Prashanth Challapalli
Guest Article

How many languages does your brand speak?

Brands have been doing regional language mainline communication for decades. It’s surprising that they haven’t yet cracked the same on digital.

Google has been saying for the last many years that the future of the Internet in India is going to be about voice, video and vernacular. In India, that’s a population that is probably four times the English speaking market.

Brands today use the Internet to not only build equity, but also increasingly drive sales. But how many brands communicate in vernacular, the chosen language of non-English speaking audiences? How many brands have a voice strategy?

With Jio now emerging as the biggest enabler of the vernacular and voice Internet, brands need to really invest in vernacular content. ’India 2’, as this audience is popularly referred to, is not about geography. It’s about language. Anyone who is not an English language consumer is technically ’India 2’ consumer, the next billion user.

In India, the Hindi Internet is already bigger than the English Internet, and will keep growing by leaps and bounds. So will all major regional languages. Brands have been doing regional language mainline communication for decades now. It’s utterly surprising that they haven’t yet figured out how to do the same on digital.

Prashanth Challapalli
Prashanth Challapalli

Often, the focus is more on creative output than the strategy behind the output. The traditional method of creating content in English or Hindi, and then translating it using old school language translators won’t work on social media.

People speak a different language, their own everyday language, and not textbook or scholarly language. Grammar is not sacrosanct anymore. Pop culture dictates language and slang.

To build a successful vernacular consumer base, brands need a sharp vernacular strategy. If you haven’t invested in creative resources, who are not just non-Hindi people working in your company or agency, but actually live in the regional markets and cities, then you are not doing vernacular right.

So much of content is about context. What is happening right now in Chennai, for example, what’s popular, what’s the vibe on the street, how do people think, what they do and what they want, can’t really be captured by an agency sitting in Mumbai or Delhi.

Much like the Hispanic and the Black culture in the US, and how companies and agencies have a different strategy, language, tonality, context and content for these demographics, India desperately needs one. Can a Hindi native understand Tamil culture? Can a Tamilian understand Bengali culture? The answer is obvious. It’s a big fat no!

Some of the key things that marketers and agencies need to think about when it comes to digital content creation, which is increasingly becoming video lead, are as follows:

Context

What is digital content/digital video? If you take it in the true spirit of things, a digital video is a piece of content created to be used only, or primarily for online media.

However, we need to dig a little deeper. A pure play digital video has to seamlessly merge into the timeline on social platforms. It needs to have the appearance, tonality and treatment of massively consumed video properties. I am not saying it has to be poorly produced. The opposite, in fact.

Today, we have retina displays, high-end headphones and speakers, which instantly throw the spotlight on badly produced video content. However, if a brand video looks and seems like it’s part of my timeline and doesn’t come across as a disruption/piece of advertising, the chances that I will consume it are infinitely more than otherwise.

Craft

Most brand videos come across as cleaned up commercials. Yes, they won’t have the product window, or the ubiquitous branding, but does that make it a true online video? To me, one of the best examples of online video is the stuff that Geico, or Skittles create. Made for the web, keeping in mind the user behaviour on specific platforms.

Authenticity and Credibility

So, who is creating cutting edge video content for digital? This role is now being fulfilled by specialists and previously unknown content creators, who have become superstars because they have adopted a newsroom approach to video creation. They pick up micro moments and create content on the fly in a matter of hours.

Without the newsroom mindset, all the technology in the world will not help you. Increasingly, brands are approaching and willing to pay a premium to these guys to create great video content.

Content Strategy

While everyone is creating content, no one seems to have a content strategy. Most digital content is nothing, but cheaply made TVCs. This will increasingly be questioned. We will see the emergence of content strategy that is aligned to brand strategy and the marketing calendar. We will also see more native video content formats outside of the 16:9 format.

More brands will focus on IGTV and emerging video platforms. This calls into question the ability of existing creative teams to create 'digital content', as opposed to 'digital films'. Will they learn and adapt, or will these jobs go to 'content specialists'? As we have seen with social media, if the existing agency can't deliver because they don't understand how to, specialist content writers will start taking over.

So, here’s a question for you. “How many languages does your brand speak?”

(The author is the co-founder and managing partner of Gravity Integrated, a data driven, skin-in-the game business growth solutions company with multi-platform execution capabilities across India, SEA and EEMEA.)