Localizing for the Indian buyer can be an extremely daunting task – especially if it is a company’s first foray into the Asian market. The tastes, expectations and buying habits of the Indian shopper is as varied and diverse as the population of the country. So, localizing in India requires additional planning, strategizing and cultural understanding. The most important thing to keep in mind while planning to localize in India is the sheer variety of languages spoken in India – it’s not Indian – it’s Hindi, Punjabi, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Assamese and numerous other languages!

The problem of content and language in India

One of the biggest challenges that the modern Indian shopper faces is lack of transparency. Scepticism can arise from a number of factors: apparent lack of accountability in payment methods, insufficient information on websites and lack of understanding of the product. Being as intensely diverse as India is, businesses often make the fatal error of not understanding the demographic of their customers and fail to cater to their needs. One classic example of this is how companies feed into the stereotypical belief that English is spoken by the Indian population en masse and hence there’s no need for localizing content in local Indian languages. The fact that India has become the leading Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) hub for Western countries, tends to feed into this stereotype.

Languages of IndiaHowever, evidence shows that only less than 30 percent of Indian population can proficiently speak English and perhaps even fewer feel completely at home with the language. In a market like this, localization is absolutely essential in most, if not every sphere. While the Indian Constitution recognises 22 Indian languages apart from English (which is the official language of the country along with Hindi), this is meaningless in the face of the fact that the lion’s share of information online is in English. This means that not only are a major number of Indians unable to enjoy the online shopping experience, but it also means that there is a serious gap in information dissemination in government websites as well. This gaping hole in information dissemination can only be addressed through localization.

While there are miles to go before the Indian government can even begin to put a successful localization strategy in place, most major online businesses have the minimum means to plan and execute a successful and rewarding translation and localization strategy. In fact, it is to their benefit to do so. Companies should begin localizing now if they want to reap the full benefit of carrying out business in an enticingly populated country like India.

So how should you choose the right localization solution?

Taking India’s diversity into consideration, Localization in the country can be made simpler by asking the right questions.

Who are you targeting and what’s the most common language spoken by the majority of your buyers? Research the demographic before selecting the languages you want to translate your content into. Localization can be a somewhat expensive for the businesses initially, but by cherry picking the languages, you can create a more focused localization plan.

Are you alienating a certain section of the potential customers by using a language they are uncomfortable with? For instance, for very high-end products, which tend to lend a certain social prestige to the Indian buyer, you could do away with translating in Indian languages. However, for most products used by the mass, you should be localizing your content to ensure that you English-only website does not drive away potential buyers.

Which solution should you choose? Once you have decided to localize, start slow. Begin with a few languages first (either choose the most commonly spoken Indian languages, or select according to the demography of your customers). Then select the translation solution that best suits your product and service. Should you choose a Language Service Provider (LSP), a Custom Machine Translation (CMT) solution, develop a localization solution in-house or pay freelance translators to translate your content. It all depends on your product, your budget and the goal of your localization strategy.

So what’s the game plan?

There’s no simple answer to the question – there is no formula, which will help you select the perfect localization strategy in India. The thing is, India is diverse – and just like the makeup of the country, the goal of a localization strategy can vary depending on various factors: localization budget, the goal for localization, in-house expertise, availability of resources in terms of translators, knowledge of local culture, to name just a few.

Today, “glocalization” has become the norm for global business. A term coined by sociologist Roland Robertson, glocalization indicates the integration of local language, customs and practices into world/ global products. Read ‘5 Global Companies Localizing Right,’ for more insights about how companies are successfully glocalizing their products.

Ideas in this article have previously been published in the MultiLingual magazine (Sep/Oct issue).

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