Innovative tech opens fast-growing, non-urban markets to brand builders
Smart marketers will aim for presence in all “Indias”
Strategic Planning Director
J. Walter Thompson
India is a land of disproportionate abundance. While urban India abounds in access to technology, a big chunk of non-urban India continues to lag behind. In the southern-Indian state of Tamil Nadu, two villages that produced two Nobel Laureates have received Internet connectivity only now! At the very periphery of urban India lie areas that to date lack access to full-time electricity.
Urban India continues to be the focal point for most big brands due to an established technological infrastructure. But as this urban segment approaches saturation, many of these big brands are shifting focus to the peripheries. Acknowledging that this is where the future potential lies, they widen the net to capture more of India and subsequently increase adoption of the brand.
Knowing the complexities of India, the path to making technological headway in non-urban India is a long and daunting one. The lack of an uninterrupted supply of electricity is one of the first obstacles faced by a brand, which makes even the simple task of communication through the medium with the greatest reach—TV—an overwhelming task.
Having acknowledged these technological imbalances, several brands have worked around obstacles to be successfully accepted today by non-urban consumers and make a positive impact on their lives. Take the case of Indian farmers: Reuters launched Reuters Market Light, a communications technology that provides customized, localized, and personalized information about weather forecasts, local crop prices, and news on agricultural policies and best farming practices.
Now called RML Information Services, the technology shifted farmers’ reliance from ad hoc sources like weather pundits, local shopkeepers, and newspapers to a subscription-based pull SMS service that functions on a basic mobile phone. Reuters has had an unprecedented financial and emotional impact on farmers, enabling them to achieve better yields, secure better prices, and feel more informed and better prepared in negotiations with wholesalers.
Similarly, the Indian conglomerate ITC introduced e-Choupal, an initiative that provides Internet access to rural farmers, informing and empowering them, and consequently improving the quality of agricultural produce and the lives of farmers. Both these brands also have benefited: Reuters by cashing in on its ability to provide reliable and relevant information, and ITC by being able to simplify its supply chain, thereby increasing profits.
Unilever conceived the idea of making entertainment available through the increasingly ubiquitous mobile phone. A free on-demand entertainment channel, Kan Kajura Tesan, works via a simple missed-call function that triggers a flow of free entertainment on even the most basic mobile phone.
Mobile phone operator Vodafone, which continues to make great strides in connectivity in urban India, opted for a simple feature that gained popularity in non-urban India. Vodafone launched the M-Pesa app, which enables mobile banking, providing financial services to many people who previously lacked any banking relationship.
Brands like Reuters, ITC, Unilever, and Vodafone have adapted to reach a simpler, less tech-savvy India. At the same time, many brands are aggessively introducing technology for the the more urban, more technologically sophisticated population. These brands include Uber and Ola, which use the power of GPS-based apps to make affordable personal transportation available anytime and anywhere, and banks that use the mobile phone’s camera to verify customer identity for processing transactions.
Even as brands take big technological leaps to entice urban India’s “smart consumers,” the sizeable group of emerging India’s smart consumers is hard to ignore. Smart marketers will build brands that are holistic and offer something meaningful for people across all the “many India’s.”
Brand Building Action Points
1. Keep it simple
Keep solutions simple and, as far as possible, free by using available messaging platforms.
2. Expand beyond urban India
Do not assume that only urban India will appreciate and pay for new technology. The success of Reuters Market Light and ITC’s e-choupal are classic demonstrations of farmers wanting to improve their businesses by acquiring mobile phones. For brands, such initiatives are relatively small investments.
3.Discover available but underused power sources
Nuru Energy developed LED lights that do not break or need to be replaced and that can be powered in many ways, including the use of plug-in or solar-powered chargers. Godrej’s chotuKool refrigerator uses solar power and helps retailers manage the robust distribution of beverage brands.
4. Make it easy for the consumer
Do not make the consumer work too hard to access your brand. Instead, reach out through the most accessible medium, the mobile phone. For example, Airtel subscribers can access Mediphone, a phone-based healthcare advice service set up with Religare Technologies.
5. Think about all of IndiaWiden services across the entire country. Tata Docomo’s “Tutor on Mobile” service, for example, is expected to deliver improved education opportunities to over a million people.