Businesses and investors have started focusing on regional languages and dialects is not exactly a ‘breaking news’. It has been going on for a while. In the past couple of years alone, there have been at least 5 Indian startups that have come up with the sole purpose of targeting the audience that speaks a language localized to their region. And investors understand it is the need of the hour, and as such, have pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into these businesses.
Just think about the one most basic question — What exactly is language?
This is how Google describes the meaning of the word — language.
It is a method of human communication, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way.
Speaking plainly, language is the tool you use to communicate your thoughts to the person you are communicating to. If it isn’t letting you communicating your thoughts the best way possible, then you are not using the tool right.
WHY INDIA IS THE HOTBED IN VERNACULAR FOCUS?
There are 1.3 billion of us living and breathing on the peninsula, and no more than 100 million of us are proficient in English. And with low-cost data plans powering the smartphones in every hand these days, it would be an immense loss of business opportunity if businesses were just focussed on English.
Forget the next 100 million customers, the business that is able to crack the code in this domain could very well be looking at the next 500 million consumers. And once you have an audience base that big, monetization is all but a matter of flicking the switch!
WHY WE NEED REGIONAL LANGUAGES IN BUSINESSES
Kos-kos par badle paani, chaar kos par baani…
(That is an old Hindi proverb that loosely translates to say that you can expect the spoken language and dialect to change every few miles)
In a country that officially recognizes almost two dozen languages and a few hundred dialects, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that even Google and Amazon have been investing heavily in regional language supports to reach out to customers beyond the lowest-hanging fruits — which is what all businesses have been doing so far.
People feel more connected to you when you speak their tongue. They are able to relate to you more, give you a higher degree of attention, and as such when it comes to consumers, you stand a much better chance of converting them to loyal proponents of your business.
Whether it is marketing initiatives, sales processes, or after-sales support, businesses need to speak to consumers in a language they are most comfortable in. That is how they would be able to build up on a consumer experience worth being envious of.
ONLINE BUSINESSES ARE DERIVED FROM OFFLINE BEHAVIOR
No matter what kind of business you are getting into, that is the first thing I need you to remember. All the time. Whether it is designing your product, or charting out your go-to-market, always try to keep it aligned to the buying behavior consumers can relate to.
That is how it is supposed to be. Look at any of the fashion e-commerce websites and you will see that in some way or the other, they are simply translating your offline buying experience into the online world. In offline retail, you had mannequins and promotional banners/flyers/standees. On the websites and apps, you see banners. In your emails, you see banners. All of it is to guide your attention span in the direction the business wants to. The same as it happens in the offline world.
So why is it that we prefer floor executives and sales staff who can speak the language of the customers in an offline world, but when it comes to online, we have been dumping the same language to our consumers all these years?
SO WHY IS THIS COMING UP JUST NOW?
All this talk and it is natural to ask yourself — If local languages have been so important, then why is it that this hasn’t always been the focus of businesses?
Well, to be honest, it is not their fault as well. There have been a lot of factors at play here:
- First of all, look at the business case. When you have the low hanging fruit that can be reached with the easiest language possible — English, why would you want to focus on anything else?
- In business, everything is a cost. As such, you tend to channel your energy and your bandwidth into something that can bring in immediate returns. Ergo people in the metros. Where you have the highest population density of your target audience, where the audience has a higher disposable income, and where you can find the operations bandwidth faster and cheaper — why wouldn’t you focus on that?
- The supporting infrastructure on the web or otherwise hasn’t been so robust for real long time. Whether you talk about web fonts or translation capabilities, it used to be lacking on a massive scale.
But now, times are changing rapidly.
- With businesses feeling somewhat saturated in the tier-1 cities, it is a natural move to shift focus to where 90% of India lives and breathes.
- Focusing on tier-2 and 3 consumers make sense if you factor in the possibility that every year millions of these consumers move to the tier-1 cities. This is a way for businesses to have a ready base of consumers before they move to a state where they become really valuable customers.
- With Google pumping in a lot of its resources into the development of vernacular support, the web infrastructure is evolving rapidly. Businesses can take advantage of this shifting focus.
- As explained earlier, it is all about the next 100 million and 500 million consumers in maybe what is one of the world’s last untapped and yet extremely consumer-driven market.
- Language barriers are not what they used to be at one time. There is this mobile game I play (yes, I am one of those). In our small tribe in the game, there are players from all over the world. And while most of us are fluent in English and as such have no difficulty in talking to each other, there are some who speak all sorts of language ranging from Spanish, Russian and Arabic to Chinese and Japanese. While the translation capabilities of the services the game uses aren’t exactly top-notch, they get the job done more than 90% of the time. We are able to at least get an essence of what the other player is trying to say, and vice versa. For the most part of the conversations we all have in our lives, that is more than enough. Businesses would be no different! I expect non-Kannada speakers to be more than capable of catering to native Kannada speaking customers soon. We won’t be living in the times where a business is forced to have a workforce comprising of people who need to be fluent in different languages just so that they can understand the consumers’ issues and efficiently help them out. That spells out efficiency, cost-optimized solution and all those buzzwords we business guys love.
SO, WHAT NOW?
The next couple of years. That’s where the fun is going to be! It is going to be one hell of a ride. As you see businesses come up with more and more ways to woo the local consumers, expect a lot to change. And not just in written and spoken text, you should be expecting an amalgamation of voice and text too. That’s quite some opportunity for any entrepreneur operating in this space if you ask me.