Most of India still hasn’t forgotten how there was a time when everyone was vying to buy the Maruti Suzuki 800 or the Fronty as it was lovingly called. Fronty may have been bid goodbye after its memorable run spanning a couple of decades, but Maruti Suzuki hasn’t stopped churning super hit set of wheels – from Alto to Swift to Omni to Zen to Gypsy to Estilo to Wagon R to Ritz and now the newly launched LUV Ertiga. With a continuous churn out of successful car models suiting Indian families, Indian roads and Indian sensibilities, Maruti has also stuck to its Indian roots when it comes to marketing and promotions.
The rural market share of Maruti increased from 3.5 percent of total sales five years ago to 26 percent in 2012. Alto clinched 36 percent of rural sales in 2011, Omni hit 13.6 percent and the Wagon R accounted for 12 percent rural sales. So what magic has Maruti been yielding on the farmer clan of India and how? Let’s find out.
Maruti’s rural connection since 2008-09
In 2009, Shashank Srivastava, Chief General Manager, Marketing told Hindu Business Line states that Maruti Suzuki started paying more attention to rural markets after the economic meltdown when they realized that the recession had affected bigger cities badly. At that time, the ‘Ghar Ghar Mein Maruti’ and ‘Mera Sapna Meri Maruti’ campaigns were already afloat to target the rural segment.
Additionally, 3000 local villagers who were well versed with rural languages and behaviors were nominated as resident dealer sales executives of Maruti Suzuki, whose main job was to promote sales in their respective villages. They were further supported by over 186 extension counters. Maruti has gone the extra mile by taking villagers for factory visits, conducting detailed profiling of the villagers, their consumption patterns and their choices and capturing the attention of decision makers of the village like Sarpanch. From regular rural sporting events to sales fairs (Grameen Mahotsavs) to SMS campaigns for Gram Panchayat Members, Maruti Suzuki has done it all.
So, what’s the latest strategy up Maruti’s sleeve to lure its agrarian customers?
Video on Wheels
Off late, Maruti has been organizing road shows with film screenings. This is much like a travelling cinema that rural India is already quite familiar and fascinated with. The only difference being that the film is not set up in a tent, but inside a TATA truck fitted a Samsung LCD TV, an air conditioner and reclining seats. The film strikes a chord with the villagers because it tells a simple story of an average villager who buys a Wagon R after being persuaded by a friend who also bought a Wagon R.
The film has names that real villagers can relate to – Hari Prasad, Bimla and Duggal Ji. The host conducting the proceedings inside the truck too carries forth the experience of entertainment by mimicking Hindi film celebrities. And villagers are not allowed to leave without a brand recall mechanism. The host conducts a quiz based on the film shown and gives winners Maruti Suzuki memorabilia like caps, pens and wall clocks.
Win-Win for Maruti
Maruti has been taking advantage of a combination of change factors that rural India is witnessing. Credit finance and banking facilities are more accessible to villagers, word of mouth is stronger and they are moneyed folks. Parshu Narayanan, Creative Head and Managing Partner, Publicis Capital, the agency responsible for Maruti’s ad film aptly states "Today a rural consumer is much younger, far more exposed (to contemporary trends) and is getting more affluent".
Here’s an interesting snapshot of the kind of people that Maruti Suzuki is selling to.
- Orange farmers in Nagpur
- Turmeric growers in Tiruchengode, Tamil Nadu
- Granite polishers in Hyderabad
- Blue pottery makers in Jaipur
- Madhubani painters in Madhubani, Bihar
- Potato growers in West Bengal
- Apple and fruit growers in Himachal Pradesh
- Fishermen in Howrah
- Alphonso mango growers in Ratnagiri
The future of rural marketing
Around 2 percent of the 100,000 cars that Maruti’s sells on a monthly basis sales in rural India come from very small villages (population of less than 1000 people). While that is fascinating, competitors are not lagging behind. Hyundai cashed in 32 percent of its sales in non urban markets and GM sells 30 percent of its cars in villages. On the other hand, some farmers who have become rich overnight by selling their land, are on an Audi buying rampage. They call it the car with bangles, referring to Audi’s logo!
If every automaker in India is now looking at going rural, aren’t the rural markets going to saturate soon? While automobile giants make hay while the sun shines, they’ll have to simultaneously think of new strategies and discover more niches that help them up sales in the future.