It’s been a while since Brand Equity ploughed through rural India scouting for interesting examples of marketing and brand activation programmes. The wait, as it turns out, was well worth it — we were rewarded with the opportunity to observe a Tata Motors-Insight programme in Telangana district in interior Andhra Pradesh
The distance from Shamshabad — where the spanking new Rajiv Gandhi International airport is located — to Hyderabad is roughly 20 kilometers . Just out of the airport, the road is silky smooth, but then it deteriorates rapidly; there’s a frenzy of construction everywhere, and potholes and traffic bottlenecks abound. In a way, the short, bumpy ride prepares me mentally for the longer one I am about to undertake into rural Andhra Pradesh in the company of Tata Motors’ Rahul Shyamsukha , and rural marketing company Insight’s Khurram Askari and A Khadeer.
The journey really began when we hit the road to Warangal, in Telangana district, about 150 kilometers from Hyderabad. Shyamsukha (manager – SCV passenger, Tata Motors ), Askari (CEO, Insight) and Khadeer (manager – strategy & activation, Insight) have the challenging task of introducing Tata Magic — the passenger version of Tata Motors’ Tata Ace — into a market dominated by well-entrenched , three-wheeler people mover brands.
Magic was launched in August last year, and Andhra being one of the biggest three-wheeler markets in India, it is an obvious target. The state accounts for almost 25% of sales for players like Mahindra Alpha, Piaggio Ape and Bajaj, Shyamsukha says. “The three-wheeler industry sold just over 50,000 units last year, and since launch we have sold around 2,600 Magic vehicles in Andhra, with 90% sales in rural markets,” he adds. The rural activation I am about to witness involves using Burra Katha, an ancient style of storytelling — with a Rajnikant clone thrown in as a bonus — to create buzz, influence key opinion leaders, and generate leads and follow-ups .
The story being enacted is about Basha, who doesn’t want to work but wants to live life in style. Basha’s in-laws-to-be are worried that he is not earning anything. So they begin the pitch to sell him the Magic, saying it’s a four-wheeler with a steering, gives better mileage, accommodates more passengers — which means more income than the ordinary three-wheeler drivers, and of course, respect from his peers. Basha is finally convinced and the act ends with a flurry of ‘Rajni dance steps’ .
“While deciding the script, we had thought about Chiranjeevi, who is more revered than Rajnikant in Andhra. But since he’s entering politics, we decided to play it safe and avoid any controversy,” explains Khadeer. The Burra Katha style was adopted given the medium’s prevalence in the state. As the performance gets over, the ground staff and the sales team try to get the three-wheeler drivers to take a look at the Magic, and even test drive it.
As we head for our next destination — Renugonda, 10 kilometers from Mogulpalli — I ask about the enquiries generated in Mogulpalli. There were 24 in all, to be followed up immediately; within the next month or so, at least two-three leads will be converted, the team is confident. “We have created a back office system to follow up hot leads immediately in our office at Hyderabad ,” informs Askari. Since it’s a planned purchase, conversion usually takes a month, depending on ready cash available as well as financing options.
Our trip to Renugonda meets an unexpected roadblock: a river ahead is in spate, so we have to take a detour via Parkal. “Once in the market, be ready for anything ,” shrugs Shyamsukha . We were not destined to visit Renugonda , however. For on the way, the next obstacle presented itself in the form of a huge crowd near a police station. The crowd comprises farmers who have come to collect fertilisers.
There’s a fertiliser scarcity, and given the late sowing season and upcoming elections, the state government is rushing in supplies. The atmosphere is tense and we are advised not to do anything in Renugonda as tempers are already fraying. So, instead, we head for Bhopalpalli, a coal mine belt close to Chhattisgarh.
By the time we reach the autorickshaw stand — the main catchment area at Bhopalpalli — it is buzzing with activity. Drivers are shouting out destinations, trying to cram passengers into their vehicles. The auto stand in these markets is like an ecosystem. So for Shyamsukha and his team, tapping the hired drivers/owners of the three-wheelers is important. “We have to ensure curiosity and word of mouth is generated.
So if the driver decides to buy a vehicle and become an owner in future, Magic is high in his consideration set,” he says. As the troupe starts its performance, it starts raining. The show can continue, but it becomes clear that the target audience, the drivers, are least interested. “It’s peak business hour for them, so no luck here,” informs Shyamsukha, as he announces pack up.
“The best time is between 11 am and 4 pm, when these drivers are idle,” he adds. As we head back to Warangal, I ask Askari about the lessons learnt today. He says that the distance between two locations is huge, to ensure optimum time utilisation , small villages that fall on the way can be covered. “We can have music playing from the float with announcements and pamphlet distribution in these villages as well,” suggests Askari. Another idea that crops up is to get the protagonist to mingle with the crowd for greater involvement.
