Ecommerce players have always tried to tap into the social habits of prospective customers. This has led them to social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and others. And that is a good thing. But as social media newbies soon realize, just posting social status updates does nothing for brand salience, web traffic, or sales. Online — or in person — the primary formula for all social interaction is relevance. And while it takes more than just relevance, that’s the starting point for connecting with any audience.
What Does This Mean for an International Ecommerce Player?
Let’s say that you are an ecommerce business that is getting serious about the Indian market. How would you approach your social media strategy? This is far from a comprehensive lesson on Indian society, but here are some thoughts that will get your juices flowing.
India Is a Land of Religion, and on Occasion, the Religion Tells its Believers to Buy
To a western audience, this might seem bizarre, but Hindus in India actually have a religious festival called Dhanteras, which is observed by buying precious metal. Usually this is in the form of small items like rings and pendants. And just in case you are not aware, this “niche” audience numbers approximately 1 billion people – that’s right, approximately 14% of the world’s population. 14% of the world’s population receives a religious dictate to buy precious metal, usually in the form of light gold jewelry, on a specific day in the year. Do I have your attention now? Enough attention to get you to rush to Wikipedia to verify the facts I just listed?
Even if you are not in the jewelry business, there is an important lesson to be learned here: there are strong cultural drivers in each market. As an ecommerce professional, your job is to unearth those influences and use them in your social media strategy. In some cases, these influences could be as obvious as Dhanteras in India. In other cases, you may have to dig deep to figure out a cultural influence that could lead to a purchase.
Where Does Social Media Fit Into All This?
Like answers to all crucial questions, here too the answer is, “depends.” What is your approach to social media? If you use it to announce deals and offerings, you could tailor your announcements to the mood of the Indian audience. If your social media strategy is more about increasing your brand relevance, you could create messages that relate to Indian emotions. And if social media, to you, is primarily an instrument of customer engagement, then you obviously need to know the contexts within which your customers like to be engaged.
But whatever you do, don’t splatter messages about “Cyber Monday” or offer “Black Friday” promotions. These terms are alien to Indian consumers. They establish you as a brand that has no idea about its audience.
“Think Global, Act Local”
This is one of the clichés in international marketing. But like most clichés, the original meaning is well intended. India as a market is different — so are they all. Your job as an ecommerce business is to appreciate those differences and rework your social communication to adapt to Indians. Here are some examples of what that can mean in the context of social media strategy for targeting Indian customers for your ecommerce business.
Sports: Cricket Does the “Slam Dunk,” But Nothing Else
There have been several abortive attempts at promoting other sports, but the fact is that cricket is the only truly national sport in India. I recently saw a tweet by an ecommerce site that referred to one of its deals as a “slam dunk.” Great phraseology, but not for the Indian audience! A far superior alternative would be to say, “smash the ball for a sixer!” That is something all Indians would relate to. Are you from a place where “smash the ball for a sixer” is gibberish? Good, now you know how the Indian ecommerce customer reacts to “slam dunk.”
Local Holidays Are Huge Selling Opportunities, and There Are Many Local Holidays in India
The average Indian ecommerce customer is steeped in religious, cultural, and traditional values. It is no surprise that a lot of online purchase takes place around religious, cultural, and traditional events. So in Dassera, home appliances, furniture, and other home improvement products do very well. So does apparel. In Diwali, ecommerce players selling gift baskets, dried fruit, chocolate, and other snackables do well. At Rakshabandhan, small gift items for women work the best. And the list goes on. Your social media strategy should build on these important life events of Indians.
And All Else That Is Different
Like most Asian societies, India has a very strong family orientation. It is common for multiple generations of a family to live under the same roof. Also, compared to global audiences, Indians spend an exceptionally high proportion of their earning on their children’s education. These two demographic characteristics of your Indian customers create opportunities for social media communication.
At one level, all of this is common sense. After all, it was almost two millennia ago that Ambrose said, “When in Rome, do as Romans do.” But a quick look around the ecommerce landscape shows us that even some mid- to large-sized ecommerce players do not seem to demonstrate sensitivity to local cultures. Probably the dizzying pace and burgeoning growth of the ecommerce industry do not allow them to notice the finer aspects of ecommerce localization strategy. But when the imminent shakeout does take place, the survivors will quite likely be the ones that appreciated the complexities of international ecommerce.