|Oral Education Programate
|Empowering rural youth
|Driver to entrepreneur
|Cultivating customer relationships – Case study in Philip Kotler’s book on Marketing ManagementFor marketers who target a large customer base, as is the case with FMCG marketers, it is unviable for a single company to build one-to-one relationships with customers. One organization, rural relations, started the business of networking with villagers, developing direct contact with people in a large number of villages in 10 states in India. This organization provides an array of services on commercial terms, such as subscription-based information about rural markets, product sampling, franchisee identification, lead generation, customer profiling, direct mailing, recruiting and training of people from rural areas and media, public relations, and on-ground activities.
Many companies in FMCG sector utilize this specialized knowledge they want to communicate directly with some of the constituencies in villages. As an example of one such activity, rural relations wrote to a large number of people in villages that act as feeder markets to other rural markets about hygiene health, and oral care. When villagers sent their queries, it provided hand-written replies to each of them. The relationships built by rural relations in these villages are leveraged by FMCG majors when they introduce new products or they are re-launch existing brands.
While undertaking such campaigns, rural relations collects feedback and provides hand-written replies to any queries, which help in strengthening the relationship further.
rural relations: A Socially-Driven Co
A case study in Economics Times by:
Pradeep Lokhande – The Person
After graduation, Pradeep moved to Pune to stay with his uncle in a joint family. His uncle ran a cafeteria, where he first started working. After work he rearranged the furniture there, made himself some space and slept there on most nights. During the day, he would serve tea in the neighboring “Officers Club”. He was awed looking at the respect the officers commanded from the visitors who dropped in at the club. Watching the officers, he had his first big dream – becoming a “saheb” (a gentleman) himself one day. He was simply in admiration of their professionalism, work, stature and social respect that they commanded. He wanted to be addressed as “sahib”, count bundles of currency and own a car with bright red and yellow tail lamps! He wanted to be able to share a cup of tea with these officers one day.
Pradeep always knew that desire; dedication and effort were the three key ingredients to success, and the stint at officer’s club made him realize the importance of education as the fourth one. In pursuit of his dream, he enrolled himself in a distance education program specializing in marketing. To garner practical experience, he convinced a friend’s father who had a business selling paper tissues to allow him to market them. On completing his diploma, he was selected during the campus placement process by Johnson & Johnson Company to market their products in Madhya Pradesh. This being his first stint with corporate, Pradeep wanted to do his best. He knew he had a big dream, only the vision and the characters in his dream were hazy. He had to gain a lot of practical experience and a feel of the markets to be able to understand business. He travelled extensively in Madhya Pradesh and worked with J&J for
With this accumulated capital, he decided to start his business. He took up the distribution of bakery items in Pune with a couple of friends. He would pick up the baked stuff from the distributors and would drive the tempo truck himself carrying and selling stock to the retailers. He toiled from eight in the morning till late in the night. All this hard work fetched him at the end of the month a net return of INR 10,000. His friends who were his partners in the business were not interested in such low returns and withdrew. His first attempt at starting a business on his own had failed.
He chanced to attend a lecture delivered by a Director of a foreign bank who opined that the future of business lay in rural India and that the potential was almost limitless. This set him thinking and a germ of an idea grew in his mind. What if he could run a business with rural India as its target market while at the same time contributes to its development. His initial thoughts were unclear on how to go about it. One thing he was sure of – he would help the rural youth of Maharashtra, who had stars in their eyes and yearned to be successful. He would try to inculcate good reading habits, expose them to computers and provide them with the opportunities and resources to make it a reality. He became a man possessed with that mission.
He embarked on a journey of discovery to find out what makes rural India tick. Though he hailed from a village, he knew deep down that there was more to life than what meets the eye or what he has lived through. He wanted to know the essence and core of village life – its customs, traditions, cultures and mindset of the villagers. He personally visited 4000 villages across the country in his journey. He strived to understand the rural administration methodologies, local markets or the bazaar-haat systems and the education infrastructure and process. During his visits, he established direct contact with opinion leaders and started recording obscure details of the local economy. His journey of discovery exhausted all the capital that he had. He had to sell things from home to survive. Family and friends thought he had lost his mind, investing time and money to collect data from rural areas. Friends tried to dissuade him that this did not make any business sense, and that there was no future in it.
