Companies have to communicate with rural consumers to gain acceptability. The companies can charge high prices in rural areas if they are able to communicate value.

In urban markets, managers are familiar with using advertising and BTL methods in areas with high footfalls, such as malls and railway stations. Such crowded places do not exist in villages. Both BTL techniques and high powered advertising pose problems in vil­lages because people have to be collected.

Advertising does not work because channels are not available, while BTL methods require going to thousands of villages. This calls for a large workforce which can spread out and contact villages directly. To devise a strategy for rural communications, companies have to understand the challenges that they face in rural markets.

Challenges of Communication in Rural Markets:

Urban methods of communications, or those used in developed countries, consist of spray­ing consumers with advertising and beautiful images in the manner of using insect sprays, and then waiting for customers to turn up to buy products. The sprays have to be changed periodically as consumers become immune to advertising. In rural markets, it is quite a different ball game.

Companies are likely to face the following challenges while communicating with rural audiences:

i. Low Literacy Levels:

Rural areas suffer from low literacy. Customs and traditions rule, which makes adoption of new products and practices difficult. There is also a limited penetration of print media in rural markets. Companies, therefore, face difficulties in developing their communication mix.

ii. Media Reach and Exposure:

Though media reach is improving over the years, it is still poor in many villages. In many media-dark villages, there is limited access to televi­sion, radio and print, and hence people have limited exposure. Suitable media vehicles just do not exist.

iii. Diverse Audiences:

Villages in India show diverse cultures, languages, varied customs and traditions and lifestyles. This makes one-size-fits-all strategy irrelevant. Companies, used to urban-oriented mass campaigns, find it difficult to tailor-make campaigns for every region.

iv. A Dearth of Information:

There is a shortage of information in rural areas. Lack of good local content and reliable information providers add to the dearth of relevant information that villagers can use.

v. Scattered Audiences:

Mass media finds it difficult to penetrate rural areas because audiences are scattered over large distances.

vi. Lack of Well-Developed ICT Infrastructure:

Internet penetration is limited because of lack of ICT infrastructure. This is changing as there is increasing use of mobile phones in rural markets.

Any rural communications strategy will work only if the listed problems are addressed.

Rural Communication Strategy:

Conventional advertising and communications work partially in villages because reaching customers is difficult.

A rural communication strategy can only work if two conditions are fulfilled:

1. The rural customer will choose a channel only if it solves a problem for him or adds value in some way.

2. Campaigns must be supplemented by trials and direct experience, thus BTL methods are not only effective but add excitement around a brand in rural areas.

Rural communications thus has to be seen as a two-way dialogue. Thanks to technology, this is possible today, but calls for heavy investments.

Successful companies have created a ‘demand-driven’ model of communication so that users get important relevant information through the channel, which is also used to send brand messages. For instance, farmers use the channel to access agricultural research and extension services offered by government departments and companies. Companies also provide similar services and advertising piggybacks on such channels.

Such a strategy must include the following:

1. Overcome illiteracy barriers by conveying ideas in an audio and visual form, that is, companies must develop and execute an interface between modern and traditional communication methods.

2. Illustrate new ideas and techniques, using multimedia or personal visits and BTL techniques.

3. Create audio-visual materials that are easily understood, communicated personally through mobile vans.

4. Develop and train a cadre of village communicators who can connect with rural customers.

5. Develop localized content resonant with local cultural norms and ethos.

The media mix has to cater to the needs for content, localization, gender and culture. For example, ads targeted to females often fail. In rural areas, the decision maker is likely to be male even for things used by females. Targeting females in a male-dominated society may cause a backlash for a company.

Usually, companies use the same advertisements that they have designed for urban markets and use them for rural markets by changing the language. However, if local culture and sensitivities of rural consumers are not kept in mind, such ads may create a negative impact. The effectiveness of such ads will therefore be limited.

BTL campaigns introduce the ‘touch and feel’ element to products, and also two-way communication where people can understand what the product is capable of doing and clarify their doubts. A product demonstration is very effective to convince rural customers. Using local and popular form of entertainment such as puppetry, nautanki, ragini, bhangra, pala, daskathia, danda nacha, quawalli and dance shows increases brand awareness. Many compa­nies like LG, Samsung, Philips, Bajaj, Usha and Crompton Greaves used some of the platforms and received positive response.

Advertisements touching emotions of rural folk could drive a quantum jump in sales if they are simple, direct and more social than of aspiration or individualistic. Hyundai Ne Bana Di Jodi, for example, was a wedding themed offer for the marriage season which built on social occasions.