NEW DELHI: Activation is a crucial tool for marketers seeking to reach new consumers in rural India according to leading industry figures, but it is also important to lay the necessary groundwork first.

"Wherever there is a need to develop a market, a marketer needs to opt for activations as seeing is believing for the rural consumer," Dalveer Singh, leader of Group M's Dialogue Factory, told [Impact] magazine.

Several brand owners backed up the experiential marketing agency's view that showing the uses and benefits of a product was a proven technique. "The rural consumer likes to touch and feel a product before making a purchasing decision," noted Sanjay Tripathy, senior executive vice president – Head Marketing, Product, Digital and eCommerce, at financial services business HDFC.

"Demonstrations, in the way of activations, are undoubtedly the most effective promotional tool and build trust as well," he added.

And in the experience of Sanjiv Puri, divisional chief executive, India Tobacco Division at ITC, the FMCG to hotels business, "interactive activities in haats, melas and branded vans enable a high level of engagement with the rural audience".

But the cost of such activity can be high – there are more than 500,000 villages across the country – and for it to succeed in the long term it is necessary for marketers to plan their strategy accordingly. That means, said Singh, "first getting the distribution in place followed by awareness". After that come the experiential marketing programmes.

The same point was made in a Harvard Business Review article, which noted that "smart companies have found that they need to focus on distribution even before making the seemingly commonsense moves of identifying and approaching target customers".

One possible way to reduce the potential cost burden may be to collaborate with partners in non-competing categories. Salil Dalal, president/RURBAN Division at Pidilite Industries explained how it was promoting one of its adhesives to farmers alongside a brand of pump.

"There is a potential of 30-40% savings for each player which can bring the rural cost per contact within reach of brands," he said. "To make this a reality, agencies need to be more innovative in creating properties that make sense to brands with a similar target audience."

The rural market is expected to grow rapidly and also to see increased demand for premium products as rural incomes rise and consumers trade up.

Data sourced from [Impact], Harvard Business Review; additional content by War staff