MUMBAI: Rural India is a huge market that is changing fast, and marketers need to understand how they can best reach consumers outside the urban areas that have largely fuelled brand growth.

In a WARC Best Practice paper, How to market to rural consumers in India, Kunal Sinha Executive Director at Kantar Insights in India, outlines the impact of technology and government initiatives and sets out five ways to reach consumers outside cities.

He notes that India has some 624,000 villages, but 100,000 of these are home to 50% of the rural population and hold 60% of its wealth. Within these, he, says, marketers should focus on the 75,000 that have a population of more than 2,000, the minimum commercially viable figure for distribution purposes.

The increased penetration of mobile phones – and internet access – is already providing marketers with new opportunities to reach rural consumers, and the government’s aim to bring electrification and broadband to rural India will multiply those prospects.

So understanding how rural consumers like farmers use mobile is essential. Missed calls have been a common strategy up to now but agricultural suppliers are finding that people are switching to channels like WhatsApp as smartphone penetration increases,

But there is no substitute for on-the-ground experience, Sinha advises, citing Google’s Internet Bus initiative as an example. This was effectively a free mobile cybercafé introducing people to the internet that visited 120 towns in 11 states, reaching 1.6m people and provided a deep understanding of the needs of rural consumers.

The internet giant described rural India as the perfect testbed for new users, offering linguistic diversity, a wide range of incomes and literacy, infrastructure challenges and application needs.

When introducing a product to rural areas, partnering with key local influencers – teachers, doctors, members of local village councils, for example – can be a vital part of an outreach program, although Sinha cautions marketers to expect a lower volume of leads and lower conversion rates than a comparable urban version.

At the same time, marketers ought to consider strategic partnership opportunities that may be possible as a result of government infrastructure investment. Tata BP Solar, for example, has designed a series of packaged solutions for the differing energy needs of banks, health centres and schools in rural areas, all of which are the focus of government spending.

Marketers can also tap into the many fairs and festivals, both religious and commercial, that attract villagers from the surrounding areas and which present an opportunity to reach large numbers of consumers who are willing to try new things and spend.

Data sourced from WARC