Launching India’s largest farmer cooperative’s eCommerce portal (IFFCO Bazar) in rural India

SITUATION

Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative Limited, also known as IFFCO, is a mult-istate Cooperative Society. With over 40,000 member cooperatives, IFFCO is one of the largest cooperatives in the world with a revenue of over $3.3 billion.

In April 2017, IFFCO launched a digital platform by the name of Indian Cooperative Digital Platform (ICDP) to empower Indian farmers.

The goal of the platform is to provide all farm related services under one roof, from advisory on crop related issues to job opportunities, from buying and selling online to showcasing talent opportunities, and so on.

Their major challenges to do so were:

  • Revolutionary platform: To explain to the rural audience about the existence and features of the platform while emphasising the ease of use.
  • Novel products: To promote products that the target audience was not particularly familiar with, thus eliminate the hostility and hesitation.
  • Resistance to online transactions by rural audience: The target audience, since rural, does not have much exposure to surfing the web (apart from using applications like Facebook and WhatsApp), making the company’s goal to boost online sales hard to achieve. Online payments are difficult for them as some may not have access to the right tools to pay, some find it hard to believe that it is secure, lack of funds or digital means among other reasons.

Key Goals were identified

  • Build a community of farmers & agricultural experts on social media
  • Boost online sales of (newly launched) products by IFFCO and its subsidiaries
  • Empower farmers digitally by providing crucial information related to agriculture
  • Secure the position of Knowledge Leader in the industry

SOLUTION

IFFCO partnered with iarani Inc. to devise a strategy to market their online portal digitally. The primary medium leveraged was Facebook. With over 25 million Indians using the platform in rural parts of the country (according to the IAMAI-IMRB report), and rural internet penetration growing twice as fast as its urban counterpart, Facebook was the most logical platform to start marketing the novel business model.

We set out to digitally empower Indian farmers by providing relevant information that they could relate to. We were determined to implement our strategy that was more than just e-commerce. We started by researching a wide variety of topics that would build traction with farmers. We wanted to educate the farmers, showcase simple ways that could make their lives easier and better.

We came up with subjects that would be useful to farmers to be part of the content plan. The major focus areas were:

  • Modern Agriculture Methods
  • Rural Innovation
  • Best Farming Practices etc.
  • Technical topics related to the prevailing crop cycle &conditions
  • Insect/weed management
  • Irrigation methods
  • Harvesting tips
  • Advice on machinery to use
  • Practices to increase yield while minimising costs etc.

Occasionally, the content plan also included the products that IFFCO wanted to sell, however, not being the prime focus.

Content was published frequently in the form of creative graphics and videos, with appropriate links to the website pages. We witnessed a steep rise in the website traffic as well as online orders. A quiz contest was launched to engage with farmers more aggressively. Attractive prizes like smartphones made it easier to drive the quiz campaign.

Our primary focus was to create a community of people engaged in agriculture from farmers to agricultural experts. With paid promotions, we packaged the right content that engaged the target audience. As a result, with a limited funds and promotions panning two weeks, we created a community of 100,000 people.

STRATEGY

  • We created a strategic plan, heavily relying on quality content – graphics & videos to engage the audience
  • We researched to quickly learn what will and what will not work with the target audience
  • With some instance testing, we are able to refine our understanding of the audience and their requirements
  • We engaged with the users heavily, by responding to their queries and comments be it regarding sales or subject advice.
  • We were able to create a community of 100,000 farmers & agricultural experts

RESULTS

  • We were able to reach out a wide rural audience, over 1,05,000 unique people every day and 4 million unique people in the period of 1 month, purely through our content posted on Facebook
  • We created an engaging community that saw ICDP as a powerful and extremely useful platform. Farmers started to ask questions about their crops, even shared images, seeking expert advice
  • We became the powerhouse of great quality content.
  • Any video we shared would gather thousands of views organically, and posts would start getting reactions the moment they would be published.
  • The website also saw a significant surge in traffic, we added almost 60,000 farmers to the user base.
  • Orders started flowing in. Almost 100 orders with a total bill amount exceeding 1,00,000 rupees were converted during the period
  • Above average ROI. Cost of a acquisition of followers was 600% less than industry norms which meant that the audience loved the content that we were publishing
  • Very often the organic reach of posts would surpass the paid reach, thanks to the “shares” by farmers.
  • Reviews on the Facebook page were pouring. Within a month, we got over 150 reviews giving the page an average rating of 4.7
  • Within the umbrella of the parent brand, we were able to create an identity and niche for the Digital Platform with its own loyal follower base.

Key Numbers (in first month)

  • 4 million people reached 
  • 100,000 people followers
  • 60,000 farmer visits on the website 
  • 100 orders worth Rs. 1 lakh recieved
  • 5x Return on Investment

INSIGHTS

During the implementation of the campaign, we learned a great deal about the rural audience in India

The rural audience is tech savvy and open to experiment – more than the urban audience

Before starting the campaign, we researched the rural audience using WhatsApp. We created multiple groups of farmers in a given geographical region. We realised that the farmers were well informed, digitally savvy and open to employing modern platforms that could help improve their quality of life & work.

They were extremely open to transact online to purchase products that they might not have purchased before. Cash on Delivery is the preferable mode of payment.

Adopting a multi-lingual approach

While this was always part of the strategic plan, we realised the need for it too soon in the game. Only two weeks into the campaign, we started getting requests from farmers from the non-Hindi speaking parts of the country to translate content in their local languages. We engaged our language partner to take care of this.

Data usage no bar

Contrary to naïve belief, one would think the rural audience would not be too interested in watching videos that would consume a chunk of their data allowance for the month! However, they consumed videos on Facebook and engaged with them. Average videos that we posted were 1 minute 30 seconds in length.

How our experience with IFFCO can be useful to your business?

If you have a business that caters to the rural audience in India, or wish to expand to tier two and tier three cities in the country, your business could grow leaps and bounds with the correct marketing strategy. With our extensive experience with the end users of your business, we understand their psyche rather well, and this could be a boon for your business.

The rural masses react very differently to marketing efforts as compared to an urban audience. One has to figure out carefully the sensitivities of the target group and work on the marketing strategy accordingly. As we have mastered this art, a partnership with iarani Inc. would definitely be meaningful and fruitful.

Facebook need not be the prime or sole medium to promote your business, but we will do an extensive market research to see where your potential customers are, take stock of your competitors and suggest to you a plan that will be easy to implement and bound to bear results.

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