For people living, working, and farming in rural India, the spread of modern technology has revolutionized their daily practices. In particular, many of the more than 200 million Indian people using the WhatsApp chat function rely on it to expand their sales reach and build their small businesses, in ways that have never been possible before.
The app facilitates interactions, so it often gets used to chat with family and friends, of course. Because it is free and often preinstalled on new phones sold in India—as well as relatively easy to use, without eating up precious data resources—WhatsApp has spread widely. Thus in addition to chatting with distant family members, people are using it to sell their goods and services to distant customers.
For example, one farmer relies on WhatsApp to provide constantly updated photographs of his mango crop to potential buyers. When a stay-at-home mother wanted to create a bakery business, she created a WhatsApp group, PB Kitchen, in which various members of her community join together to buy and trade their own food products. Thus one member might offer up her famous sambas, which another member can purchase or trade for her delicious cupcakes.
These uses are particularly notable among those who sell food products, which likely reflects India’s culinary traditions. Recipes and tips historically have been shared in person, verbally and tacitly, rather than standardized in published cookbooks. With WhatsApp, food producers can specify how they decide on the right amount of curry to add to a dish, and the recipients in turn can produce menus that reflect years of family tradition. One foodie described how WhatsApp allowed her mother to record the sound of onions sautéing, to help explain just how long to cook them. Sending such a recording over a text message would have been more complicated and used up more data than her mother could afford to share.
In the restaurant industry, WhatsApp also helps small restaurants find both workers and potential customers. Many of the workers in this industry are undereducated, and the job tends to be somewhat temporary. But because WhatsApp is so easy to use, most people can find the information they need readily, helping expand the employment ranks and support the survival of the businesses.
Even the reporting of this story exemplifies how the app can enhance personal selling efforts. The reporter who initiated the investigation turned to WhatsApp to introduce herself to potential informants and gather feedback. All the interviews were conducted through the app, which the entrepreneurs preferred over more challenging communication channels such as email. Thus for marketers in India and around the world, WhatsApp promises great potential for reaching broader, wider, and deeply interested audiences.
1. Can WhatsApp learn from these experiences to expand into other developing markets?
2. What features of WhatsApp make it particularly appealing to personal sellers and marketers in India?
Source: Priya Krishna, “WhatsApp Is Changing the Way India Talks About Food,” The New York Times, November 23, 2018; “‘Share Joy, Not Rumors’ Says WhatsApp in its First Campaign in India,” AdAge India, December 4, 2018; Priya Krishna, “A Food Reporter’s Newest Tool to Reach Across India: WhatsApp,” The New York Times, December 4, 2018