AHMEDABAD: Distribution is no longer enough to ensure sales in rural India, and as more brands become available marketers will need to develop a customer-focus they have so far lacked, according to an industry figure.

PK Sinha, Professor of Marketing at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, told Exchange4Media that many companies had already cracked the problem of reaching rural markets and future growth would not be able to rely on their mere presence and some advertising.

"So as long as your product is reaching the customers, advertising is creating awareness; people will come and buy your product," he said. "But the challenge which comes now is - how do I get more sales from the same store, or how do I sell more to the same customer [to] whom I have been selling?"

He suggested that marketers needed to alter their perspective on many parts of rural India. "There is a need for brands to be more consumer-centric [rather] than being just market focused," he said.

That may entail a major shift in the current approach which Sinha characterised as "a looking glass view … which is purely urban", with products developed with urban consumers in mind but sold at a price rural consumers can afford.

In common with many other parts of the world, India's rural consumers are changing, thanks to factors such as better education, higher incomes, improved transport infrastructure and greater penetration of feature phones and smartphones.

But, said Sinha, "they are changing in their own way, which is not similar to the urban audience. It is quite possible that when you look at them, they may look similar, because they may also be wearing the same clothes as we wear, but internally there is some big change taking place."

And marketers need to understand those differences in order to target the right audience.

Data sourced from Exchange4Media; additional content by Warc staff