The Conflict between a Strong Brand and Local Language

Last Updated September 18, 2015

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, it goes to his heart.”

The late former South African President Nelson Mandela’s words ring true till date. Though originally spoken in order to refer to the advantage of using local languages by non-speakers to appeal to the listening audiences, these words carry a lot of weight when it comes tothe world of branding as well.

How? Well, let’s look at what branding is all about.

Formal definition of branding: “The marketing practice of creating a name, symbol or design that identifies or differentiates a product from other products is known as branding.”

What it eventually boils down to is this: Branding is nothing but the emotional response a business evokes in a customer. Brands need to forge that all-important emotional connection with their target audiences to be successful in a long-term scenario.And this is most effective if a brand uses the local language of the region to interact with its audience.

Broadly speaking, brands generally look at adopting one of the two approaches mentioned below when it comes to reaching out to their customers: One, they could try to promote their products/services big time by offering whopping discounts on the purchase of their goods (discount brands). Two, they could look towards building an emotional connect with their consumers sans a whole lot of offers (premium brands).While the former may yield instant profits for a short while, it is not an economically viable model in terms of long term sustainability. The latter may definitely take a longer time to get established but then once consumers start relating to it, there’s no looking back.

Let’s talk about branding from the Indian perspective. Out of our 1.25 billion strong Indian population, just about 200 million of us are proficient in the English language. On the other hand, almost half a billion Indians can speak, read and write in Hindi. And when 43 per cent of the people residing in rural India say that they would readily adopt the internet if it had content in their local language, it makes MNCs look up and take notice when deciding their branding strategy in a country like India.

Here are a few instances of relatively ‘big names’ (read: popular e-commerce and other websites) doing their bit towards reaching out to people in the local languages:

  • Facebook, the global social media giant with over 1.44 billion monthly active users, supports 13 different Indian languages as of now. That India has the second largest number of people on Facebook in the world (after United States) thus comes as no surprise.
  • Talking about e-commerce, the major players in the field such as Flipkart, Jabong and Snapdeal have already begun to launch their entire websites and even apps in local languages such as Tamil and Marathi, apart from Hindi, to cater to the regional populations. In addition to this, all forms of vernacular media are being used to tap the potential of its customers. The result: 45-50 per cent of the overall sales of these e-commerce businesses have started coming from relatively smaller, non-metro cities.
  • Yahoo India had started branching out to seven different Indian languages back from 2007 itself, with the latest addition being the 2012 tie-up with Malayalam Manorama, which has led to digital content in Malayalam being made available to users in South India.
  • Hyundai, the South Korean automobile company which is fast emerging to be one of the largest manufacturers in India, has taken on board Shah Rukh Khan, touted to be the ‘King of Bollywood’ as its brand ambassador.

These are but a few examples of how the switch to regional (read: local) languages as a part of their branding strategy has proved to be beneficial to businesses in terms of expanding their user base in the country, as well as opened up new, earlier unknown markets for these brands.

“It’s not what you say that matters, it’s what people hear.”

And the best way to make people hear is to put a brand message forward in the local language – which ultimately means that those who speak that particular language instantly feel positively targeted by the manufacturer of the brand.

Common Sense Advisory, an independent market research firm, carried out a poll in 10 different countries amongst 3002 consumers in order to test the hypothesis which said that localization of products and websites can lead to an increase in their overall sales volumes. The results can be summarized as under:

  • An overall substantial preference came out to be for the consumer’s mother tongue.
  • Due to this, a considerably large number of potential consumers – say, those who don’t understand English –will avoid spending time on English language websites and refrain from buying goods that lack instructions in their local language (referred to as the ‘Can’t Read, Won’t Buy’ phenomenon).
  • To put it in a nutshell, the study found that more local language content throughout the customer experience definitely leads to a greater likelihood of purchase.

If there is one thing that defines branding, it is language. Language has the power to change perceptions. It can make or break the marketing strategy of a brand.

“Logos and branding are so important. In a big part of the world, people cannot read French or English- but are great in remembering signs.”

The ideal case scenario –name your brand using the local language. You’re using a language spoken by a majority of your consumer audience; it helps to connect with the customers at an emotional level since they feel you are one of ‘their own’ and you can thus take advantage of cultural nuances as well. But then, this is not always possible. A business can’t just randomly change the name of its product each time it tries to enter a new area. To overcome this major challenge of branding across languages, businesses adopt an almost equally efficient alterative – rendering and re-designing the logo of a business in different languages in such a way that its general look is preserved.

Brand, Identity and Logo – Similar, yet so different

The logo of a business is neither the brand itself, nor is it the identity of the brand. The terms ‘logo’, ‘brand’ and ‘identity’ hold different meanings and yet are closely interrelated.

Logo –Identifies a business in its simplest form via the use of a mark or icon.

Brand – Perceived emotional corporate image as a whole.

Identity – Visual aspects that form part of the overall brand.

All three have got their own parts to play in the branding and marketing strategy of a particular product.

A brand is worthless if it doesn’t connect with the right audiences in a relevant way. The conflict between a strong brand and a local language will continue to exist. And as more and more businesses come forward and take it upon themselves as a challenge to narrow this great divide, it’ll be a win-win situation for all.

After all, when you brand yourself properly, the competition does become irrelevant.

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