The Geography of Marketing: The Global Marketplace

As technology advances, it is becoming easier for people to connect with other people around the globe.

Rapid advancements in technology are also opening up new markets to businesses that wouldn’t have even dreamed of selling their products and services internationally just a few years ago.

Although international marketing is not my area of expertise, I believe that it is going to become more important for businesses of all sizes in the very near future. With this in mind, I have begun to do some research on the topic.

In the early stages of the process, three things are already becoming clear. 1) The quality of the product or service is becoming more important as businesses compete with other businesses that are located anywhere on the planet. 2) Marketing campaigns need to be tailored to appeal to individual markets and cultural differences need to be recognized. 3) It is becoming increasingly more important for businesses to do the research to identify what the previous two items on my list actually mean to the business and its potential customers (i.e., how do individual markets define quality and what factors influence how effective a marketing campaign will be when it is used to target potential customers living in other parts of the world.)

Globalization Does Not Imply Homogenization

In an article in the September 15, 2010 issue of the American Marketing Association’s Marketing News, Nigel Hollis, Executive Vice President and Chief Global Analyst at Millward Brown Inc., states, “Culture—the history, beliefs, customs, habits and values of a group of people—determines the ways in which we respond to the world around us, including the brands we buy. Local culture helps establish our values and priorities. It determines our taste for food, aesthetic preferences and communication.”

“Increasingly, however, people everywhere are exposed to foreign cultures through commerce, travel and media,” Hollis continues. “But just how strong is the influence of this global culture when compared to the local cultures in which we are born and raised? While the global culture grows increasingly prominent, my research suggests that the influence of local culture still is very important to brand success.”

Hollis goes on to point out that for brands with global aspirations, the influence of local culture can present significant problems. The combination of product formulations, positioning and communications strategy that made the brand successful in one part of the world may need to be adjusted to build a connection with consumers in new markets. Of these, Hollis feels that communication is probably the most susceptible to the influence of culture.

He also warns that the days of big brands gaining huge market share just by introducing their products and services to new markets are over.

According to Hollis, “It used to be that multinationals could launch a brand into a developing economy confident that their product would be better and more desirable than the local competition. Increasingly, this expectation is unwarranted. With product superiority no longer guaranteed, brands must compete for hearts as well as minds—and to win someone’s heart, you must engage him on his own terms and in his own language. Foreign brands increasingly will need to blend into local cultures if they are to become successful.”

He also points out that the Internet may, in fact, strengthen the connection that consumers have to their local culture.

“People in countries as diverse as China, Turkey and Brazil evince a strong desire to maintain their local culture,” writes Hollis. “In the future, they may celebrate their own cultural identities by choosing local foods, goods and entertainment over Western alternatives. And far from promoting a global village, the Internet actually may be promoting hundreds of local ones. The success of local Internet brands such as search engine Baidu in China and social network Mixi in Japan—as well as the growing trend toward local language blogging—suggests that far from undermining local culture, the Internet instead may be empowering it.”

The Middle East & North Africa Region

A recent report that was released by JWT MENA, titled “JWT MENA: 8 Trends for 2013,” provides insights about the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Interestingly, the report appears to verify that Nigel Hollis was indeed correct, at least for this particular part of the world.

According to the JWT report, “‘Arabification’ is definitely back. Whereas in the past, Arabs have looked to the West for inspiration, today, the region in entirety is looking inwards, supporting entrepreneurialism and its own national best interest. Rather than wallow in negativity, Millennials are optimistically looking forward and up, with a resilience and resourcefulness in addressing adversity. Consumer Confidence is up +6 points in KSA and +5 points in Egypt vs. 2011, shaping the ME of tomorrow, which will be pioneered by the dawn of ‘great brands from the Middle East’ as opposed to ‘great Middle Eastern brands’, towards self-sustainable individuals and economies.”

The report goes on to point out that about nine in 10 MENA adults agree with the statement, “I prefer products from my country over Western products if they are of better quality,” and a similar percentage agree with the statement, “I prefer products from my country over Western products if they are ‘unique.’” Furthermore, about three quarters of MENA adults agree with the statement, “I prefer products from my country over Western products if they are cheaper.”

The report concludes that, “At the end of the day, people are not just buying national brands, they’re buying a great brand and that’s the most important thing.”

If your business is marketing its products or services to consumers living in the Middle East or North Africa, I’d suggest reading this report. It provides great insights about the Middle East and North Africa, including interesting case studies from brands that have been successful in this region.

Final Thoughts

It is my belief that advancements in technology, including the increased reliance on the Internet, will make International marketing even more important in the near future.

However, while the Internet gives businesses the opportunity to sell their products and services to markets that they wouldn’t have even dreamed of just a few years ago, just introducing a product or service to a new market is not enough.

In order to be successful, brands may need to adjust everything from the communications strategy to the product itself, in order to appeal to consumers in other parts of the world.

As Nigel Hollis states at the end of his article in the AMA’s Marketing News, “Successful global brands will embrace the diversity of individuals, communities and cultures around the world, rather than seeking to impose one-size-fits-all templates irrespective of local needs and desires.”

Photo credits: stevecadman and Staeiou on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at:

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