An invincibechasm existed between Parveen, a farmer in the remote parts of Uttar Pradesh, and the various welfare schemes launched by the government. Even as the country was celebrating covering massive strides towards a digital, mobile-first economy, he felt unfairly disadvantaged only with his old feature phone, having to settle for an occupation that didn’t promise reliable and consistent flow of income.
A man of few needs, Parveen would have waited out the rest of his days on just two meals and a bare minimum, but the lack resources now crippled the wellbeing of his family. His girls couldn’t access proper menstrual care facilities, his son didn’t know how to even start looking for a job in a bigger city, and his wife, who had been his faithful companion in life, struggled to find viable means of adding to the family income and ended up feeling like a burden.
The fates of Parveen begin to take an upswing when he attended this one community event. While community events are the norm in India’s hinterlands, this event, in particular, was disseminating information on how one can learn, first-hand, about various welfare schemes launched by the government. Parveen discovered how, by simply giving a missed call to a toll-free number, he could learn about various government schemes.
Parveen is part of over 60 million people, hailing from over 300 districts in India, who were part of a massive dark mile outreach program. By only placing a missed call, they received complete information on various welfare schemes launched by the government, be it for girl child education, women safety and sanitation, employment opportunities for the rural youth, amongst others. Getting the information where it is needed most acutely and where it is the hardest to reach is the very need, scope, and importance of dark mile engagement.
Do Not Let Potential Customers Slip Under The Radar
Digitalisation is so well-spread in the urban landscapes that it is difficult to remember a time before that. The launch of Jio was truly a watershed moment in establishing a digital landscape and democratising internet access in the country. However, there still exists a significantly large population that has no access to even decent internet connectivity and in certain cases, the reach and impact of traditional media is also scarce.
These audiences are referred to as the “dark mile of India”, because given the challenges of medium and message, it is very difficult to reach and engage with them. They use featurephones or smart-feature-phones at best and rely on mobile tools like IVR, SMS, CRBT, DBT and local-radio for the purpose of communication.
A lack of means does not, however, translate to a lack of ambition. Much like their urban counterparts, they too prefer choices, need information, want entertainment, and seek their community. And as their purchasing power grows, and they come into the rurban fold, their needs and wants will increase.
The Neglect Of The Dark Mile!
The dark-mile lacks the lustre of their urban counterparts, which explains why the segment has been neglected for so long. Not only is it difficult for the brands to reach them, but the language barriers with ever-changing localised dialects also make it even more cumbersome to communicate with these users. Furthermore, since they are not heavy consumers of products and information, brands and organizations don’t see them as a priority.
But that story needs to change. Firstly, while the urban landscapes have been saturated with product and information overloads, India’s hinterlands actually put forth greener pastures for brands and organisations. Growth-seeking brands can traverse through the remotest parts of the country with simplistic technology and there is a lot to gain in return. The ambition levels of these users are on a hike and they aspire for the same lifestyles and products as shown by the urban counterparts on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, etc.
More importantly, as we today seek a thriving economy, we can’t ignore India’s dark mile. As a nation, if we need to progress, we will need to engage every community, build for and deliver to every community.
Here’s To The Changing Times
In India, 2 out of 5 people are still on a featurephone or a smart-feature-phone. Their primary purpose for the phone is voice-calling. However, at recently held Reliance’s AGM, it was announced that Google is going to invest a lot of money in Jio Platforms, in addition to bringing its Android expertise to the platform and build the world’s most affordable smartphone, in India for India. This is truly great news for India and Indians, as we take baby-steps towards a truly digital future.
However, a product or technology needs considerable time for reaching the stage of mass acceptance and usability. Until then, authorities, organizations, and brands need to create innovative solutions using available tools to engage with the dark-mile of India and ensure they too have access to information, choices and opportunities.