With urban consumers cutting back on their spending spree, fast-moving consumer goods companies have redoubled efforts to tap into rural India in 2012-13. In their latest annual reports, Dabur India and Hindustan Unilever (HUL) have both highlighted why the rural markets are so critical and what they are doing to better their rural sales.
HUL’s decade-old Project Shakti received a technology boost in 2012. About 40,000 Shakti Ammas were equipped with a basic smartphone. These smartphones had specifically designed software enabled them to take and bill orders, manage inventory and receive updates on promotional schemes run by the company. This improved their efficiency The Shakti workforce rose to 48,000 in 2012, up by around 3,000 from the year before. Project Shakti equips women with the basic entrepreneurial skills and facilities needed to set up and market FMCG products.
If HUL depended on its Shakti Ammas to connect with consumers, Dabur India embraced the idea of getting rural folk to sample products and experience the benefits for themselves. The idea was to get word-of-mouth advertising of product benefits.
The company made the most of fairs and melas around the harvest seasons when purchasing power is high. It also conducted school health camps to boost its toothpaste and chyawanprash portfolio and beauty pageants, to showcase its ayurvedic beauty products.
That’s not to say the company ignored the power of the mobile phone. Dabur’s rural sales force used mobile phones to report sales. Phones were equipped with maps showing the demographics and market potential of each locality, to improve rural coverage. Over two years, Dabur’s rural strategies saw it doubling the villages under its coverage to 30,091.
For any FMCG company, the efficiency and reach of its distribution systems is the most important tool to improve profits and drive sales. In this regard, HUL has a giant coverage reaching out to over 2 million outlets. To improve connect and with its distributors , HUL set up a helpline for its distributors and retailers to address problems or questions quickly.
Dabur, meanwhile, armed more than half of its urban sales force with hand-held devices to generate data, which is then used to decipher buying patterns and customise selling strategies. IT has also been used to provide information to, and generate feedback from doctors on Dabur’s formulations and ayurvedic products.