With more focus on regional advertisers, Google, Amazon step up local play

With multiple offerings across the portfolio targeted at different segments of Indian consumers, the tech giants are playing harder for a win in the local market. With an “India first” approach, Google, Facebook and Amazon have introduced a slew of measures that aim to make it easier for Indian advertisers and consumers to engage with their platforms. 

Google has announced a set of India-specific ad products and for YouTube, it has just launched ‘Originals’ a premium ad-supported content service that is meant to rival Amazon’s Prime service in the country. And Amazon has just announced the launch of Amazon.in in Hindi.

A spokesperson for Amazon India said, “We are leveraging technology to solve for customers in India. We have the opportunity to reinvent shopping experiences, logistics, small business growth and more.” 

Google has been early to take to the language trail, steadily increasing its service in regional languages and sharpening the focus on local businesses. Facebook has been aggressive in its pursuit of local businesses too and is said to be dangerously close to Google in the advertising revenue it earns from the Indian market. A recent Bloomberg report said that Facebook was likely to generate $980 million in revenue in the country. Google’s revenues touched $1 billion last year, even though it has been around much longer.

Google’s greater push for the local mind space is driven partly by the rapid rise of its global rivals in the country and also because it is wary of losing out in the Indian market, as it did in China, eight years ago. Google lost out to internet giants such as Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent because it failed to adapt to local conditions and the language. The big lesson for Google from China was: think local, speak local and do local to win local.

Speaking to the media recently, Rajan Anandan, VP South East Asia and India, Google, said, “Voice, video and vernacular are three big themes that capture the behaviour of India’s growing internet users. Keeping up with the pace of change in India’s user behaviour, we’re doubling down on our efforts to innovate our ad products for India.”

Vani Gupta, co-founder Hypersonic Advisory says that this emphasis on three “v”s allow “Bharat” to escape the intimidating clutches of English. “So far, for over 90 per cent of India, vernacular is the only language, yet over 90 per cent of business in India is still conducted in English. Google’s initiative to go vernacular could probably be the most significant in transforming India into a more business-progressive and entrepreneur-ready country,” she added.

The Amazon spokesperson said that they were attentive to language requirements when launching Alexa in India. “We wanted to make sure Alexa does not sound like an American visiting India. She had to sound very Indian. To achieve this, we expanded Alexa’s natural language understanding to fully comprehend context and intent, even if the sentences include Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam or Punjabi proper nouns.”  

Apart from language, both Google and Amazon are tailoring their products around local needs. Founder and chief creative officer of brand consultancy Hyper Collective, KV Sridhar notes that hyper local offering is increasingly becoming a key differentiator for brands. “It doesn’t just have to be languages, the basic strategy is to give users what is most relevant to them,” he said. While the extent of localisation required is much higher in India compared to China, the supportive regulatory framework here makes it easier for businesses to develop a strong base, he added.

Some of the ad-focused innovations that Google recently launched are: a India-specific form that allows advertisers to generate leads seamlessly from mobile search ads and a campaign planning tool that allows advertisers to plan reach-based video campaigns at a national level with sub geo targeting across 36 sub regions and six top metros. Also, they have a new app called Neighbourly, which helps gauge locality-specific requirements.

On the localisation front, Amazon Easy (an assisted shopping service) is aimed at enabling customers in smaller markets to get access to the convenience of online shopping. “We aim to help break down various transaction barriers for first-time online shoppers. Amazon Easy will be rolled out nationally across thousands of existing stores over the next few months,” said the Amazon spokesperson. As global tech behemoths battle for a larger share of the customer’s digital engagement pie, experts say that the internet is going to increasingly look and feel more Indian.