The Indian demographic is unique in terms of vast cultural diversity, which naturally extends to a multitude of languages. In fact, there are 22 recognized languages in total, which have over 700 variations in regional dialects. Truly earning India its title of the– ‘Land of Languages’.
India is the second-largest online market, globally – with over 450 million internet users. The vernacular internet user base is 234 million users, growing at 41% in 5 years. This has led to vernacular internet users surpassing those who predominantly speak English. The Indian language base is expected to grow to 536 million by 2021, while the English internet user base is pegged to reach 199 million at an annual growth rate of just 3%.*
As shared in the study by KPMG and Google India 2017, “Indian Languages – Defining India’s Internet”
The advent of the internet showed early adoption by English speakers. Innovators were young, urban and English-speaking brand managers who understood the technology, search engines, digital advertising spends, social media, etc. and were making content for similarly savvy consumers. While this truly brought innovation in brand communication, it also led to brands being stuck in a lingual loop of simply creating and regurgitating content in English.
This presented some challenges for vernacular speaking internet users:
Brands that want to reach the masses have to cover a steep learning curve, given that Indian native languages are set to overtake the English user base, globally.
1. Brands need to think local.
Today, with telecom players like Jio subsidizing internet prices, the internet user base is expected to massively grow across tier 1 and tier 2 cities of India. What is important to note as a marketer is that the cultural touchpoints, social sensitivity and language dialects vary from region to region. Campaigns with big hero ideas need to ensure they make a local, region-specific rendition of the same. This can be done in the following ways:
- Don’t just include auto-translate but spend time in dubbing the hero Idea in the vernacular language. It works for movies it will also work with advertising!
- Manage your media distributions. Currently, technology giants, Facebook and Google, account for 80% *of the advertising spends in India. Therefore, running the targeted ads with images, videos, gifs and copy that’s customized in the local languages brings in more ROI because of relatability. Studies have shown* that Indian language internet users are more comfortable using the electronics category online rather than other categories like fashion, lifestyle, home care, groceries, beauty, and books, etc. This can be pointed to the lack of cataloguing of the categories in vernacular languages.
*KPMG and Google India 2017, “Indian Languages – Defining India’s Internet.
2.Translation is not the same as adaptation.
We have all heard about reading a piece of art as the original work because it brings much more context to the story. The same logic applies to campaigns. A lot of our references and sentimentalities are local and don’t necessarily transcend on scale. Brands tend to take a shortcut by just converting the words into the local language, but this is a job half done.
However, if a brand is stretched to budgetary limits this is the bare minimum. With options like Google translate and automatic subtitles, a brand can leverage the vernacular for no cost, albeit with translation errors but still somewhat clearly communicated. However, if budgets do allow, a little more effort can help a brand build ‘Aha value’ by adapting the narrative to the local culture.
3. Thinking beyond the “big four” of social media.
Brands need to view Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn as a basic set of social tools to start with – but, to tap into tier 2 and tier 3 demographics, brands need to look into vernacular apps like ShareChat, Roposo, and DailyHunt when strategizing and executing campaigns.
At present, the ShareChat app sees over 60 million people accessing its platform every month in 15 vernacular languages — Hindi, Punjabi, Bangla, Gujrati, Marathi, Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, Bhojpuri, Odia, Kannada, Assamese, Rajasthani, and Haryanvi.
Sunil Kamath, Chief Business Officer, ShareChat said “At ShareChat we have always focused on ensuring a locally fitting social media application for everyone to use. We came into being in 2015 and since then, we have grown phenomenally. We saw that there was a content vacuum amongst non- English internet users and therefore at ShareChat, we are building a product where people can consume/create and share content in regional languages. At present, our users can share content in 15 Indian languages with an engagement rate of 23 minutes per user. Today, we have 60 million monthly active users majorly from semi-urban and rural markets who prefer to consume content in regional languages and are said to have an annual spending power of $300bn which is a huge opportunity for local as well as national marketers.
He further added “We are a UGC driven platform which is the best way to share knowledge/information within a community which makes it much easier for any brand to spread their brand messaging via the micro-influencers on our platform. Our efforts will be towards an incentivization program for creators. With such formats, we are working towards a double-digit growth in the coming year.
Technology giants acknowledge the power of vernacular. Facebook-backed Meesho is an alternate distribution channel for empowering housewives, young mothers, aspiring entrepreneurs, students, and teachers. The audience can use Meesho to launch, build, and promote their online businesses using WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media channels. The corresponding app is available in more than seven local languages other than English, and about 40 percent of its daily usage comes from a non-English speaking audience.
4. Vernacular influencers for increased ROI.
Influencers are like new age media houses that brands should collaborate with to reach specific audiences. In India, 42 percent of the online community find Tamil content very engaging, followed by a close 39 percent who prefer Hindi to English content, via influencer.com. This is mainly because of the increase in the number of individuals who have gained access to the Internet in tier 2 and tier 3 cities. By tapping into the influencers base from the rural population of India, brands can reach out to a whole new range of unexplored territory, waiting to be targeted.
Studies have shown that consumers trust an influencer because of relatability. The fact that your peer is giving you a review, and not a well-paid celebrity, influences your decision to convert. Strengthened by the bond with something as comforting and relatable as your mother-tongue the impact of your post is guaranteed to be higher, coupled with the benefit of a wider reach. Also, the fact that influencer videos can be searched for via voice search, makes it even easier for brands to engage consumers.
All told, the future of the vernacular demographic in India is bright, as shared by Anil Kumar of RedSeer, “the next internet users will come from Tier II and III cities of India”.