This article was co-authored by Marcus Pentzek and Shakil Thasariya. Based in India, Shakil is an SEO specialist and content strategist who assists clients with finding low competition keywords, optimizing existing content, and expanding their online presence through SEO best practices. You can connect with Shakil on LinkedIn where he shares his expertise on digital marketing in Asia.
Despite China’s size and dominance in the Asian market, it’s not the only opportunity for international brands. India, with its booming economy and over 1.3 billion customers, beckons marketers on the next stage of their expedition across Asia. Often dubbed “The Land of Opportunities”, this young nation of 1.38 billion people – where the average age is a mere 28 – offers international businesses access to a rapidly growing middle class with rising disposable incomes. India’s internet and smartphone revolution means over 500 million people are potential online customers, eager for quality products and services from abroad. The future of Asian marketing truly begins in India, as brands look past dominant China to the next frontier of growth and innovation.
Most of India’s population falls into the working-age category, with around two-thirds (67%) estimated to be between 15 to 64 years old.
Though nearly 1 billion Indians are of working age (15 and over), only around 45% or 624 million actually use the Internet. This means that over half of India’s potential workforce remains untapped for online marketing, representing a massive opportunity for brands to introduce new digital solutions and services to connect with this growing market. The large proportion of Indians not yet online indicates significant room for growth as internet and smartphone adoption expands over the coming years, allowing marketers to reach more consumers that remain disconnected from web campaigns and e-commerce today.
India’s internet revolution is transforming the marketing landscape. While less than 5% of Indians were online in 2007, that figure has skyrocketed to approximately 45% today – representing nearly half a billion people.
The speed of internet adoption in India has been breathtaking. Around 290 million Indian rural residents and 337 million urbanites now access the internet, many through affordable mobile plans that helped spread connectivity.
Social media has been a key driver of India’s digital boom, with the number of social network users estimated to reach 450 million by 2023. This army of connected consumers offers international brands a massive platform to engage Indian customers, distribute digital content, and promote products through targeted social advertising. As internet and smartphone usage continues climbing in India, marketers have an opportunity to establish early beachheads with India’s growing cohort of digitally savvy customers before local competition intensifies.
Smartphones have powered India’s internet boom, fueled by affordable mobile data plans that put connectivity in the hands of millions. The majority of Indian internet users now go online via their cell phones rather than desktop computers, which remain primarily used in offices, schools and other institutions.
Google dominates India’s digital landscape, commanding an overwhelming 98.88% of the search market share ahead of competitors like Bing. Meta search engines offering consolidated search results from multiple sources have made inroads in niche segments but have failed to significantly challenge Google’s dominance among mainstream Indian internet users. Popular meta search portals in India include ixigo for travel searches, TripAdvisor India, Skyscanner India, Kayak, and JustDial for local business and service searches.
The Google-fueled democratization of online information in India represents both an opportunity and challenge for international brands. On one hand, Google’s position gives marketers unparalleled access to India’s huge and fast-growing internet audience. However, the fierce competition for top Google search and advertising placements means brands must optimize their digital strategies and content to win visibility and demand among Indian online shoppers.
The Babel of Indian internet: English still rules but local tongues close the gap
While more than two dozen languages are spoken in India’s diverse regions, English remains the dominant tongue of the country’s internet users. India was under British rule for centuries, and English continues as an official language alongside Hindi, giving it privilege among India’s educated elite.
The vast majority of India’s most visited websites use English as their main language, reflecting its position as the lingua franca of the internet in India. However, regional language portals in Hindi, Gujarati, Tamil and other tongues have been gaining ground in recent years backed by large investments from tech giants. These local language sites are emerging as unlikely unicorns, capturing the loyalty of India’s rapidly expanding internet population beyond the English-speaking minority.
Most Indian states now have their own digital newspapers and robust social media presences in regional languages reaching sizable readerships. WhatsApp and other messaging platforms have also become important channels for marketers to target consumers in their native tongues. The rise of vernacular digital content and platforms indicates a shift underway as India’s internet user base expands beyond English speakers to the hundreds of millions for whom Hindi and other local languages are their primary mode of online expression and engagement.
For international brands, this trend means catering to non-English speakers – India’s huge linguistic majority – will likely become essential for success in the country’s booming consumer market. Crafting marketing messages, content and digital experiences that resonate in India’s many regional languages may soon join English as a priority for brands aiming to connect with Indian consumers across an increasingly diverse digital landscape.
Publishing and News Online-Media in India
While print newspapers still hold sway among India’s older generations, even this demographic is increasingly turning online for quicker access to news and information. Younger, educated Indians were the early adopters of digital media, but many of their parents are now joining the shift to internet-based news sources.
The proliferation of online publishing platforms is fueling the emergence of local Indian news websites beyond major urban centers. Cheap web hosting, domain registration and content management systems like WordPress have lowered the barriers to entry for small town journalists and bloggers to establish their own online news portals covering tier 2 and 3 cities.
