India is a country of many conundrums, which is precisely what makes it vibrant and full of growth opportunities. However, one significant aspect is correctly identifying the country's rural and urban areas. Today, we've started identifying Rural India as Bharat, and understanding the rural customer is of utmost importance to help build Brand Bharat.

For many enterprises, it is essential to define the Bharat market properly to serve them better. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the adoption of digital technologies in rural and semi-rural India, and many local communities started leveraging digital tools to become financially independent. Today, we have 121.95 crore Aadhaar seeded bank accounts, nearly 87.23% of total bank accounts. The projected growth rate in FY 22-E is expected to be nearly INR 3573 billion, which amounts to a CAGR of 45%. The same positive trend can be seen for UPI too, and it is projected to grow by a CAGR of 35% in FY 22-E. It is wonderful to be a part of the digital revolution of rural India and watch Bharat's digital footprint grow and expand.

From Spice Money's experience and interaction with the rural communities, it is evident that customization is a critical enabler in serving the needs of rural India. Enterprises need to be aligned with the requirements of rural customers as their economic and social needs, means of earnings, and average earnings differ from the urban population. Therefore, it is imperative that Bharat needs a dedicated approach and consistency in innovation to cater to their needs. I believe, from now on, we need to evangelize Aadhaar Pay, enabling customers to make cashless payments without credit or debit cards or to withdraw cash from an Aadhaar linked bank account even without a conventional ATM/brick and mortar branch of a bank. It is truly the easiest way to make payments, as it is done using just the customer’s fingerprint. This is the critical focus at Spice Money as we work towards building India's most robust and comprehensive financial services marketplace model beyond offering essential products.

While one faces many challenges in the rural market, the most significant roadblock is the lack of a clear and direct communication channel. Conventional mediums like TV, print, and radio are still prevalent; the spillover is extensive and turns out to be an expensive and ineffective proposition. It is essential to establish a direct communication line with the rural audiences and communicate with them in their language to inspire trust and transparency. Bharat has multilingual shades, and regional audiences appreciate being spoken to in their local language. While communicating with the audience directly, we also need to understand how Bharat behaves on social media. The urban customer's online behaviour, social media, and mass media consumption is well defined and quickly tracked. However, the rural customer's media consumption patterns are unclear and vary from region to region depending on access to technology, level of data connectivity, and so on. Owing to these challenges, very few brands direct their communications to this audience segment. However, they fail to see that the rural customer is very keen on participating in such communications. The rural customer is evolving and is more receptive to brand communication directed to them than ever. The distinction, however, needs to be made. Direct advertising messaging will not be successful with rural customers, and more educational or influencing content could elicit a positive reaction from them. 

Marketers need to understand that the disposable income of rural audiences is very tight, and therefore, they do not exhibit impulse buying behaviour. Instead, they would opt for tried and tested products or products recommended by someone they trust. This is also why local marketers succeed more as they are trusted and position themselves to have deeply understood motivations and backgrounds. These apprehensions and the physical presence of local players give them the upper hand over national players. That being said, we've seen a shift in the customer's perception. The adoption of social media platforms like YouTube and Facebook has increased over the last few years, and the customer is now willing to expand their horizons. Today, the rural segment is looking for an alternative to the local players as they actively seek more choices. 

The most crucial aspect of staying relevant in this market is to be consistent and seen by the audience. As we've already established, the trust factor runs deep with the rural segment, and we need to showcase our presence to the audience constantly. The availability of your platforms, seamless customer service, trusting fall-back options, quick resolutions of issues, and guidance in terms of products and services go a long way in building that rapport with the audiences. Furthermore, the phygital approach enables businesses to reach, showcase, demonstrate, convince and transact with the rural population. We must understand this as we craft products to serve them. As we advance, we need to create Bharat-specific financial products to help underbanked and unbanked rural areas and bring them under the formal financial system.

Technology is solely responsible for driving practical solutions in rural India while creating accessibility and enabling opportunities. Rural India has the most extensive customer base. Yet, it is largely untapped because of the lack of digital wallet penetration, the limited reach of eCommerce platforms, and low technology adoption. But internet penetration increased by 13% in 2020, and it is expected to increase by 45% by 2025. This is where innovation in products serving rural customers comes into play. 

By harnessing modern technologies, digital Bharat start-ups can empower rural entrepreneurs. In rural India, physical infrastructure such as banks branches and ATMs is a big miss. The only solution was the deployment of digital services that offered cash-in and cash-out services through Aadhaar-enabled Payment Systems. Wherever traditional ATMs could not reach, m-ATMs became relevant. Credit and insurance will play an essential role in the future. Financial products will be offered through an aggregated platform that makes the experience even more convenient and seamless for rural customers. The rural market will always show great demand because we're dealing with nearly 65% of the country's population. But there is a clear gap in access to rural India, and most brands end up doing digital activities to reach out to them. It is time we distinguish the two beautifully distinct parts of India and target the customers specifically as per their needs; it is only then that we could build Brand Bharat as a developed market segment.

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DILIP KUMAR MODI

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