How to make Digital Marketing work in Rural India

How to make digital marketing work in Rural India

A huge number of villages in India are what you might call ‘media dark’. There is no reliable electricity source and therefore no TV. Literacy levels are low, which rules out print. Smartphones are extremely rare. The only media channels people can use are AM and FM radio or basic feature phones.

What is the secret to building a successful strategy in emerging markets like these? How do you deliver engaging digital content when your consumer’s ability to access it is so severely constrained?

I have spent the last few years working on that problem with Unilever. I’m currently Markets Implementation Lead for our global digital transformation programme but, to show you how you can drive digital acceleration in media dark areas, I’d like to go back to my time as an IT Business Partner in Hindustan Unilever’s marketing team.

You don’t need a smartphone to be smart

My first piece of advice would be to listen to your market, and build your strategy around its consumers’ behaviour. If you travel to rural India, you’ll notice people adopting a smart money-saving practice: instead of spending phone credit on actual calls, they communicate by giving each other missed calls. This ingenious solution inspired missed call-oriented business solutions of our own, which we’re now deploying to support some of our biggest brands.

KKT (Kan Khajura Tesan), for example, is an entire mobile-based radio channel that users access via missed calls. The ‘ear worm radio channel,’ is the first fully advertiser-funded mobile-based entertainment-on-demand initiative in India. Offering listeners a variety of Bollywood music and celebrity news, the channel has amassed 42 million registered subscribers, each of who our brands can now directly and natively advertise to.

Our aim is for it to become the largest provider of content in rural India. To date, KKT has secured four Cannes Lions (three gold; one bronze), including a first ever gold for Unilever in the mobile space. By thinking about how you can use consumer insight to create and deploy a win-win solution for both your consumers and your company, you could be just as successful.

Developing marketing in the developing world

The popularity of KKT confirms how effective mobile is when it comes to enlightening media dark areas. If you’re speaking to a developing market and want to replicate our award-winning success, there are three things you must do.


1. Define your consumer journey

The first step to building a successful strategy is to understand the journeys your consumers go on. In a developed market, many of those journeys will take place via smartphones. Emerging market behaviour, however, is predominantly mobile-driven, encompassing calls, Interactive Voice Response and SMS; even those consumers who do have smartphones may not be able to access the internet reliably, as connectivity is not always great.

2. Create the right content

Once you understand your consumer, the next step is to create the right content for them. It needs to be creative, interesting, engaging and, ideally, something they can’t get anywhere else. Consumer behaviour in emerging markets limits your options in this respect; the challenge is to find a way of delivering creative content within these constraints.

3. Build the right platforms

However brilliant your content is, if you don’t have the right platforms to support it your strategy is bound to fail. For KKT, we worked in partnership with a telecom operator to create our own unique platform that ensured the best possible results at optimum cost.

Different markets demand different approaches

As you might expect, given how much our approach is driven by consumers, the solutions we’re developing for other emerging markets like Indonesia and Africa vary from the Indian model.

That’s the beauty of working across emerging markets. Rewarding on multiple levels – inspiring on even more. Perhaps the best piece of advice I can give you is to remain flexible and never take a one-fits-all approach. Take joy in the discovery of a new region, and use its distinct characteristics to inspire your own strategy.

Are you looking for global opportunity? Whether you start with an internship, graduate programme or job opening, at Unilever you can shape your own path as you work with the brands and people that drive our sustainable business growth. Discover more by following Unilever on LinkedIn. First published here.

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Shruti Kashyap

I am currently the Global Markets Implementation Director at Unilever. My main responsibility is to drive Unilever’s large global digital transformation program called Digital 2.0 from a technology and capabilities standpoint. Additionally, I am also responsible for digital innovation for emerging markets especially in areas like mobile.

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