before to identify the "rural super consumer", who was "both economically and emotionally more engaged with a category and brands within it".

He described this consumer as one who wanted a more city-like lifestyle, a desire fuelled by greater connectivity and information availability, and for whom branded goods connoted reliability and utility. This consumer, he said "will lead others to your brand if you manage to capture his imagination and disposable income".

The marketer's task was made simpler, he suggested, by the fact that the country's rural potential was not spread evenly: 72% of rural FMCG sales take place in just 10 states, for example, while two-thirds of branded soft drink sales come from just 19,000 villages, or 3% of the total.

Terron added that smart marketers were using syndicated vehicles to acquire and share data. "They use modelling techniques that link consumer intelligence, trade intelligence and pragmatic approaches to segmentation that can be translated into sales force activation," he said, practices he expected would come to redefine rural marketing.

Data sourced from Economic Times; additional content by Warc staff