A call towards a “Better Life”: Marketing Agri Value Added Services to Rural Communities in India

On a recent trip to India, our Programme Director Fiona Smith and I had the opportunity to visit a few Agri Value Added Services (VAS)  field deployments.  One visit that stood out was to the Shekhpura Village in Rajasthan (Northern India) to see Handygo’s  marketing and sales activities of their Behtar Zindagi (Hindi for Better Life).

Before discussing the specifics of their rural marketing campaign, let me give some background:  Handygo is a leading operator of mobile VAS in India, with millions of subscribers across the country.  To tap into the vast rural market, they created a VAS portfolio, called Behtar Zindagi, geared specifically to the needs of rural communities (Health, Agriculture, Finance and Education).  Last month, they announced a partnership with Bharti Airtel to launch and promote Behtar Zindagi throughout the rural villages of Rajasthan.

Rural marketing is quite challenging for several reasons:

  • Most businesses have little insight into the wants and needs of the rural market, or what messaging appeals to them.

Without understanding the specific problems, challenges, needs or aspirations of any market, one is unable to either create a compelling product/service or even draft effective marketing messages.

  • Regarding mobile services in particular, the lack of similar or complementary mobile or technology services in existence in the rural market means the market will need to be educated on what exactly is available and possible.

Conversely, the urban market is composed of mostly sophisticated mobile uses who already know what mobile phones and services are; how to use them; and understand their value.

  • Compounding these problems is a lack of communication media and rural infrastructure to connect with physically-dispersed villagers.

Urban markets are saturated with hundreds of media channels (TV, radio, billboards/signposts, internet, print, etc.).

Handygo’s traditional approach to marketing their value added services has been through OBD (out bound dialled voice message sent to the potential customer’s mobile phone) messages that tell them about the service and how to subscribe.

This has worked well for Handygo (and most other VAS operators) with the urban segment.  However, for the rural market, which is less savvy as mobile consumers, a more holistic approach is needed.  This is where the Handygo Van activities come into the picture.

Like a village road show, these vans are traveling to multiple rural villages, usually one per day.  To build interest and drive attendance to the main Van events, a promoter on a motorbike roams throughout the village announcing the pending arrival of the Van and what activities are to take place the following day.

Around 7am the next morning, the Van arrives and begins to play music announcing the start of the day’s events and draws a crowd.

Throughout the day a series of activities take place:

  1. Promoters give explanations of the service on offer to assembled groups
  2. Nukkad Natak (role play) to educate the audience on how the service works
  3. Promoters answer questions 1:1 and give demonstrations to those interested
  4. Interested villagers register for the service
  5. In the evenings promotional, educational and entertaining movies are shown to gathered crowds.

With over 100 vans, Handygo intends to target 27,000 villages in the next 6-12 months.

Marketing to rural communities is challenging and expensive.  Although there is no silver bullet to overcome each of the many challenges, Handygo’s approach with the Van Activities is a great start and is already showing early signs of success.  As we continue to work with Handygo and study the outcomes, we’ll share results, key lessons and insights.

What challenges and concerns do you face when marketing Agri VAS or other VAS to rural markets?  What strategies have you found to be more (or less) successful than others?

In future blog posts, we’ll discuss other key aspects of deploying successful Agri VAS, such as content, service design, financial sustainability, monitoring & evaluation, gender, etc.

Join the Conversation (2 comments)

  • Gaurav Sharma says:

    Hi Amol,

    Excellent column on the way Handygo is working out in India to make the mAgri initiative a success. It really amazes me with the mediums they are using to overcome all hurdles.Kudos to you and team!!!

    Gaurav Sharma

  • Great post you shared, you have now become top of my list. You were unknown to me before but have found your content to be fantastic.

    So great work for informing us of the possibilities and following a certain path.

    I really appreciate your hard work an giving us some information and inspiring others to follow.

    Thanks so much.

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