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‘Build a cluster level marketing plan for rural OOH’

By Praveen Bose, Business Standard | Bengaluru - April 20, 2021

At a time when uncertainties loom large and there is a surfeit of content cliches, it makes sense to draw from the agriculture marketing ecosystem and chart out-of-box communications strategies for better consumer outreach and rural marketing campaigns, writes Prashant Mandke, Advisor – Social Impact Initiatives & Rural Marketing.

Prashant Mandke

If there’s one thing that has become markedly evident today, it is that nothing is the same anymore. When it comes to the rural sector, the challenges are even more pronounced; and the reasons are many. In the last quarter, non-food inflation was higher than food inflation, making it very difficult for most farmers to manage their household spends.

Prashant Mandke, Advisor – Social Impact <br>Initiatives & Rural MarketingDue to the stress on household incomes, both in the agricultural and non-agricultural sectors, the consumer is exercising more caution while purchasing. There are some very basic questions being asked: What is essential. What can wait.

In this situation, it is challenging for marketers to be able to hold on to loyal customers. Aspirational product categories obviously face a higher level of challenge compared to the daily essentials. The traditional outreach to consumers may thus need some tweaking.

Essentially, the need to innovate has never been so acute, especially for marketers and advertisers. It gets more complex if you move deeper, to the rural markets. There’s always been a call for innovation by marketers while briefing agencies. Agencies too have delivered on many occasions, albeit with a basic approach. But the present times demand a shift in approach, to come out with something truly impactful and translate into demand for goods & services. 

For any marketing ecosystem, particularly the rural OOH & BTL, there are certain resource chains, marketing infrastructure and channels necessary for it to function at high efficiency and deliver desired marketing milestones.

It may be worthwhile to understand the nuances of rural OOH through the lens of a model of well-established marketing ecosystem.

The rural marketing eco-system

Agriculture marketing ecosystem is the oldest, most matured and well established. It is probably the genesis of rural marketing. This ecosystem is so well set that it works with absolute precision and finesse, no matter what season; rains or no rains. 

In the last one year due to the pandemic, these resource chains, marketing infrastructure, & communication channels have been vulnerable to the restrictions imposed and have got their gaps exposed. But while agriculture marketing has also been affected, it has greater resilience compared to other categories in rural. And there are very strong reasons for it to still manage with relatively less disruption.

Let’s understand how it works for the agri marketing ecosystem. There’s a cluster approach which seems to emerge from technical factors like agro climatic zones, cropping patterns & irrigation sources. Agriculture inputs being a very specialized segment, does need higher levels of knowledge and experience. On the other hand, from the marketing perspective, there is a need to engage experts, extension services staff and other resources to reach the last mile with communication. So in a way, a cluster becomes more of a self- sustaining marketing unit, with its own SOPs, seasonal demands & marketing calendars.

However, for other sectors like FMCG or BFSI, the necessary factors may vary to some extent; like the need for a credible source or opinion leader for advocating the brand benefits & features. These are less technical and more mass based, where the space for an influencer is limited and is most likely to be based on societal & cultural equations than technical knowledge. Then there is the marketing infrastructure to create communication outreach. 

In the current scenario which has prolonged for over one year, the limitations forced due to health & safety issues are difficult to overcome unless one thinks out of the box. Here is where I refer to agriculture marketing ecosystem, which has higher degree of localization, in terms of influencers, marketing infrastructure and on ground resources.

Breaking the content fatigue

One of the aspects of marketing which has been challenging is content. There is CONTENT FATIGUE setting in today due to the pandemic impact. Every communication apparently has pivoted around functional aspects of health & safety.  On the other hand, the emotional or humane connect is leveraged for advising consumers to take care. Well, though these are important insights one must leverage to communicate, the content has probably become repetitive & monotonous. The fact is that whether in outdoor, retail, or any other communication platform, catching the consumer attention has become increasingly difficult. The primary reason for this, as mentioned earlier,  is the CONTENT FATIGUE.

This is further compounded by the fact that a few agency folks & marketers have started believing in vague terms like ‘Phygital’.  Can we not keep physical and digital separate? What is the compulsion to coin a word? Why not make life simpler by keeping things simple & clear? Physical is more mass based and involves traditional methods of consumer outreach, while  digital certainly gets more personal & provides a direct connect with consumers. Both can co-exist and complement each other.  So why combine the two?

Lastly, the most critical aspects of creating localized marketing ecosystem at cluster level could lead to a new model in rural campaigns. This is certainly possible if rural marketers & agency folks can leverage existing resources & infrastructure to build an efficient cluster level marketing unit.

There is light at the end of the tunnel. However, you need to create a spark to overcome the practical challenges and break away from the conundrum.


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