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Sanjay Kaul

Founder & CEO of Xpand

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Digital India: How Technology Can Help Brands Expand Their Rural Footprint

Leveraging digital connectivity and the latest technologies, rural consumers will have greater access to products and services that were earlier unavailable to them.

Thanks to the government’s initiatives like Digital India and Skill India, the digital penetration in the country has increased a lot. The global pandemic further accelerated the transformation. Over 825 million people are using the internet in India as of March 2021. As a result, the need for businesses to have an online presence became more of a necessity than a luxury. In a few months, the pandemic brought years of change in the way businesses and industries operated. Both small and large enterprises witnessed the effects of digital adoption. The average share of digital customer interactions moved up to 58% in July 2020 from 36% in December 2019. The pandemic has taught us that creating mobile apps and websites helped provide better, quicker, and value-driven customer services. India is a land of diversity and home to the world’s largest rural population. Over 65% of the country’s population resided in rural areas in 2020, and over half of it - around 835 million people - will continue to live in the rural pockets of the country in 2040 despite urbanization. Factors like digitalization, rising incomes, improved infrastructure, and electrification led the companies to reach the untapped rural markets that contribute to 25% of India’s GDP. And why not? The rural market is up for a new game, and most organizations recognize that India’s potential will next come from Tier-3 towns and villages.

Having said that, it is intelligent marketing, technology-backed channel solutions with rigorous data mining and planning that are helping the companies to provide last mile solutions to their rural consumers.

Technology-driven solutions to change the game

Several firms are helping the brands to expand their rural footprint by providing them with digital solutions to overcome many challenges, be it procuring goods, connecting with rural customers, or expanding the markets by improving economic opportunities. For instance, low-cost phones and cheaper data connections offered by Reliance Jio resulted in a massive subscriber base and reshaped the entire mobile industry.

Furthermore, leading FMCG players like HUL and ITC are also leveraging e-commerce platforms and technologies, including big data analytics, to increase sales. Using a data-driven approach, brands can provide suitable products, catering to the growing demands in rural areas.

Rural marketing is also creating employment opportunities for people in the community. For instance, HUL’s Project Shakti enhanced its rural outreach, creating livelihood for underprivileged women and making them local distributors. Moreover, brands are also connecting with the tech-savvy natives of rural areas for further expansion. Also, the pandemic has pushed the companies to come up with innovative ideas to create/strengthen their hold in rural communities by providing services to deeper and emerging markets.

Yes, the pandemic has affected business operations in every industry. However, the digital revolution has made the economy more resilient and is now paving the way for recovery.

Customizing the technology according to the local market and demand

India’s rural internet population is likely to grow three times faster than urban areas by 2025. Therefore, the need for businesses to innovate and use the technology as per the demand is a certainty. The latest digital technologies are allowing the brands to merge online and offline interactions in ways that enable them to expand their reach to less affluent consumers.

Moreover, with the emergence of digital wallets, online marketplaces and e-commerce platforms such as Flipkart and Grofers, to name a few, are growing and have plenty of room to grow further. Therefore, companies must enhance their offerings by customizing the technology according to the local market and consumer demand instead of waiting for the market to adapt to it.

Empower your consumers with digital literacy

Digital literacy, language, and cultural diversity are some of the major challenges in India that have left emerging markets with lesser/no data pools. Consequently, it becomes difficult for companies to analyze the demand and supply, resulting in lower business. India is a multilingual country, and the brands need to adapt to reality and ensure the tech is built bottom up.

For instance, Idea Cellular launched a campaign, ‘Har Mobile Par Internet.’ It provided step-by-step lessons via Interactive Voice Response (IVR) to teach the consumers how to access the internet feature on their mobiles. Literacy initiatives like these make the consumers in the rural communities aware and will also help the brands expand their footprints. Companies can facilitate big wins for customers using digital technologies and make a living out of it themselves.

Final thoughts

The Indian rural population might have lived a conservative lifestyle, but are gradually overcoming it with time. With the rising awareness, over 40% of rural consumers plan to spend more on education, health, and new technology in 2022. Leveraging digital connectivity and the latest technologies, rural consumers will have greater access to products and services that were earlier unavailable to them. Businesses that engage with them and find innovative ways to deliver products to the underserved will be more successful in the long run.

Many startups are changing the rural marketing communication and distribution game. They are succeeding in different pockets now, but those who are able to speed the scale will reach the finishing line.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house



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