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Airbnb and Spotify: Driving Adoption in India

We examine the localisation strategies of two global consumer brands that successfully penetrated the Indian market.


John Doe

Published on

December 28, 2023

Launching a tech startup in a new geography typically necessitates significant foundational changes, and this process only gets more complex in culturally diverse markets like India.

Consider, for instance, the linguistic diversity in India, where the language shifts every few kilometres, posing a unique challenge for any tech brand whose core product is content; a challenge that Spotify, a Sweden-based music streaming platform, embraced as an opportunity.  

How Spotify localised for the Indian Market

Spotify entered India in 2019 and, in less than four years, amassed a Monthly Active User base (MAU) of 55 million. Their strategy included:

Prioritising Brand Love over Revenue: Recognising India's general reluctance to pay for digital services, they allowed free unlimited streaming until users saw the value in upgrading to paid plans.

Region-Specific Marketing: With India's diversity far surpassing other countries they had launched in, Spotify initiated regional campaigns, including sponsoring Telugu Big Boss and collaborating with artists like Neha Kakkar, Badshah, and Diljit Dosanjh.

A Spotify campaign poster which was also a billboard outside Delhi’s Sarojini Market.

Getting the Price Right: Spotify introduced a 'premium mini' subscription in India, offering flexible, low-cost options suited to local pricing sensitivities, including daily, weekly and student plans.

Capturing the Independent Music Scene: Appreciating the appeal of independent artists, Spotify offered exclusive contracts to top independent singers, attracting a younger audience who follows these artists dedicatedly, and differentiating themselves from incumbent players in the Indian market who focused more on Bollywood and other big labels: JioSaavn and Gaana.

How Airbnb Built Customer Trust in India

While pricing, marketing and product variety are essential in entering a new market, gaining customer trust is equally crucial. Airbnb, a peer-to-peer lodging platform, offers a wide range of accommodations from private rooms to villas in over 100 Indian cities. Launching in India in 2016 and quickly becoming popular choice among India's young population for the independence and affordability they offer, their strategy has centred on:

Diverse Accommodation Options: Their range includes everything from traditional havelis to modern apartments, appealing to a broad spectrum of travellers.

Local Experiences and Adventures: Offering local activities like heritage walks and culinary tours, they provide a unique selling proposition compared to competitors, particularly attracting foreign tourists.

Customised Marketing Strategies: Employing region-specific marketing and leveraging local festivals has enabled them to connect with various Indian audiences.

However, their growth has been significantly influenced by two additional strategies:

Partnerships with Local Authorities: In India, a government endorsement signifies trust. Partnering with local authorities not only demonstrated their compliance but also built trust among users unfamiliar with concepts like couch-surfing.

Technology and Platform Localisation: Recognising India's initial hesitancy with online payments, Airbnb introduced options like cash payments and pay-later for select users, further cementing customer trust.

In essence, the journey of Spotify and Airbnb into India's complex and vibrant market underscores a crucial lesson for aspiring global startups: the heart of localisation lies in empathy and adaptability. By championing the adoption of unique cultural nuances, consumer behaviours and market dynamics in their products, startups can not only enter but thrive in new territories.

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