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Understanding the growing digital traction from Rural India

Understanding the growing digital traction from Rural India
Understanding the growing digital traction from Rural India

There were 504 million active Internet users in India as of November 2019, as per IAMAI-Nielsen report. In the core TG of 12+ years, Rural has 10 per cent more active users than urban, with one in three persons using the Internet in the last one month. As per the report, there were 227 million active Internet users in rural areas, which is 10 per cent more than around 205 million users in urban areas. The IRS 2019 Q4 report too states that Internet continues its surge, with more number of Internet users (Last 1 month) in rural now than in urban.

The report shows that the number of people actively accessing the Internet on a daily basis increased by 30 million since March last year. However, urban India still spends more time on the Internet than in rural areas. This increase has been attributed to cheap device prices and Internet packs. Initiatives like Digital India have definitely facilitated this growth.

Ambika Sharma, Founder & MD, Pulp Strategy
Ambika Sharma, Founder & MD, Pulp Strategy

As explained by Ambika Sharma, Founder & MD, Pulp Strategy, “Rural constitutes a large population, the lockdown has sped up digital adoption in Rural India; many Indians who did not use the digital medium have now started to use their devices to download apps, read news, get information about government schemes and keep connected. Digital usage has leapfrogged. Platforms, too, have brought down language barriers, digital payments have an improved penetration, and regional content which was sparse has increased. E-commerce is providing easy accessibility and with players like Amazon now in Hindi, with more languages to follow, the adoption will increase. The spurt in growth in digital consumption is coming from the upcountry markets and brands are following suit.”

Ashok Lalla, Independent Digital Business Advisor
Ashok Lalla, Independent Digital Business Advisor

Ashok Lalla, Independent Digital Business Advisor, attributes the growing adoption and use of digital in rural India to the availability of cheap data plans and smartphones and proliferation of vernacular content. “The Jio and TikTok effect is clearly playing a role,” he added.

The current lockdown scenario is seeing several brands shifting to digital in order to continue their engagement with the consumers. While the existing digital brands have leveraged it even more aggressively, even traditional brands are looking to secure a digital foothold. However, with limited resources and several restrictions, how can this platform be leveraged at an optimum level?

Krishna Kumar Revanur, Branch Head - South, iProspect India
Krishna Kumar Revanur, Branch Head - South, iProspect India

According to Krishna Kumar Revanur, Branch Head - South, iProspect India, “Digital Banking would assist and plug the gaps as currently there is a very high dependency on cash to pay for stocks, and with changing times and adoption to Net banking, UPI and wallets being embraced at a faster pace the way rural India conducts business could change forever...There has been an over 58 per cent increase in digital payments, UPI and wallets across India (including Tier 2 metros and small towns). A significant increase in transactions has been witnessed across utility payments, payments at grocery stores, pre- and post-paid mobile services, DTH and electricity bills, etc.”

Neha Kulwal, CEO, Admitad India
Neha Kulwal, CEO, Admitad India

For Neha Kulwal, CEO, Admitad India, online business has a lot of marketing options and channels to choose inside the digital world. During the time of lockdown, rural as well as urban people are spending more time on social media, entertainment, learning, gaming than ever before. Brands that are already in digital are using this time as an opportunity to be near to the consumers in different geographical areas.

“There are potential marketing channels and strategies which allow brands to reach out to their customers within their shrunk budgets, one such is CPA or performance-based marketing. Currently, many OTT, gaming, e-learning platforms have opted the CPA marketing channels for a result-oriented performance with Admitad,” Kulwal added.

The second channel is communication, while working on the brand strategy marketer should pay attention to the significant communication to drive consumer mind in rural India. In the time of disruption, marketers should always work on a balanced mix of marketing, advertising, and communication. Right messaging and social awareness-oriented communication campaigns drive the future of the brand.

Saugata Bagchi, Head - Global Content Marketing, Tata Communications
Saugata Bagchi, Head - Global Content Marketing, Tata Communications

Saugata Bagchi, Head - Global Content Marketing, Tata Communications, affirmed, “Brands have a great opportunity to digitally communicate in this space as the average time spent by consumers is on the rise. 99 per cent of the Internet access in the country is happening through the mobile phone, making digital the right place to deliver relevant communication (even if unbranded) and customise it through usage of vernacular and selection of topical content.”

Entertainment & communications industry

This untapped market has great potential and that’s where the next jump of Internet users is going to arrive from. Here, the entertainment and communications industry has a great opportunity to further grow. Digital innovations, affordability and leveraging vernacular languages will be key to get the rural user onboard.

iProspect India’s Renavur elucidated, “If theaters and movie screening halls go through extended lockdown and uncertainty, then producers and actors would like to release their projects directly on OTT platforms and hence, we could witness surge in adoption and reach around the same. Educative content around agri-technology and best practices available globally would see a surge in demand due to availability of cheaper devices and net-connectivity and further culturally relevant content addressing local sensitivity, could be the need of the hour across rural heartland as one-size-fits-all (global shows and western sentiments) might fail to make a dent across rural.”

Naresh Gupta, CSO & Managing Partner, Bang In The Middle
Naresh Gupta, CSO & Managing Partner, Bang In The Middle

Naresh Gupta, CSO & Managing Partner, Bang In The Middle, felt that it depended on how the big entertainment players engage the rural audience. “I don’t think data will remain as cheap as it is today, so the rural consumers will pay extra for data. Will they then control net usage? Also, how much will they give up on Whatsapp? What I am sure of is the rise of TikTok, that is one format that will go places, and maybe even competitors to TikTok are coming, and I would think even they will do very well. Wherever the platform makes the rural audience feel wanted, that will do very well. The battle is of languages,” he observed.

Leveraging vernacular languages along with apt technology will get more people to adopt digital and which will be the deciding factor for digital to survive and thrive in rural markets. As Renavur pointed out, “Voice, Video and Vernacular are good pointers as we see a surge in voice-based searches increasing across India, seeing a whopping 270 per cent growth year-on-year basis Google Insights for 2019. Also, 9 out of 10 new Internet users in India are likely to be Indian language users. Hence, it is crucial to have paid and owned brand assets covering landing-page and product description catering to the changing consumer trends.”

Bagchi added here, “Any content created for any audience needs to stay true to the basics. For the Rural audience, I’d see it coming together as:

  • Originality – Local language nuances make the content incrementally relatable to the audience & present a great opportunity to create original content
  • Value – Whether entertainment or knowledge, contextualisation for this audience has to be key. Video is the ‘In’ format & should continue to be leveraged incremental
  • Evolution – respect the viewer sentiments. What they may lack in exposure currently, is compensated for in terms of beliefs. Evolve the vernacular content to stay true to the changing beliefs & value systems of this audience.”

While we still experience some tough times due to the pandemic and lockdown situation, these numbers are definitely very fascinating to witness. This lockdown has actually resulted in a larger growth of digital in rural areas and definitely brands and players will look to further leverage these markets. The digital sector might be getting into a new “boom” stage.

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