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Tuesday, 25 July 2006 16:45

'œRediff-ining' the Indian online world

ImageHeading the brand campaign of a popular soap from India’s largest fast moving consumer goods company, to steering the marketing strategies of India’s leading website, Rediff.com, might seem an incongruous career jump to many. But in reality, it just reinforces the fact that the Internet has almost become a mass product in India.

Manish Agarwal, who has spent six years in consumer marketing business, is two months old in the Internet business as the vice president (marketing) of Rediff.com, India’s most popular website. Apparently, he has no trouble running eye-catching marketing campaigns in this online business where the target is eventually the mass consumer.

Says Ajit Balakrishnan, CEO, Rediff.com, “When I started rediff.com in 1995 I remember shouting from the rooftops that someday the Internet will revolutionize things… and I had to keep doing it for many years. Now, it has become a reality.”

Rediff.com has 45 million registered users, a 20% jump over last year. Yahoo! has almost the same number of registered users –globally.

According to a recent study by Juxt Consult, a Delhi-based Internet advisory and research firm, Yahoo! has the most top-of- mind brand recall among the Indian urban Internet users. “About 35% of the Internet users recall it as the first website that comes to their mind. Google (21%), Rediff (15%), Indiatimes (5%) and Hotmail (5%) comprise the top five online brands in India. Interestingly, Hotmail has higher mind recall among users than MSN and this is unique to India,” says Mrutyunjay Mishra of Juxt Consult.

No doubt, the slow evolution of the India online market has been occasionally frustrating but the market growth is speeding up now to make up for lost time. According to the BRIC study by Goldman Sachs, India is going to overtake the US, (which would be pushed down to the third rank) in terms of Internet consumer base by 2010 while China will be the leader in this space. Today, the Internet user base in India stands at 38 million.

Today, two clusters of users are being clearly defined. One is office users, who have been using email as an interaction tool for many years. Now, they are evolving from email, to search and to e-commerce. About 60% of the Indian user base is from this category.

The second wave of users is coming from the first time users who have this urge to remain connected and they are mainly from the smaller cities in India.

“We are giving both these sets of users – what they really need. Our new version of Rediffmail has unique features – it has an Outlook Express kind of an experience for those used to Outlook at offices. And to make the whole experience fast, we are giving features which are all on the same page (instead of going to another window for different activities) like easy contacts management where the user can drag and drop contacts to different groups, instant attachment view where the user can see the contents of attachments,” says Manish Agarwal.

When we talk of taking the Internet to the masses –it translates into giving them a flavor of the local languages. “In India, even if you are writing in English there are many instances where you used words in Hindi or any other local language. We have created software that automatically converts your Hindi word written in English into that language,” he explains.

The local touch

While Rediff.com is taking on the mass market through its Hindi and other local language content, Google has already launched its Gmail service in Hindi and its web search service in five Indian languages -- Hindi, Bengali, Telugu, Marathi and Tamil while others are also.

Microsoft is going to launch the Hindi version of MSN and hotmail. MSN's programming head Krishna Prasad is reported to have said that when 80% of Indians don't understand English, it is a must for them to have a local language site to enter in this medium.

Juxt Consult in its survey has also stated that 44% of existing Internet users in India prefers Hindi to English, if it is available. Similarly 25% existing Internet users prefer other regional languages.

Apart from Google, Yahoo and Sify, are also firming up plans to add local language content to their sites.

However, the spread of Internet in India is still at a very nascent stage. When compared to China, India’s most visited Hindi website (jagran.com) is placed at 6,338 rank worldwide whereas China's Baidu is world's fifth most visited website!

But the Indian consumer online market is doing all the right things now. “We have affordable broadband prices (at $5 per month we must be among the cheapest in the word), affordable PCs, growing mobile –based Internet, more reliable payment options. Soon we are going to see that all these becoming key drivers to translate the Indian online market into one of the top Internet markets in the world,” says Rediff’s Balakrishnan.

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