Brands have a stereotyped perception of rural India says Ankur Awasthy

Like most PR professionals, I am also into crafting perceptions. I don’t do it for a corporate, neither for the government; instead, I do it for one of India’s biggest cooperative, IFFCO, which is owned by 5.5 crore Indian farmers. IFFCO is also the world’s biggest fertiliser cooperative.

In my experiences of working in the Indian rural hinterland, I can safely say that the perception of rural India has been stereotyped and companies still tread the conventional path when it comes to communicating with the rural audience.  

Today brands are looking at rural India for expanding their market. But, the one-size fits all communication approach is not only flawed but also shows the dearth of ideas and lack of vision of companies. There is more to rural India than a headgear clad farmer and the wheat grain. At IFFCO, we have consciously taken steps to showcase faces of real Indian farmers and put forth real stories at international exhibitions, on printed material and in press releases. It speaks volumes about the reach of the organization, while showing sensitivity towards the target audience.

One more thing that needs to be taken note of is the need to make communication (both visual and written) as gender neutral as possible. The community and the family are very important to rural Indians and in a rapidly changing society, where women are slowly venturing out of their confines, brands need to be more progressive and tread the gender neutral path.

The best way to speak to people in rural India is at the traditional melas, festivals, sporting events and chaupal demonstrations where you can target the real masses. Having said that, conventional PR still has a lot of scope if one wants to communicate effectively, since the printed word carries a lot of weight and its credibility is still intact in rural India.  It can not only help in building bridges between India and Bharat (as they call it), it can also prove to be a highway for two way traffic, where stories capturing your best practices reach your target audience in rural India and features about your work in rural India (images and videos) touch urban India. This helps in creating the image of the brand in the target markets.

To spread the right buzz in an area, it is necessary to target the influencers in the community and make sure that you incorporate them in your stories, interviews, press photos and even during on-ground meetings. These influencers can be prosperous farmers, zamindars, local politicians and sarpanchs. It will not only add to the credibility to your brand but will also provide an access to insights of community that may not be easily accessible.

Mass media will provide you the maximum reach but considering the sorry state of power in rural India, TV might not always be the preferred media but mobile and radio are the two high priority outlets which should be glanced over. To sustain the recall you have to do a lot of ‘static’ advertising like tractor trolley painting, wall paintings, stickers etc., at the same time making sure that it doesn’t vandalize and spoil the landscape.

Needless to say the communication would be most effective if it has a local touch to it but at the same time the brand should not lose its global appeal and in order to have a lasting impact the focus should be on the community instead of the individual. So the vehicle of communicating should be such that it stays with the community– it can be CSR led initially like sponsoring to refurbish a school, distribution of solar lighters etc. and then other brand building communication initiatives can be built over it.

Lastly, even though rural India is undergoing positive transformations due to increased out migration, increase in tele-density, multiple government schemes and an increase in wages, communication backed with brazen consumerism cannot be a successful tactic when it comes to rural communication in India. New age communicators need to look at rural communication with a fresh and progressive point of view.

Ankur Awasthy, Senior Public Relations Officer, Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative Limited (IFFCO)

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