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20% of our social media revenue is generated from TSBI Bharat: Harikrishnan Pillai

In November 2019, TheSmallBigIdea, a content-led digital agency, launched its localised content vertical – TSBI Bharat. The objective of TSBI Bharat was to focus on brands which have a linguistic and cultural focus in the heartland and south and address the exponentially growing regional audience through the language and platform they are most comfortable in.

The digital ad spends are heavily skewed towards the English speaking audience, according to RedSeer Consulting. In a report, the company found that although vernacular monetisable users will increase to ~320 million in 2023, making up to 85 per cent of the Internet population, they will only receive 25-30 per cent of the $10 billion digital advertising spends.

In conversation with Adgully, Harikrishnan Pillai, CEO and Co-Founder, TheSmallBigIdea, speaks about TSBI Bharat, how regional language speakers are influencing the Internet, and how brands are reaching these audiences.

What is the journey and experience of a regional language speaker on the Internet?

A few years back, irrespective of your purchasing power or intent, the regional audience had a tough time navigating through the Internet and especially if there was an English language filter. But today, due to regional language availability, voice search options, hardware adaptations, accessing regional content and access for regional audiences has increased predominantly. All estimates point to the fact that only 25 per cent of the Indian population speak in English. And there is a huge market that has the propensity to buy but is underserved. We launched TSBI Bharat in November 2019 for this exact same reason. To help brands get access to these regional audiences.

There has been a massive growth in Indian language content apps. Do these apps have the scale and reach that attracts advertising dollars?

Definitely. Regional newspapers, TV channels and radio stations have existed, so why not regional digital apps? They perform a similar role to entertain, engage and inform. There will always be potential for a regional app to exist, to get traction and attract advertisers. More importantly, it’s easier for these apps to scale outside of India. There is a huge Indian diaspora in many countries with a demand for regional content. This makes for a very attractive advertising proposition.

Will creator driven platforms be the sole digital touchpoint to reach Tier 3 and 4 audiences? Hence, will influencer marketing, content marketing be the most effective solutions to reach these audiences?

Influencer based applications are easier to launch and use. Also, they are being used by the digitally native youngsters, who are the first movers in any tech category. But as things adapt, we will see the demographics changing with older, mature audience sets with purchasing power coming onto these platform. It might be to consume local news, connect with local community or just consume content in their own language. Eventually all these apps will move to be super apps.

What has been the growth of TSBI Bharat since it launched in November 2019?

TSBI Bharat was launched in November 2019 with an intention to help regional and national brands targeting regional audience in the language they are most comfortable in. Our strategy is simple. We hired cultural experts from local markets and they are placed there as they service the brand. Our strong research and analytics wing supplies primary and secondary data to the Bharat team, which is merged with solid storytelling. Currently, 20 per cent of our social media revenue is generated from TSBI Bharat. With clients from Bihar, Punjab and Maharashtra, the requirement for content in Hindi language has become sharper for brands. We are also working for non-media brands who are big players in the regional space. Today, we have a diverse workforce coming from all parts of the country with great talent, which gives everyone an edge.

What gamut of solutions are you offering clients to reach the regional audience?

With the platforms playing similar roles, the biggest differentiation and hence our biggest offering is customised regional narratives. We have regional experts on board, who not only are language experts but have a very sound cultural understanding. Our second core offering is regional creators, who have an intense following and traction in these markets.

Digital penetration in Bharat is led by mobile devices. A mobile app based environment is more closed compared to a browser led desktop. What challenges does that pose for digital marketing strategy?

Mobile based app experiences provide higher personalised and meaningful time spent. So, overall it’s a big win for marketers. For restrictions attributed to a small screen can be easily circumvented through great user design.

What is the ask from clients who want to reach regional audiences via digital (awareness, consideration, sales)?

The client’s first ask is that they want to reach out to the regional youngsters, the audience set absolutely unavailable on the traditional formats. They want to constantly engage with them. The second ask is a more nuanced and contextualised approach. They want to hyper-regionalise the communication, an intent which helps them get closer to the brands.

What kinds of clients are interested in reaching these audiences today? Do they have a long view strategy for winning over these audiences?

There are two types of clients. First being regional brands who are selling products in regional markets and second are national players who have focus in those regional markets. For the national brands they want to capture regional markets and for the regional brands want to consolidate their presence. Then there are media clients who are building platforms on the back of regional content for advertisers to eventually use them to reach out.

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