Knowing “One Measure English”: How India Creates Demand Digitally

Oru alavukku English terinja, NowFloats work aagum,” which translated literally from Tamil means “One measure English if someone knows, NowFloats works.” SEO has happened.

There are two types of knowing English in India- the confident kind that makes communication possible regardless of how proficient the person communicating is, and the hesitant kind that is apologetic about not being ‘English enough’ no matter how much of the language the person actually knows. Regardless of the many linguistic barriers, English is often the language of business, especially on digital platforms. Broken phrases carefully string themselves together to walk the tight-rope between being ‘content’ and ‘keyword stuffing’.

Reading, Writing, Speaking- the holy trinity of “knowing a language” is no longer applicable to the India we live in. At least not as far as internet-enabled India is concerned. Here’s a small example of what that looks like:

This is Venkatesh trying to sell leather shoes online. We found him in a small market in the historic site of Hampi. Hampi attracts tourists from all over the world and you’ll find local businessmen speaking more languages than the entire strength of a university faculty put together. Their ability to speak English drives relationship building and sales with their customers. However, Venkatesh never found it necessary to learn how to read and write the language. He knows one measure of English only.

When Venkatesh began using the NowFloats Boost app, he had the impetus to make updates about his products so that his site could be search engine optimized for local discovery. So he opened the app, and without missing a beat, dictated his update to the built-in Automatic Speech Recognition ‘mic’ in his keyboard. Today, if you look for leather shoes in Hampi, you’ll find his business site right away.

If Venkatesh was one to talk his way through things, Umamaheswari writes her own destiny.

Umamaheswari’s husband runs a manufacturing unit for dairy equipment in Coimbatore. Shreem Dairy Equipment bought a NowFloats subscription last year in order to become discoverable to potential customers online. Since Umamaheswari ‘knows’ English, the task of making updates became her responsibility.

While Umamaheswari reads and writes English, she speaks very little, and would rather speak in Tamil than anything else. She spends fifteen minutes everyday constructing a new update for their site and placing relevant keywords in it. When NowFloats introduced the social sharing feature, she bravely ventured on to creating a Facebook page for Shreem Dairy Equipment and connecting it to the Boost app. Since the app would post her updates directly to the Facebook page, she didn’t have to spend the time duplicating her efforts and ‘figuring out’ how Facebook page posting works. As it turns out, it became a very profitable decision for her.

Umamaheswari says that there are ‘young’ farmers now, presumably those who gave up on their corporate jobs and turned to farming. These new age people who don’t know where to look for things, look them up online, hence finding Shreem Dairy Equipment both on search engines and on Facebook. She has successfully closed two orders via Facebook, where she had to do no actual talking, but only texting back and forth. People who say that Umamaheswari knows only ‘One Measure English’ can no longer write her off.

In fact, according to Srinivasan, ‘One Measure English’ is the main ingredient for successful Search Engine Optimization.

Srinivasan owns Quality Roofs Pvt Ltd in Chennai, but is able to supply his product to industrial construction sites all over Tamil Nadu because he’s been using NowFloats for a couple of years now. People find him online, and about 4–5 of them place orders with him every month, and that helps him achieve his sales targets for that period.

The decision of going online with NowFloats was his, but he’s not always able to make updates because of the time crunch he faces on a daily basis. If he doesn’t make an update, one of his employees at the office does it for him. They don’t necessarily know a lot of English, but as he says “Oru alavukku English terinja, NowFloats work aagum,” which translated literally from Tamil means “One measure English if someone knows, NowFloats works.” What he really means is that in order to Search Engine Optimize a website, one needs to know only ‘One Measure English’- no digital marketing agency involved, no SEO expert paid, not even a lot of English required.

NowFloats enables over 240,000 such businesses in India. The presence of nearly a quarter million self-managed business sites does not mean that Indian SMEs have suddenly taken an interest in SEO.

Many people may not even know what ‘SEO’ stands for, despite achieving it perfectly. No, SEO is only the first domino to fall in a series of economic implications.

What SMEs in India are doing right now, is finding a demand online. By finding that demand for the first time ever, they have created a demand for themselves that until this point of time in history, did not exist. And by supplying to that demand, they’ve opened up a new channel of monetary transaction that is now recorded without ambiguity. Not only is money flowing in greater volumes over greater distances, every single unit of currency is accounted for.

According to the SME Chamber of Development in India, about 36 million SMEs (51 million total) that can be categorized in specific sectors, provide employment for about 80 million people and contribute to 45% of the GDP.

These numbers might appear black and white, filling in some blanks of trivia, filed away in the mind. But what does it mean to Fazal Mohamed?

Fazal Mohamed was taken out of high school to help contribute to their family’s income. For forty years, he has toiled to go up the ranks of the clothes manufacturing industry. From being the boy who threaded needles to becoming a business development manager for other clothing manufacturers, to finally taking the entrepreneurial plunge at the age of 53, he has come a great length.

In his first year as a business owner, Fazal Mohamed made the decision to go online. Immediately afterwards, he received such high value orders that he had to employ five extra people to fulfill the demand. For forty years, a man hides his hard-work from seam to seam, and one would imagine that he had built enough ‘contacts’ along the way that gave him the confidence to build his own business- which he no doubt has- but to be rewarded multi-fold like this, just by opening up a new channel of discovery must feel like the gratification he truly deserves. Having been an employee not so long ago himself, and also enjoying the sweet fruit of success, Fazal Mohamed would not only be the creator of employment but also maintain humane working conditions for his men. And this is real! This is the India rising in every corner, from every PIN code. How much longer would it take for us to become the economic super-power we have the potential for?