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India versus Bharat: Marketers deliberate on the art of marketing

Divided into two parts, the first part of the story discusses the need to pay attention to marketing a product differently to India and Bharat and what is the Bharat-India divide. The second part will discuss the various challenges brands face in this journey and how to scale business in the Bharat and India bifurcation

The definition of Bharat and India keeps evolving constantly. While there is a need to market the same product to urban and rural India differently, it is not a cakewalk to figure out what works for each of them. 

Owing to the cultural backdrops, economic conditions, the role of gender and society, etc. the attitudes, aspirations and needs of the consumers residing in Metros and Tier I cities are still different from that of Tier II and III cities and towns.

Ajay Singh Parihar

As per Ajay Singh Parihar, Marketing Head- Healthcare OTC, Dabur India, while Bharat and India are different in terms of geography and tier-wise segregation, the good part about the entire Bharat and India mindset is that they are far more interactive in the current times as they were in the past.

“With the emergence of products for both Bharat and India, the divide has slowly begun to diminish owing to the overall boom in literacy rates, aspirations and better penetration of the internet which has enabled a better media reach. The comparatively reduced cost of mobile devices and internet packages has also made consumers have a view of the market which was not available earlier on,” he added.

Rohan Mascarenhas

According to Rohan Mascarenhas, Head- Brand and Marketing Communication, VECV (Volvo-Eicher JV), the democratisation of technology has led to Bharat expressing their opinions and exercising their choices through digital platforms, which was earlier restricted to India.

“The purchasing power of Bharat is also comparable to India and marketers can’t afford to miss out on tapping into this opportunity. I do feel that the unmet needs and aspirations remain the same for a certain socio-economic class, despite the fact that they are comfortable mainly in the regional language,” he added.

Parihar also went on to state that because the challenge of pricing and distribution has been there for long in rural counterparts of the country, the bigger challenge for any marketer herein is to set up clear and discerning propositions and variant launches for Bharat and at the same time be slightly more affordable and softer to them through different price-points when it comes to catering to rural and urban parts of the country.

“Marketers have two tasks- one is to cultivate aspirations in rural markets for their urban products and make it more affordable for consumers in the rural areas so that they don’t feel alienated owing to the expensive and out-of-reach quotients for them to stay put with the brand for a longer period of time,” he said.

Furthermore, Mascarenhas also went on to suggest that the marketing programs and advertising campaigns should be based on the same behavioural insights but just have to be more granular in their approach, with the right language and relevant cultural nuances to connect with Bharat.

“Engaging content is going to win the marketing game, across all digital mediums. For Bharat, this becomes extremely challenging, but it can be equally effective if done right,” he said.

Saahil Nayar

According to Saahil Nayar, COO, Swiss Beauty, in order to penetrate Bharat marketing as a whole will see a shift towards inclusivity - in contrast to the present practices which are a bit more exclusive.

“Vernacular content that’s more relative for ‘Bharat’ will be a major part of marketing strategies. About targeting, there are multiple factors that have fuelled brands to target Bharat, but the major ones include increasing consumer awareness in these zones, digitisation and the search for products that are valued for money,” he said.

Commenting as to how different is it to strategise for Bharat than India, Nayar stated that it’s different in regard to the fact that the customer living in India are in a comparatively fast-paced environment and is looking for on-the-go, result-driven, quick solutions, and likes to perceive content in the same form juxtaposed to the customer living in Bharat who is always looking for high-performing products that are backed by good value which many brands find difficult to crack.

“As marketers, your objectives turn more towards getting the customer to try the product first rather than strategising on retention because the customer living in Bharat will anyway go back and buy your product if it drives performance,” he said.

Furthermore, Nayar also went on to add that the sales and distribution scenario changes in these regards as the ‘India’ customer is someone who will go by word of mouth and buy a product or will shop online without even physically looking at the product, however when it comes to the ‘Bharat’ consumer, he/she prefers trying the product before purchasing it and is very keen on getting to know the products and for them, the product has to be more backed by a strong price point.

“Since the offline market in ‘India’ will mostly be in modern trade, the retail penetration has to be very high and more inclined towards general trade in ‘Bharat’. To crack the general trade, brands require men on the ground and there’s a lot of offline work, which is very different from Tier I as it is more structurally organised,” he said.

What is the Bharat-India divide and why do brands need to pay heed to it

Chandana Agarwal

In the views of Chandana Agarwal, President-North and East, 82point5, content in regional languages, affordability of data and proliferation of smartphones coupled with all the aforementioned trends have added to the Bharat-India divide.

“Although at a macro data level, there are similarities between Bharat and India in terms of leisure activities, use of the internet, frequency of eating out or ordering in amongst others, at an altitude level, there are big differences. Things like gender roles and their influence on brand choice and category choices are different,” she said.