Our destination on day two is Thorur, a small feeder town south of Warangal. The morning starts sunny, but the sky quickly becomes overcast. Shyamsukha is busy on his mobile, calling executives and asking for the sales updates. It’s an auspicious day for taking deliveries, and Shyamsukha is pushing his team to close the leads and take payments for orders placed a month ago. “It’s a cyclical business. We are now seeding the market for October to December . The next peak is between February and May,” he explains. This time the added impetus is because Tata Motors is looking to double its sales in this market in six months, an uphill task compared to the time taken for Ace. “Of course, the familiarity of Ace is helping Magic,” he adds.
En route, we halt at Rayparthy due of a road block by farmers protesting the nonavailability of fertilisers. I use the time to talk to Sudhakar, the owner of an electrical shop. He wants to buy the Magic and put it on rent, but the price tag of Rs 3 lakh gets him to enquire about EMIs, maintenance costs, the sharing of profits between driver and owner....
“Typically, a Magic driver, after all expenses, earns close to Rs 700 to Rs 1,000 a day. Given all the modifications done to the Magic, it can end up taking more passengers than any other threewheeler ,” explains Shyamsukha. Sudhakar is still undecided and says he will consult his brother, an auto driver, on the feasibility of the investment. “It’s these opinion leaders whom we are seeking to proactively influence,” Shyamsukha tells me.
Thorur auto stand at 12 noon is a perfect catchment, buzzing with idle drivers. The float is parked, and ‘Rajnikant’ and team get into action. The sound of the dhappu, ‘Basha’ and Rajnikant’s mannerism elicit a good response: very soon the crowd is spilling on to the road. I meet Tirupathi, a Magic owner. Tirupathi bought the Magic five months back, and he also owns a Bajaj three-wheeler .
He uses the Magic for feeder routes between Thorur and adjoining villages, while the Bajaj is for city transport . I quiz him on the daily earnings from the two vehicles. “I earn Rs 300 a day from Bajaj and Rs 700 from Magic. I want to buy one more Magic,” he replies. Shyamsukha takes Tirupathi on stage to endorse the advantage of Magic.
This wasn’t part of the plan, but it was capitalised upon once the opportunity presented itself, Shyamsukha tells me. For bizarre though it may sound, existing Magic owners are reluctant to publicise the advantages of owing a better vehicle — in fact, they often even indulge in negative word-of-mouth to keep competition at the minimum. “It’s basic human psychology of not allowing everyone to benefit, thereby grabbing the lion’s share,” explains Shyamsukha.
With Tirupathi publically acknowledging the benefits, he can’t go back on his word. “If he badmouths us, he will lose face in front of his colleagues,” adds Khadeer. Meanwhile, the idea of getting ‘Rajnikant’ to mingle with the crowd is working well — people follow him to the demo vehicle and the staff has a captive audience for the sales pitch.
Our next stop is Kuravi, a 2,000-plus population town near the Veerabhadra Swamy temple. It’s raining, but the team decides to go ahead with the event. Talking to Nevru, proprietor of Uday kirana shop and owner of a Tata Ace, reflects how locals tap alternate sources of income to buffer earnings from farming. Nevru earns around Rs 8,000 a month from the transport business, and the shop fetches him around Rs 3,000.
He owns seven acres of land where he grows cotton, chillies and rice, fetching him Rs 60,000 a year. Nevru can see the Magic as another source of augmenting his income, so a conversion is possible during the harvest season, says Shyamsukha. Shyamsukha asks his executive to be in constant touch with Nevru to stay top of the mind.
Back in Mumbai, Shyamsukha gives us an update on the two-week-long activity: over 2,400 people were contacted through the programme and 230 strong leads have been generated. The next stage has begun, with local executives calling and making personal visits to potential customers, demo vehicle in tow. The art of Magic is make-believe , but for Tata Motors, Magic’s success is the real thing. Yes, it does need a spot of help from a make-belief Rajnikant, though.
If you think Tata Motors pulled every trick out of the innovation book to make Nano a reality, you just have to meet the auto drivers in rural Andhra. A simple Bajaj three-wheeler , with 3+1 capacity, is modified to accommodate 10 passengers .
A long foam below the back rest of the driver’s seat collapses into a small seat to accommodate three people, facing the three already seated in the auto. The metallic side bars on both sides of the auto have small cushions to seat a passenger apiece.
In the front, on both sides of the driver’s seat, there are speaker boxes. While some have speakers, most of them are hollow, and are used to seat two more passengers in front. And in case there are some more passengers, the cover of the rear engine is opened for them to stand on, holding on to the sides.
In the Magic, the leaf spring (shock absorbers) are modified by the drivers. An additional absorber is added to the existing two to make the vehicle sturdier. And once the showroom tyres wear out, bigger tyres are fitted to take more weight. The side bars are cushioned to provide seating space. And in the tiny room behind the back seat, two plastic seats are placed. The Magic is now ready to take 16 passengers , compared to official capacity of 6+1.
(A rick in time: A cramped rickshaw)
6 months ago