Thursday, June 20, 2024

‘Retailer’s influence is much higher in rural markets’

By Retail4Growth Bureau | May 16, 2024

In an exclusive conversation with Retail4Growth, Rural Marketing veteran Sandip Bansal, who was heading Rural Practice at GroupM and has moved on from there to start his own initiative in rural marketing, talks about his plans and the huge potential that can be tapped by brands in the rural markets. 

<b>Sandip Bansal</b>

“Helping brands build equity and share in rural India,” says Rural Marketing veteran Sandip Bansal, while talking about his mission for the next phase of his career. Sandip, who headed Rural Practice at GroupM and has over 35 years of experience in this area, is moving on from GroupM. 

While he is still in the process of giving full shape to his future plans, Sandip is very clear that his area of focus will continue to be rural. “I have been a rural specialist all through my career. After nearly 12 years in GroupM, I have decided to move on and set up something that will enable brands to reap returns from their investments in rural marketing,” Sandip tells Media4Growth in an exclusive conversation.

Sandip’s professional journey in rural marketing began in 1989 with Video on Wheels, which was in fact the first structured approach to rural marketing in the country. He then joined Ogilvy, where he played a pivotal role in developing Ogilvy Rural, the agency's rural marketing arm. This was followed by his 8-year stint at Starcom, which he joined in 2005 and where he set up the rural practice called Xpanse Asia. He joined GroupM in 2012, and since then he has been driving their Rural Practice as its Head.   

Lens on Rural

Through his career, Bansal has been mapping the rural market, understanding its unique dynamics and noting the need for a structured approach that would yield marketing results. 

He says, reiterating the importance of rural in the marketing scheme of things, “Rural India is about 11.87% of the global population and this is a population that spends and consumes. It is a population segment that no one can ignore, with youth being a big part of it. It also contributes significantly to FMCGs and durables. But for lack of opportunities, this consumer segment was not getting the credit that it deserved. With the limitation of media options & opportunities (online & offline) and constraints moving away, you need to treat rural consumers like other consumers, to successfully market your brand to them, and orchestrate marketing strategies/approaches that are sustainable and yield positive returns on investment.” 

Strategic, sustainable & agile 

Helping brands unlock the huge potential of rural markets, is exactly where Sandip will steer his next course of action and this means creating new avenues for them to tap into this market

As he points out,“I am privileged to have created & managed initiatives across brands & categories over the years and had an opportunity to be first hand in touch with this fast-evolving rural consumer & environment, all through. This gives me a unique perspective and POV on how to use that to evolve choices, behaviors & practices.” 

Indeed, winning in rural, as Sandip says, entails a good understanding of the challenge & barriers, environments at hyper local level, being strategic & inclusive and having entrepreneurial approach & capability with a lot of agility. 

“A transactional or a random/tactical deployment of media or activation may only excite a Brand Manager/CMO but not the CFO. My focus is going to remain on aggregating/creating scalable & sustainable models & equations, networks & partnership that can be triggered objectively to bring about a change in behaviors, practices and choices among rural consumers/beneficiaries in an accountable, sustainable & scalable manner,” Sandip explains further.  

Push and Pull working in tandem 

Creating a scalable and sustainable to engage the rural consumer involves leveraging a mix of marketing mediums and retail touchpoints. As Sandip says, “The push and pull factors need to work together, especially in a retail market. So, while a brand creates demand, it will not work in rural if it’s not supported by availability and retail presence. In that sense, it is unlike the urban market, where awareness is a bigger priority. Retail availability, visibility and sales push have to go together in rural. And this entails creating an environment that is conducive to both pull and push.” It also means stepping up retail penetration and making sure that retail is a supportive touchpoint and not a roadblock. As Sandip says, “The retailer’s influence is much higher in Rural and plays a very critical part in brand visibility and sales. It’s not just about one time product placement in the store, but about making sure the retailer keeps recommending the brand to consumers. So he is an equal stakeholder in the entire brand building exercise in these markets.” 

Thus, Sandip’s new initiative will also involve strategizing brand presence and availability in rural retail and he is all geared up to roll out these plans into motion soon. 



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