Thinking about the post I’d written last week about the various Indian companies planning to enter the smaller towns and villages of India with Chinese made mobile phones at affordable prices, it struck me that there might be a way to differentiate themselves in the market and compete effectively. While slapping on their logos on a bunch of similar looking phones might give rise to the commodification of the product category and actually benefit the large MNC brands, one thing that is sorely lacking in this market is basic contextual knowledge of ICT devices.
Something I wrote in October 2007 came to mind. It was originally addressed to the service providers but who is to say that a local manufacturer of devices cannot do the same for the aam aadmi or kisaan? Here’s the snippet,
“Nandini Lakshman who wrote the original BusinessWeek article on how the mobile was improving rural income levels added that once there was an example of economic success in front their eyes, it didn’t take long for the villagers to figure out that they too could benefit by doing the same – investing in a cellphone and using it to turn entreprenuerial. She observed that if operators were to offer a bundled package of services for the micro businessman along with the basic phone service, perhaps including microfinance as well as training and support, she wouldn’t be surprised if they could sell more than they expected.
The business opportunities are just one aspect of the potential change we happen to be standing on the tip of, imho, when it comes to rural india and the mobile phone. While “Nokia” may have become synonymous with ‘cellphone’ in India, perhaps its time for mobile operators like Bharti and others to seriously invest in ethnographic research to understand the aspirations and ambitions of their current and future rural customers and designing services that fit those unmet needs, beyond the need for a simple phone call. If the mobile is indeed creating jobs, increasing incomes and adding value – we’re looking at the potential to design service plans unlike any ever required in the urban or developed context.
Could basic business training be part of a mobile plan? Can they be taught to use the calculator? Can a class on effective usage of a phone be part of the purchase? The area is ripe for innovative ideas but to truly make the difference they must be based on insights derived from observation and understanding.”