Mobile marketers engage rural folks to widen base

Mobile telephony has changed the shape of the rural Indian landscape. With the proliferation of various service providers and increasing sales of low-end mobile handsets, mobiles have become the ultimate choice for rural marketing. Perhaps, this is why wireless solution provider of mobile entertainment and Value Added Services (VAS), Handygo Technologies is investing Rs 120 crore in its VAS led initiative called Behtar Zindagi, across six states of India in a span of one year. The initiative is in partnership with Airtel.

‘VAS’T reach
According to ASSOCHAM, the Indian Mobile Value Added Services (MVAS) industry is projected to register a turnover of Rs 280 billion by 2013 from the current Rs 97 billion after the rollout of 3G services in India. It also points out that VAS which constitutes 10-12 per cent of the total revenues for telecom operators would also see a rise of 20 per cent during the same period. The organisation, however, suggests that for generating more revenues, telecom players will have to generate awareness among the rural population about the benefits of the value added services.

Hence, the Behtar Zindagi initiative is a step in that direction. The programme is described as a unique IVR-based service that will allow farming and allied communities to access a wide variety of relevant and useful information, including market prices, agricultural & cropping advisory, livestock advisory, weather and finance through the Airtel network. In its first phase the service is being provided for farming and allied communities across Rajasthan.

Mobile: the right choice for marketers
According to Praveen Rajpal, CEO, Handygo Technologies, rural is the next big market for Telcos as more or less the urban market is saturated. He adds, “With the Government, through NTP 2012, also laying emphasis on the spread of mobile services in the rural regions, Handygo has already forayed and are the pioneers in introducing m-governance, m-health, m-commerce, m-education, m-entertainment services through this unique IVR- based solution, focused on uplifting the rural population in key areas such as livelihood, health and education.”

Moreover, teaming up with a service provider that has over 1.45 crore mobile subscribers, seems to be a logical move at this juncture. Rajpal shares, “When we intended to initiate this activity in India, Mr Sudipto Chowdhary, CEO, Airtel Rajasthan, came forward and showed his confidence in our ‘User Connect’ campaign. Airtel in Rajasthan is well positioned to drive the role of the mobile platform as a key enabler of lives. This launch was in line with both brands’ continued efforts towards launching services that are innovative, relevant, affordable and beneficial for their rural customers. With this thought we jointly launched this unique activity in June 2012.” In addition, the association has helped Handygo reach out to a larger audience and in a more structured manner.

Furthermore Airtel is supporting the company with ground activities. For instance, in order to reach out to masses, the two conducted a mass awareness drive through mobile vans that reached out to 30,000 villagers in Rajasthan.  This service is available to farmers 24×7 and 365 days. It will further be promoted at various touch points including agricultural and rural fairs, farmers’ exhibitions, van promotions, contests, associations with local NGOs, announcements through community radio, distribution of free physical coupons etc.

Praveen Rajpal

Praveen Rajpal, CEO, Handygo Technologies

Making a long call
Now, the company is all set to invest around Rs 120 crore in the span of next 12 months across six states in India. Through this activity, Behtar Zindagi is expected to reach out to approx 1, 00,000 villages across these states. The service, which was launched in 2009 is available in 18 regional languages, has more than 1.67 million subscribers across the country.

The company feels that the informational gap within the community, which led to inaccessibility to valuable information regarding agricultural advisory, market rates, weather scenario and more, has been bridged. After this campaign, the subscriber base in Rajasthan has increased more than 50 per cent within two months. “This activity has further strengthened the brand presence for both of us,” the CEO adds.

Marketers need to think differently
So, what has made the two brands tick in the market? The reason lies in the changing rural consumerism. According to Rajpal, this growing segment has increasingly becoming demanding and looking for more innovative and beneficial ideas.  He also adds, “Interestingly, they are becoming brand conscious too, which is surely beneficial for industry players. From marketer’s point of view, it is important to ‘think-out-of-the-box’ and brings value-for-money products and services for this segment. There are lots of opportunities in utility segment for VAS providers, more innovative your service is more beneficial it will be.”

He also suggests that it is crucial for marketers to gauge the aspirational levels of this new age rural consumer and their need for ‘value for money’ or ‘affordable comfort’. Thus, product placement and marketing activities has to be based on that factor. Thus, Airtel users can avail this service at a charge as low as Re 1/day.

Thus, to leverage the advancements in mobile marketing, the company plans to extend the initiative in the field of m-banking, m-education, m-governance and others as well. It is also planning to come up with a GPRS application in the near future and strengthen the processes and infrastructure, initiate tie ups with various Government and Non Government bodies, soil and agricultural research institutes and educate the rural masses for leveraging the application for the betterment of their lives.

Hang ups
However, the consumption pattern for mobile marketing is yet not as evolved as in the cities, which may ultimately affect the usage of such schemes and initiatives. Agreeing upon this, Rajpal adds, “Rural consumer is less informed as compared to consumers in the metros and cities. The usage pattern of the rural subscriber is totally different from the urban subscriber. They have less usage and are really sensitive towards the prices of the products and services. With the spread of mobile telephony, affordable phones and gadgets the rural audiences have also understood the benefits technology brings in improving their standards of living, which in turn will increase the utilisation of services like Behtar Zindagi.”

Nevertheless, the biggest challenge for the programme would be to educate and reaching out to rural areas. “Making this segment aware about the product is an expensive affair as you need to spend a lot to increase awareness, need to run TV campaigns, send human resources to showcase your product range, give them trial offers and lots more. Unlike urban population, acceptability of this segment is not easy; it needs lots of efforts, concentration and attention. Moreover there are various other issues in reaching out to these audiences like poor infrastructure, lack of transport facilities, resources and lots more,” Rajpal explains.

Thus, he seeks out the support of the government to reach out to the TG in a more cost effective way.  “If nothing more, at least local administration should support us to make this service available for all. We hope that government would motivate services like ours and include it under their M-governance project, as the motive for us and government is same – Empowering Rural segment to lead a Behtar Zindagi,” he sums up.

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