Alpana Parida
May 03, 2017

Opinion: Shaping the digital culture in India

Culture is an important variable in understanding how to design websites

Opinion: Shaping the digital culture in India
Last year, I travelled to Estonia –a charming country where the Tartu school of semiotics was founded – and where semioticians debating the real nature of ownership or violation, are part of the legal system. Interesting though the country was, nonetheless, I am unlikely to travel to Estonia again. And yet, the remarketing algorithm of travel agencies identifies me as a person likely to travel there again and again and again. Wherever I go online, it seems that Estonia seems to keep popping up all the time - the advertising money being wasted simply because digital marketing does not take into account consumer behavior.
Digital marketers are young. Bright 20 or 30 somethings that have a different vocabulary and arsenal than traditional marketers. They often are treated as a totally different team – and have little synergy with the offline or the older ways of thinking consumers.
Think of the evolution of e-Commerce in India. It began being almost entirely driven by deals. Unlike a physical market place, where a buyer needs to physically go to another store or market – which creates a ‘sticky’ barrier, the online consumer can go to multiple markets at the click of a button. You cannot be the cheapest always, and the discount seeking consumer will never be loyal. 
Indian consumers delight in bargain hunting, going to a market place, sifting through mandis and fashion streets to look for best buys. If eCommerce began rewarding customers that stuck around more – by ‘allowing’ them to stumble upon the most incredible deals, they can create a browsing habit for consumers. What makes an online consumer stick – can be a learning from offline markets as well. 
Offline analogies help in the design of an online experience as well. A website for a desktop or laptop allows you to imagine the whole, with all bells and whistles – and create a rich interactive experience, as well as manage content with richness. This site can thus be adapted for mobile devices. While this is conventional wisdom, is it the right strategy to ensure a good interactive experience across digital interfaces?
To answer this, an offline analogy works better. Imagine a large supermarket. That has many categories and sub-categories, a great many brands across each and variants and SKUs thereof. As it tries to construct a smaller ‘express’ version – what should be the planogram?  What do you leave out – or keep in? 
The best logic for this is not aconstruct of what you drop and keep – but what is needed in the smallest possible format. What are the basics, what is the hierarchy of nice-to-haves and which brands/ variants/ SKUs have the most turns? If you start with the constraints of size and space, you will ensure that the most efficient basic format can be constructed. 
Similarly for the mobile site, the content has primacy. What is the content that is absolutely necessary? 
The mobile-first approach focuses on content instead.  Like the express version of the supermarket, it ensures all required content. The creation of the user experience and interface is a simultaneous activity – and thus uses a much more holistic approach. The navigation and layout is not a smaller version of the supermarket – but is specific to optimizing the smaller space. 
As this website builds out, the content is continually enhanced, with purposeful interactivity that makes the content more meaningful. 
Culture is an important variable in understanding how to design websites. Our language shapes the way we think. English is a very linear language. There are clear rules of the location of the subject, predicate and the object in a sentence. The sentence: The dog was barking at the postman can be written only in that manner – using the same words. In Indian languages – say in Hindi, it is possible to say: “kutta postman par bhonkrahatha” OR “postman par kuttabhonkrahatha” OR even “bhonkrahathakutta, postman par” and still make sense.
This has implication on the navigation logic of websites. Creating solutions for India needs new thinking entirely. While data driven tools and algorithms are great enablers, digital requires a behavioral and cultural understanding far beyond. 
(Alpana Parida is the managing director, at DY Works)
Campaign India

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