Sunil Kumar Mohapatra
Guest Article

Content in local languages will be vital in driving growth for brands; is your brand going local?

Our guest author writes about the rising preference for vernacular content.

As the cornerstone of preserving centuries’ worth of Indian tradition and culture, Indian languages are at the core of our identities. While English had emerged as the primary language of business and development, we saw a proportionate decline in the use of our regional languages. This phenomenon was true for the competitive world of consumer brands and marketing as well. But today, we observe that there is now a rising preference for vernacular content, thanks to the massive consumer base of a billion plus people, who are adapting to modern trends while carving some of their own.

The revival of the vernacular

While globalisation may have been one of the reasons that caused a decline in the use of local Indian languages, it certainly did not cause its complete demise. We tend to forget the fact that the aftereffects of globalization, at least in the early years, were experienced in Tier 1 cities of the country. But things changed with the advent of digitalisation.

The rapid rate of internet adoption in the nooks and corners of India has been quite impressive, bringing smaller towns into the ambit of what is now called a ‘digital world’. The sharp rise of internet adoption in the country is seen in the ICUBE 2021 report by IAMAI – Kantar, which shows that internet penetration in rural India rose to 37% in 2021 from 31% in 2020, to reach 351 million. While rural India accounted for a 6% growth, internet penetration in urban India has plateaued, remaining between 66% - 69% since 2019. Furthermore, India is expected to reach 900 million active internet users by 2025.

With rural India adopting the internet at a faster pace, one can easily see that this growth is being driven by a section of the country for whom local languages are a preferred medium for communication. The dominance of English that came with globalization is now fading away and regional languages are making a comeback. As per a study by Google, 90% of internet users in India prefer using the internet in their local language. Today, as Bharat continues to embrace a digital-led life, they are bringing back the demand for vernacular, thus creating much greater room for content opportunities.

As most of urban English-speaking Indians are already online, the opportunity for growth now lies in tapping the potential of the next wave of internet users who hail from Bharat. Data shows that 1 in 3 new e-retail users prefer using platforms with a vernacular interface. Brands now have the onus to assess how best they will leverage this dramatic consumption of vernacular. Now, more than ever, a hyperlocal approach toward engaging with consumers becomes paramount as brands attempt to engage with the next wave of e-commerce consumers that are set to emerge from Bharat.

From globalisation to glocalisation

India has emerged as the fifth-largest economy in the world. There is now worldwide recognition of the country’s growth potential that brands are keen to leverage. This can be seen in an increased drive for localization to meet the needs of Indian consumers. There is a growing awareness of the vernacular opportunity among major global players, who have been localizing their technology to support vernacular languages. Furthermore, OTT giants such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video have also hopped on to this trend, evident in the vast number of regional films and TV shows now available on these platforms compared to before. In fact, by 2024, 54% of video content on OTT platforms will be in regional languages.

Homegrown brands at an advantage

As the world adopts a hyperlocal approach toward connecting with Indian audiences, homegrown brands have an upper hand. At the root of any marketing approach lies understanding. When brands engage in understanding their audiences’ mindset, it not only enables them to communicate more effectively but also develop products to fit consumer needs, thereby improving customer retention.

As ‘made in India’ brands continue to Make for India, their deep understanding of local context will enable them to leverage the growing vernacular opportunity effectively. This can already be seen in the tremendous success of homegrown digital brands such as Swiggy, Flipkart, and VerSe Innovation, who have taken a hyperlocal approach to their marketing. Adopting a hyperlocal approach to connect with regional audiences helps brands to locally contextualize their messaging.

In the end, I’d like to highlight what David Ogilvy once rightly said, “If you’re trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language, the language they use every day, the language in which they think.” He simply emphasized that when brands appeal to their consumers in their native languages, it helps consumers perceive the brand as relatable. This, in turn, helps brands build relationships, loyalty, and advocacy among their consumers. Based on the current scenario, one can safely picture vernacular languages as the catalyst through which brands, at home, and the world over, will connect with the evolving Indian consumer across Bharat and across the globe.

(Sunil Kumar Mohapatra is the chief revenue officer at VerSe Innovation.)

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