rural relations – The Company
Information gathering methodology
Pradeep would send in questionnaire postcards for which he was lucky to get scanty responses. This did not discourage him. Soon he sent 9000 postcards to other villages (Exhibit 1, 2 and 3). His wife and father would help him write the postcards and also to collect and classify the information. He received 20 responses from 9000 postcards. He repeated this exercise two times. He then sent Diwali greetings to 10,000 villagers with a reply card. This got him 800 responses, thereby confirming his belief that people in rural India believed in building lasting relationships. The rural market had to be approached with the mindset of establishing relationships rather than working on it as a business model. This revelation also prompted him to finalize the name of his organization as ‘rural relations’. Encouraged by the responses, he set out on his journey to collect information about rural markets first hand. His wife would enter all the data on an old computer.
He realized that to be able to monetize the information repeatedly, it had to be kept constantly refreshed. Pradeep adopted a dual strategy of continuing to mail reply paid questionnaires (Exhibit 4), and of setting up teams on the ground called “the village developer”. The “village developer” teams were formed in the villages that Pradeep had identified for testing his entrepreneurial skills. The “village developer” builds the relationships, comprehends the mindset, traits, preferences and values of the inhabitants of the village. These village developers were rural youth drawn from the area they were to work in thus providing employment to rural youth but also leveraging their knowledge of local language, customs and people. rural relations had 32 village developers on the ground, and this would be increased by hiring on a temporary basis when specific projects demanded more coverage. This ensured that the villagers did not see it as a one way relationship.
Monetizing the Information
Over the years now, rural relations has become the information resource and market activation partner of companies such as Reliance Money, Unilever, Tata Automobiles, Procter & Gamble, Tata Tea, Reuters, HP, Marico, Blow Plast and Asian Paints to name a few. From concept to implementation, from strategy to developing communication that works in the rural settings, rural relations continues to help these companies to achieve their marketing objective. Companies can either buy targeted information on a one time use basis or subscribe to their continually updated research called Rural Barometer. The Rural Barometer is a live, dynamic and regular information source on rural India, by region and state to help marketers understand the villager like never before, gain valuable insights, learn about competition, distribution and empower them to forecast trends.
Leveraging the knowledge for social development
Gyan-key is the flagship program to motivate students to develop good reading habits. Its aim is to open a library in the secondary school in key villages in every state – a library for the students, managed by the students. The organization invites individuals and corporate to make donations directly to the publisher and rural relations coordinates the delivery of the books and setting up of the library. The library kit consists of 170 carefully chosen books and costs INR5000. They have installed libraries in 480 schools in Maharashtra over nearly as many days and are targeting to cover 1000 villages by August, 2012. Pradeep spends about 15 to 20% of his time on getting donors to support Gyan-key and installing the libraries in the schools. His village developers spend about 2 weeks in installing the library and supporting the school in its operation. Over the past two years (400 school days), rural relations has received over 42000 letters a clear indicator of the success of the program. 49 schools have not been sending letters and rural relations is following up with them to see what’s wrong. 10% of his annual
There have been many initiatives to take Information Technology to the rural masses. But Pradeep felt that there concrete ways to do more. The intention was not to make the villagers computer literates, but at least get them to touch, feel and try computers. He began to install used computers in villages, especially in secondary schools, where the interest and inquisitive levels were high. When he personally could not find the means and finance to progress, he appealed to individuals, organizations and corporate to contribute used machines. rural relations has succeeded in installing 3600 computers in village secondary schools.
The Non-Resident Villager MovementTM (NRV) is an effort to bring an individual back to his/her roots. Pradeep believes that every Indian yearns to reach out and make a difference to his country, his village and rural relations facilitates that through their network of ‘village developers’. The company organizes an exclusive tour of an individual’s native village where he gets a chance to visit the village, see the ancestral home, meet long forgotten family and friends and more. This opportunity to connect with one’s roots comes for a nominal fee of $100. The individual can also contribute to getting special projects done in areas like Power, Health, Roads, Communication, Water and Sanitation or donate a computer by writing out a cheque directly to the manufacturer/distributor with rural relations coordinating the logistics of installation and use.