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Rural India is mystery to marketers

News, 19 March 2015

NEW DELHI: Indian marketers are guilty of making erroneous assumptions about consumers in rural markets, from regarding them as a homogenous group to underestimating their spending potential.

"Many marketers and most advertising agencies are still caught in a world of rural myths," according to Ashish Bhasin, chairman & CEO South Asia at Dentsu Aegis Network.

Writing in the Economic Times, he demolished three of these, starting with the notion that rural India is all the same. "In a relative sense, rural India is more heterogeneous than urban India," he asserted. There are more than 625,000 villages, all with differences between them in income, education and healthcare, and within them differences are often exacerbated by caste.

And he cautioned against talking down to rural consumers. "Village folk may be simple but [they] are not simpletons," he said. In fact, they are often smarter than urban consumers as they have to be more careful with their limited income.

Bhasin also argued that the traditional view of the importance of local influencers – such as sarpanches and mukhiyas – was becoming outdated as television and mobile phones changed rural society.

This was also highlighted by his colleague Narayan Devanathan in a contribution to Warc's New Perspectives on Indian Youth series last year. He suggested that rather than viewing young Indians through a simple urban-rural divide, the play between traditional and progressive mindsets – often present in the same person depending on need and circumstance – was more significant.

Bhasin's solution is for more marketers to get out of their offices and spend some time living with villagers to truly understand their lives and motivations.

The spending potential of rural India was highlighted by a think tank, People Research on India's Consumer Economy, which crunched the numbers from an all-India survey and segmented rural India into three groups – developed rural, emerging rural and under-developed rural.

The last of these, it pointed out, had 55% more income and 64% more expenditure than developed rural. "Lots of gain, lots of pain, not every company's cup of tea," remarked co-founders Rama Bijapurkar and Rajesh Shukla.

Data sourced From Economic Times; additional content by Warc staff