Putting an ‘e' in rural

Harish Bijoor | Updated on May 09, 2012

With an eye to the future: Urban brands should list themselves on e-commerce sites to find markets in rural areas. _ A. SHAIKMOHIDEEN

E-commerce is the way to go to net a changing, spending rural consumer.

What's the single biggest trend for rural markets in the future? One is tired of hearing about the Project Shaktis, e-choupals and stuff like that for the last twenty years.

- R. P. Bhalla, Nagpur

Bhalla Saab, for a start, for decades we have avoided rural markets as we have been plucking the low-hanging fruit of urban markets. When urban markets dry up, we will have to reach out to the rural markets. That's been the dominant theme. In the meanwhile, we have had yeoman efforts from Hindustan Unilever with Project Shakti and ITC with e-choupal, and there are six other names that have done good work in the rural space.

The important facts first. Let's remember that three-fourths of our people live in rural markets. Rural affordability norms are very high today. We have avoided rural markets as they are tough to enter, long-gestation markets and exhibit discontinuous patterns of demand. This is all now sorted out by the truth that digital is going to be the big market maker. The big thing out there for rural markets that I see in my trend-spotter's binoculars is digital.

As of today we have 146 million people using the Internet in India. Of these, 38 million are active on e-commerce and social networking. The future is really in the realm of e-commerce as one aspires to crack open the rural market. Eight million of these live in rural and ‘rurban' locales. What's more, my researched prognosis of the market says that we will be all of 320 million Indians on the Net by December 2014!

A mix of e-commerce and tele-shopping is a most potent combination to use to open up these markets. Cash-on-delivery has opened up rural purse strings for a variety of products and services rural folk were hitherto denied. From the consumer point of view, there is variety to choose from on the e-commerce portal, and there is a level-buying field now finally. Just because I live in Peddapalli does not mean that I am denied the latest and best in terms of gadgetry, clothes, cosmetics and more. Not anymore.

From the marketer's point of view, the marketer used to avoid rural markets, as it was difficult to find the real consumer in the haystack of a market. Distribution was difficult and holding inventories in rural outlets was a risk. Not anymore. Today, all that has changed. The best way for an urban brand to find rural markets is to list itself on an e-commerce site of mass reach and penetration. The postal distribution system of India is being used well for this purpose. Today, with the e-commerce site and e-commerce potential, rural geography is history.

And that's the truth I chase. Hitch your wagon to a star: the rural star. Go digital. Digi-rural is the future.

Isn't advertising a very predictable game? You see the same old things all over again and again. What's the latest here? Anything new?

- Mallika P. Rathnam, Hyderabad

Mallika, I don't quite agree with you on that one. Advertising just cannot afford to get predictable and cyclical. Advertising needs to be new, with it, and contemporary. Advertising needs to constantly re-invent zing, just to stay relevant, original and innovative. Enough to get the consumer talking, thinking and buying into the bait being dangled out there.

What's new? As a very tenuous trend, I had predicted some eight years ago that India would wake up to same-sex advertising later than sooner. And I think we have. Have you noticed the Godrej Eon air-conditioner advertising, which has a subliminally positioned same-sex couple sitting on a couch, hitting one another playfully but firmly, with a hair-dryer between them.

I think this is a trend. Wait for lots more to come by. Advertising reflects society, and I do believe this piece of advertising gives same-sex couples space in our otherwise stereotype portrayal of families, communities and buying segments. We have arrived! Wait for more.

What's with tea and India? Where is consumption headed and what's ahead for tea?

- Rohit Wagh, Ahmedabad

Rohit, tea continues to evolve. In the beginning it was black tea. Then it was whole-leaf. In came CTC. In came the fannings in the Western region of the country. In came the flavoured chocolate teas of Hyderabad and the masala teas of the West. In came tea bags. Iced-teas and ready-to-drink teas are the other versions that will make tea drinking that much more of a contemporary, ‘hip' habit. Tea, therefore, trundles on.

In the medium-term, however, tea in India will be relegated to the second-class drink status, with coffee becoming the “first-class status” drink. Tea, therefore, needs to re-invent itself. The ‘cha bar' is an idea whose time has come. Ready-to-drink teas also hold potential in India, which is essentially a nation of tea-drinkers even today.

Coffee cafés have started serving wine. Is this good or bad?

- Shomit Malhotra, New Delhi

Shomit, it's both good and bad. Wine in many ways is still struggling to find consumption in India. Yes, wine may be the new coffee. By that I mean that coffee itself took a while to gain ground in India.

In the beginning, people knew coffee to be just plain old filter coffee. Today, there is a wide acceptance of the cappuccino, the latte and the frappe of every variety. This has taken time, but has happened. As wine becomes available at cafés themselves, the experimentation streak is bound to come into play. In many ways, a café stocking wine is creating competition for itself in the future. And that's the bad part.

Harish Bijoor is a business strategy specialist and CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.

Published on May 09, 2012

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