90% of India's new internet users consume content in their mother tongue: Sapna Chadha

Sapna Chadha, Senior Marketing Director, Google India and Southeast Asia, discusses India's digitization and the story it tells about the country's progress and ambition

e4m by Tasmayee Laha Roy
Updated: Mar 25, 2021 12:23 PM  | 8 min read
Sapna Chadha

Did you know that 60% of users in India interact with voice assistants via their smartphones, making mobile the preferred device for many? Did you also know that 70% of current Indian users prefer navigating the internet in Indic languages over English?  The ‘India for determined progress’ report by Google spotted trends that changed the internet landscape in 2020.

In a chat with e4m, Sapna Chadha, Senior Country Marketing Director, Google India and Southeast Asia, spoke about the new trends of the year gone by. According to Chadha, the three themes of the report rounding up 2020 were people’s preference for everything local, the redefining of value and the users’ desire to learn anything from anywhere.

“We've been doing year enders for a number of years now but this year is unprecedented in terms of change and what the world has gone through and I think the title of the report kind of says it all.  India's digitization is actually telling the story of India's pursuit of progress and the determination for progress and the unprecedented acceleration in 2020 that has really changed user behaviour for good.

"This is not just a change in the internet landscape or just another change happening in the world; it's really a change in user behaviour and demand. That's what's making the internet, the key destination for India to really cultivate and feed their curiosity, progress and move forward, and change their lives, which will end up leading to India's progress,” she said.

According to her, novelties recorded in this year’s report are not just trends but habits.


1) Tell us about trends from 2020 that are unprecedented.

We've always seen trends around things like voice or videos or new things happening around the world but what we're now seeing now is all of it coming together. We are seeing the ambition of brands, their flexibility and how they've adapted. We are also seeing extreme innovation-driven momentum in people’s pursuit of progress. That's what really stands out to us. The ambition, the pride, the innovation, the desire for advancement at a time where people could be the opposite of optimistic; that's what is new about 2020.

Our users are realizing that there's no need to slow down now.

One trend, which really stands out is learning.  In the rest of the world, everyone's turning to digital to continue learning, upskilling and developing but when I look at the trends for India, it's very different. There's a different level of ambition that we're seeing be it in terms of education, the quest for information, learning for tomorrow, or simply things like learning to improve earnings, how to invest in markers etc.

For instance, there has been a 50% YoY surge in watchtime of science-related videos on YouTube, then an 86% YoY growth in searches for “online course”, compared to flat growth in the previous year.

2) Searches are reflective of not just choices but also larger aspects like how an economy is performing and what its primary needs are.  As per online searches, what has been the most pressing concern for Indians in 2020?

People were more interested in the "Whys" in 2020. Overall, in 2020, Indians asked 50 per cent more questions leading with ‘why’ than ever before. It was incredible to see the curiosity level of our users.

Given the environment that people have been in, we’ve seen how their expectations have changed. The story now is around demonstrating a determination for progress by leveraging the internet for things like online doctor's consultation. There was a 300% growth in searches for “online doctor consultations”, with the biggest surges in Manipur, Odisha and Bihar. Innovation and adaptability have happened on both sides. For instance, as much as patients have tried to reach out to their doctors online, doctors have also found innovative ways to connect with patients directly.

So be it an online doctor's consultations, or purchasing a car online, or learning digital marketing simply to market their companies or brands better irrespective of their size reflects on users’ pursuit for progress.

That brings us back to the "Whys." Users have found answers to all their whys and then did things differently. 

3) There has been a lot of focus on vocal for local in the past year; did you see any growth in that area? Tell us a little about initiatives being taken by Google to promote the cause.

 ‘Local’ may mean different things to different people, but across the board, Indians are trying to better understand their context - from their city and languages to their community and interests. 90% of India's new internet users are choosing to consume content in their mother tongue and that's massive. We're not settling anymore. For instance, one-third of Google Assistant users in India are using it in an Indian language.

Indians are increasingly demanding content be curated for them and in their own local language. With more than 84% of online video viewers preferring non-English materials - it’s no surprise that the next wave of online content in India will be linguistically diverse.

People across India used Google translate to translate any web page into an Indian language 17 billion times in 2020. We don't see that kind of usage across the world.

Push for local doesn’t restrict itself to languages only. The search for ‘stores near me’ grew more than 20% year on year and most of the growth came from metro areas.

So as Google, we are looking at language and local behaviour. We are working on quality improvements in all of our products when it comes to local language and we continue to increase the number of features on all Google products to make it easier for people to translate things into a language of their choice.

Reacting to this push for local, we are also doing our best to help small businesses. We launched a program last year called ‘Make Small Strong’  to help businesses across all parts of India unlock the full value of going digital, by helping them be able to connect with customers online. We've helped them build their presence on Google for free so that customers could find them and can call them and establish contact with them and message them all via Google.

This is when we realized we needed to skill these small businesses, as well so we launched a program on Doordarshan in partnership with them called Namaste Digital. A lot of users are wanting to support small businesses and I think that we have to play a role in equipping them and also helping to connect the dots between these users and these businesses. 

4) Tell us about the addition of digital users; what is the kind of change you have noticed in the consumption pattern in 2020?

Since businesses are adapting when it comes to customer engagement they are also thinking about direct to customer models. As per the report, last year’s sudden surge in online demand meant that more than ever, consumers want convenience and that their needs be met on a real-time basis. To meet these expectations and still drive results (such as brand awareness, new leads or sales), brands had to quickly ramp up resources to optimize the user’s digital brand experience.

From being just an option, online is now a new habit where users have made online exploring of products and services mandatory and offline is now a ‘maybe’.

To address these shifts, traditionally offline industries like retail, auto, and consumer goods can consider dialling up their investments in tech and audience engagement, as well as reinforce their direct-to-customer (D2C) models.

So this is another place where businesses and brands have a unique opportunity to not just be present, but to deliver their services to users in a way they expect.

This is a big shift and it's going to require a lot of businesses to change the way that they reach their audiences.

5) What was India looking to buy in 2020? What do search records say?

High value and high involvement categories like smart TVs, laptops and even cars saw a huge surge in terms of what people wanted to buy. There was an overall increase in technology products.  For instance, search for secondhand laptops increased 60% year on year. There was a huge increase in the search for second-hand cars as well.

We also saw search interest in investments. There was a 50% YoY growth in search queries for “invest” and a 50% growth YoY in searches for “buy mutual funds”. So people are looking at being more financially secure and that has put them in the market for these kinds of services.

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