Additionally, Agarwal also went on to emphasise that the attitude towards authority and larger family, savings and credit, conspicuous consumption, healthcare, safety and total cost of ownership is different in both areas in the country.

Nirmalya Sen

According to Nirmalya Sen, Founder and CEO, The Rethink Company, the concept of Bharat (Rural) and India (Urban) is not new. “In fact, it became a part of marketing discussions even before Amitabh Bachchan proclaimed that there are two Indias’ in the famous Times of India campaign,” he said.

“Two Indias that are separated by their approaches to life and living, their view of success, their priorities, their values and their resultant impact in the way they view brands or decide between them,” he added.

But, given the identifiable differences between the two India, it is not surprising that marketers feel that they need to address them differently, Sen opined.

Nisha Sampath

In the views of Nisha Sampath, Brand Consultant and Managing Partner at Bright Angles Consulting, the definition of Bharat and India has changed with time.

Sampath stated that most brands actually cater to Bharat (rural areas) and in doing so, most of the time, the expectation is that India (urban areas) will jump aboard as this was ingrained in the strategy of going after the masses.

“But when the D2C brands came into the picture, they began to see the Indian market in the niche and wasn’t necessarily urban and began finding value in smaller things, which the FMCG marketers never thought it worthwhile to look at and went after volumes and numbers instead,” she said.

It was precisely at this point in time that the definition of India and Bharat began to change and the trends began to show that a lot of the D2C sales were coming from smaller towns and the e-commerce players picked up on the same, as per Sampath.

“Because of the exposure brought in by social media, even the youth in any small town or rural area could purchase the same products and services which were available to the public in the urban cities or metros, but only the affordability was the difference. Only the financial behaviour is different, but the needs and the aspirations are the same for both Bharat and India,” she added.

Yesudas S Pillai

Sharing his views on the matter, Yesudas S Pillai, Founder and CEO, Y&A Transformation, also stated that approximately 70% of India’s population lives in approximately 6,27,000 villages in rural areas.

“I remember seeing data sometime back which categorised the rich with income greater than 1 million per annum and the well-off, income minimum 0.5mn per annum. Interestingly, the total households in urban areas on both the above parameters accounted for 54%, while that of rural areas was 45%,” he recalled.

Furthermore, Pillai also went on to point out that it has been a foregone conclusion about the opportunity that exists for marketers beyond the metros and mini metros as these markers are saturating and becoming fiercely competitive.

“Going by the proportion of the digital penetration which Jio added or the data on content consumption across the last few years on English vs Vernacular or Video, Voice and Vernacular are predicted to be ruling digital’s future, all these only re-establish the above conclusion. Gone are the days of struggle on transportation, warehousing, seasonality etc.,” opined Pillai.

Do brands need to have a different approach whilst catering to Bharat and India separately?

Sharing her views on the matter, 82point5’s Agarwal stated, “As advertisers, we are conscious of this difference and therefore while we may communicate the same message, the context of the story has to be different. Then there are differences in behaviour too, in terms of what they shop, how often they shop, brand loyalty and the role of retailers amongst others.”

“Bharat thinks, speaks, interacts, entertains and shops in local/regional language thus while English is still seen as a skill to be acquired, the regional language is often considered an everyday language. So yes, while the same message may work, the context, the casting and the language need to be crafted differently for India and Bharat. From a media perspective too, there are differences, while smart mobile devices are now well penetrated, TV continues to be very important to reach the various constituencies,” she said.

Rethink’s Sen also shared the viewpoint that the strategy to differentiate usually manifests itself in the approach to media with a larger emphasis on digital for India and a dependence on traditional media for Bharat.

“Brands that speak in English with India tend to switch to the vernacular for Bharat. Moreover, brands also tend to lean on a very different set of influencers when they need to go deep in Bharat,” he said.

Sen also went on to add that in a few rare cases, marketers have also resorted to different communication based on different insights for India and Bharat, and in cases where they don’t, the communication is often ‘watered down’ to be understood by all.

Bright Angles’ Sampath also stated that she today sees the Bharat-India divide not as an urban and rural phenomenon but more as a generation difference in terms of younger vs older.  According to Sampath, the younger generations are more homogeneous as their needs, aspirations and viewpoints in both urban and rural areas match more.

Additionally, she also went on to point out that many brands today, in order to reach out to the northern and southern audiences, tend to find a balance in terms of celebrities who are known to both audiences alike and dub their ad campaigns according to the desired targeting of the communication.

Moreover, she also shared the notion that earlier on, in advertising, ATL and BTL activities along with on-ground activations were the keyways of reaching out to people, but when digital came in, it became easier for brands to reach out to whoever they wanted to, but today they are actually going back to all these old mediums in a big way.

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