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Language localization: Why going multilingual makes sense

Earlier this week Indian banking giant HDFC announced a localized website in seven different languages (English, Hindi, Marathi, Tamil, Telegu, Malyalam and Kannada) in an attempt to help its customers get the relevant information more effectively. In doing so it became the first BFSI firm to offer its services in those many Indian languages. But HDFC is not alone in moving towards language localization. Both established firms as well as smaller startups are trying to make their content more accessible, and attempting to reach markets that were hitherto difficult to penetrate.


But why are firms focusing on this so aggressively. Let's analyze three factors here:

Volume and growth: For starters the sheer numbers! India has an English speaking population of around just over 12 crore which looks minuscule when compared to 52 crore Hindi speakers, and 50 crore other language speakers. As more of India gets digitized, these non English speaking users are coming online at a much faster pace (an estimated 75% of all Indian users online are expected to be non English speaking over the next two years) presenting a brilliant opportunity for firms to capitalize on.


Aspiration: Another trend emerging is the aspiration consumer in Tier 2 and Tier 3 towns, whom a lot of Indian firms are looking towards for the next phase of growth. Indigo, India's leading airline, announced its multilingual strategy across 8 different languages, primarily because they saw the fliers from Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities who currently form around 25% of Indigo's revenue to be the next big growth driver. The firm plans to use their own app to become more accessible to the end customer while also increasing purchases from their portal vs a third party aggregators.


Choice: The third interesting factor is a lot of Indians speak and read more than one language. Something that is seen as a rare skill in the western world is mastered by most 10 years olds in India. An interesting trends firms noted however was that although English might be one of the languages people speak, it might not always be their preferred language of consuming content. This becomes an important distinction for firms whose business is centered around content creation and consumption. Byju's one of leading education apps figured this out when offering secondary languages gave their app a new fillip.


Now that we've looked at the factors that are driving firms to move in this direction, let us look at how the game would most likely be played out. Market leaders (HDFC, Indigo, etc) have taken the right first steps, as market leaders often do, by being where the current and the next customers want them to be. Until competition catches up, their ability to serve the customer in the best possible way in their preferred language will be an important point of differentiation aiding these firms to grow in, and capture parts of the market that the competition can't reach. In the long run we believe multilingual content and marketing will become more widely adopted, becoming a point of parity, with any firm not adopting the strategy being left behind the pack. Early adopters however, due to the vast amount of data acquired, and continuous tweaking of their multilingual engines, will in all likelihood continue to have the upper hand.


Coming to the languages that will be in focus. The transition will most likely start with adoption of Hindi, given the extremely large user base it enables firms to target. But South Indian languages will not be far behind especially given the greater disposable income, literacy, and wealth present with these customers. Marathi and Gujarati will also be key to targeting two prosperous markets. Targeting these seven languages would most likely be top priority for firms attempting this strategy, who can then move to polishing their products further by incorporating nitty gritties and more niche languages effectively iteratively improving their service.


This also presents an interesting opportunity for any B2B firms who offer content and advertisment localization services to emerge. Any firm that is able to generate a moat around the move to multilingualism, effectively being able to do content and advertisement localization at scale without the need of manual translation efforts would have an opportunity to do good business..While a lot of B2C startups have emerged in the space, there seems to be a good opportunity for a B2B content localization players as well.


All in all this seems to be a great trend that will help firms tap into the next wave of growth and will give customers the luxury to do their shopping, flying, and banking in their language of choice.


A diverse growing India, what more could we ask for!


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