The rise of vernacular regional language news websites presents new possibilities for hyper-targeted marketing within India’s vast consumer market. International brands seeking to connect with consumers beyond large cosmopolitan cities now have an opportunity to engage audiences at a more local level by advertising on and sponsoring content for these emerging online publishers. Their rapid growth indicates the appetite among smaller city residents and rural Indians for easily accessible digital information, mirroring trends seen in India’s major urban centers and portending further disruption of traditional media.
Social Medias and Apps popular in India
India’s social media ecosystem resembles that of the West more than other Asian nations, with Western apps and trends enjoying widespread popularity.
Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and WhatsApp dominate India’s social networking landscape, mirroring their global footprint. However, a clutch of homegrown Indian apps have also emerged in recent years, targeting niches left open by Western giants.
ShareChat is a social network for users to share their opinions and media in Indian languages. Roposo, Chingari, MX TakaTak, Moj and Josh are among several short video apps created to fill the void left after the ban of popular Chinese app TikTok in India. Koo, a microblogging platform, offers Indian users a desi alternative to Twitter.
The success of these Indian social apps indicates a thirst for locally relevant content that speaks to Indians in their own languages and addresses cultural nuances often missed by Western platforms. However, the hegemony of global giants like Facebook and YouTube remains formidable, and India’s homegrown social networks still lag behind in funding, content and user experience. The next wave of Indian internet unicorns may come from social apps that can differentiate themselves by catering first to India’s unique online audience.
India’s e-commerce sector is booming, growing at a breakneck pace. Major players like Flipkart, Amazon India, Myntra and Snapdeal jostle for market share in this burgeoning sector.
Amazon India in particular has seen tremendous success thanks to heavy investments that have powered rapid expansion and a customer-centric approach. However, Indian customers, now spoilt by Amazon’s speed and service, increasingly expect a similar experience from other e-tailers.
Foreign brands have a huge opportunity in the Indian e-commerce space, with consumers exhibiting a strong preference for high-quality imported goods. German and American brands enjoy particular popularity for products like cars, electronics and home appliances.
However, localized strategies are critical for success. English dominates most Indian e-commerce portals initially but offering content in local languages like Hindi, Tamil, Telugu etc. allows brands to access non-English customers.
The rise of smaller, niche e-tailers indicates the fragmentation of India’s vast e-commerce market. Each player must understand their unique value proposition, product mix, capital and client trust to carve a sustainable position.
The growth potential remains enormous. Backed by a booming economy, rising digital connectivity and a massive youth population, e-commerce in India looks set to transform both the retail landscape and the very nature of business for years to come.
The Dragon Meets the Elephant: Chinese Innovation Flows into India’s Vast Consumer Market
China’s shadow looms large over India’s consumer market, both online and offline. Chinese tech giants have poured investments into leading Indian startups like PayTM, Dream11, Zomato, Ola and BigBasket, fueling their rapid growth.
However, not all Chinese trends have caught on in India. Livestream shopping, popular in China, has yet to catch the Indian imagination. Smaller Indian cities still rely more on traditional TV shopping channels to make purchase decisions.
This dichotomy reflects India’s complex relationship with its Asian neighbor. On one hand, Chinese capital and innovation provide a boost to India’s burgeoning digital economy. On the other, cultural and political differences mean some Chinese consumer trends struggle to translate for Indian audiences.
For marketers, this dynamic presents both opportunities and challenges. Chinese investments in Indian startups offer access to a vast consumer base. However, directly importing Chinese marketing strategies may fail to resonate with Indian customers. Brands must determine how to localize Chinese-inspired trends for India’s distinct demographic and psychographic segments to effectively engage Indian consumers across the urban-rural divide.
Navigating these differences will be key for foreign firms aiming tap into India’s massive consumer potential while contending with China’s growing shadow over the country’s innovation ecosystem and digital transformation.
Indian Blogsphere: Micro-narratives of a Macro-nation
Blogging has flourished in India, allowing everyday people across the country’s diverse regions to have their voices heard online.
In China, few individuals maintain their own websites, with microblogging platforms like Weibo and messaging apps dominating people’s online activities. In contrast, Indians’ love of writing in their native languages has fueled the proliferation of blogs written in Hindi, Tamil, Gujarati and numerous other tongues.
Consumption of regional language content is booming in India, creating audiences for bloggers writing in everything from literature to lifestyle. WordPress is the most popular blogging platform in India, giving even those in remote areas the ability to establish their own online soapboxes with affordable web hosting.
Indian blogs offer a window into the experiences of ordinary citizens from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, chronicling their struggles, aspirations and perspectives in micro-narratives that together capture the mood of a massive nation in flux. For marketers, they represent a wealth of hyper-local, passion-based content that can provide cultural and psychological insights to inform localized strategies for engaging India’s diverse consumers.
Indian bloggers indicate an underserved demand for locally relevant content that speaks to Indian audiences in their own voices. International brands that understand how to authentically engage this growing community may find an invaluable resource for connecting with consumers across the nation’s vast cultural and linguistic divides.