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Feb 27, 2013, 10.30 AM IST | Source: SME Mentor

Why do entrepreneurs need to look at rural India now?

He is known for his bold and unconventional ideas in marketing strategy. That's why, when Harish Bijoor speaks, everyone listens.

Nikita Peer

He is known for his bold and unconventional ideas in marketing strategy. That's why, when Harish Bijoor speaks, everyone listens. In more conventional terms, Bijoor is a brand expert and CEO of the Bangalore-based Bijoor Consults Inc, an author, a lecturer and even a quiz master.

The marketing guru offers some compelling insights into the potential of the rural market in India and urges entrepreneurs to tap its humungous potential. In his signature, unapologetic style, Bijoor says, "We not only have a stomach and a bladder but 46 other body parts and each one of them craves a marketing solution."

Enter body part No 1, as Bijoor builds his case. "India has the world's second-largest population. Yet our penetration of brands and services is pathetic except for tea, which has the highest penetration. No other product or service comes even 20-per cent close to tea in terms of penetration, which means there is an opportunity for everybody to go out and do things," says Bijoor, famously known for marketing ideas such as printing ads on eggs and hanging banners upside-down to grab eyeballs.

Also a walking encyclopaedia, he shares a little-known tidbit to strengthen his case. Enter body part No 2 - hair! "Even though we are the second-largest country in the world, there are more opportunities here than in China, in many cases. For instance, the hair oil segment in China is smaller than that in India. While China has 800 million women, India has 600 million women. The average length of the hair of Chinese women is 1.6 feet whereas the average length of hair of Indian women is 3 inches. Thus there is more opportunity in India in the hair products segment."

Urban markets drying up

Bijoor is baffled at the tendency of companies to confine themselves to urban boundaries. He says it's time companies started devising a rural strategy as well as an urban one. "Companies look at urban markets because they end up plucking the low-hanging fruit of opportunity. But urban markets are drying up. Therefore, it is important to go rural. In rural markets, the opportunities are not sitting there; they need to be created."

He throws entrepreneurs a challenge - go rural first, then urban. "If you enter a mall in a big city with a perfume you have manufactured, you will find 20 other brands competing with each other and you will be the 21st. But in the rural market, you will be different and unique. Not only is an opportunity being created, there's a bright future out there for entrepreneurs," shares Bijoor.

And there's no excuse not to. Bijoor says distribution problems are passe. "The biggest leveller for all businesses is the Internet. The moment there is connectivity, the remotest corner of the country can order what they want. They don't have to travel 200 km to the city to look at a variety of brands."

Why you need to move beyond urban boundaries?

India's villages are simply not what they used to be, including the quality of life, which has changed dramatically. Pradeep Lokhande, Founder, Rural Relations, a Pune-based organisation that has been working for two decades to make Indian villages computer-literate, points out, "Education, communication patterns, policies like minimum support price, Rajiv Gandhi Aawas Yojna and Gram Sadak Yojna have completely altered life for rural Indians. India has the largest elementary education system in the world. Also, Doordarshan reaches 92 per cent of the population and satellite TV reaches 45-55 per cent. Every month, there are 5 lakh new installations of DTH TV. Thus, rural folk are exposed to the bold and beautiful. This, among other things, has led to higher aspirations among rural Indians."

According to Bijoor, the mind of the rural Indian is already cluttered. "Brands which move electronically get seeded very deeply and Doordarshan is a killer brand in rural India, even today." He cuts to the chase. "Rakhi Sawant is a big hit not only among Indian men but among women as well. This is because a lot of rural women live a vicarious life, and Rakhi is a star who connects with them. She talks with rusticity as they do." Unflattering as that may be for Sawant, point taken!

Duplication Is A Powerful Opportunity

Today, duplication is a huge opportunity, especially in rural India, says Lokhande, who has a knack of pointing out opportunities in the obvious. "Of the 6 lakh villages in India, 87 per cent are very small. Thus, anything in a blue bottle is Parachute oil and anything in red-and-white is either Colgate or Lifebuoy." That's why local brands stand out. Ghadi detergent is a classic example," he adds.

READ MORE ON  India, economy, Harish Bijoor

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