The global market is no longer the sum of many independent country markets but is a whole that is much more multilateral and interdependent-economically, culturally and technically.Information moves around the world at the speed of light, and ease of transmission is facilitated by convergence of long-distance telecommunications, cheaper electronic processing and the exponential growth of Internet access.
The combination of these forces has meant that companies need to develop international marketing strategies, and companies need managers who have the skills to analyse, plan and implement these strategies across the globe. It is for these reasons that international marketing has become a critical area of study for managers, and an important component of the marketing curriculum of university business faculties.
Equally, advances in information, communication and transportation technologies, coupled with the intensified global use of the internet and social media, have broken many barriers faced by companies operating beyond national boundaries.
New technologies have revolutionized the way organizations are doing business by providing relevant help in searching for, targeting, serving and communicating with customers from all over the world. This augmented digital era can benefit firms wishing to pursue opportunities in an international context in several ways, such as establishing and nourishing business relationships with customers in foreign markets, collecting reliable and useful information about buyers, competitors and overall market conditions in different countries, enabling better-informed international marketing strategies and decisions.
Today, firms can rely on digital technologies, devices and tools as means to overcome traditional barriers (like geographical location and analysis of foreign markets, identification of overseas opportunities, and interaction with foreign customers), and achieve international growth.
Despite the changing digital landscape, for many companies around the world, digital still plays a marginal role.
Today, online presence can be misjudged or misinterpreted as pure marketing and communication functions. Many companies make the mistake of ignoring digital technology as a real business opportunity, with various channels for expansion into international markets.
So what is international marketing and how, if combined with the right technologies, can it help companies innovate business strategies, target new markets and offer greater value to their business and consumer audiences using an integrated approach.
Explaining what International Marketing stands for
If you are reading this, chances are you will already have a good notion of what marketing is about, but before we deep-dive into the world of international marketing, let's recap: Marketing is the defined as the ‘management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably’. Thus marketing involves:
Focusing on the needs and wants of customers
Identifying the best method of satisfying those needs and wants
Orienting the company towards the process of providing that satisfaction
Meeting organisational objectives.
Companies that consider these factors best prepare themselves to achieve competitive advantage in the marketplace. They then must focus on maintaining this advantage by manipulating the controllable functions of marketing within the largely uncontrollable marketing environment made up of SLEPT factors: i.e. Social, Legal, Economic, Political and Technological.
So how does the process of international marketing differ? Within the international marketing process, the key elements of this framework still apply. The conceptual framework does not fundamentally change when a company moves from a domestic to an international market; however, we can outline two main differences.
First, there are different levels at which international marketing can be approached and, second, the uncontrollable SLEPT elements of the multiplicious, global marketing environment are more complex. This means managers have to acquire new skills and abilities to add to the tools and techniques they have developed in marketing to domestic markets.
International marketing defined
International marketing involves operating in several foreign country markets where not only do the uncontrollable variables differ, but also the controllable factors - namely cost, pricing structures, advertising opportunities and distribution infrastructure. It is these kinds of differences that form the complexity of International Marketing.
At a simple level, it involves the company making one or more marketing mix decisions across national borders. At its most complex level, it involves the company establishing production or processing facilities around the world and co-ordinating marketing strategies across the globe.
In both cases the primary objective of the company is to achieve a certain degree of synergy in the global operation so that, by taking advantage of different exchange rates, tax rates, labour rates, skill levels and market opportunities, the organisation will be able build greater value. This type of strategy requires managers who can operate as International Marketing managers in the truest sense of the term.
The International Marketing environment
The main difference between domestic marketing and international marketing is the multi-dimensionality and complexity of the foreign markets in which a company may operate. A good international manager needs a knowledge and awareness of these complexities and their implications for international marketing management. To better understand these complexities, we will analyse, using the SLEPT approach, the various aspects and trends of the international marketing environment across social/cultural, legal, economic, political and technological dimensions.
1. Social/Cultural environment
Social and cultural influences on international marketing are crucial. Differences in social conditions, religion and material culture influence consumer perceptions and patterns of purchasing behaviour. It is this area that determines the extent to which consumers around the world are similar or different and thus determines the potential for global branding and standardisation. A lack of understanding of the social and cultural dimensions of a market only leads to negative results. Cultural and especially linguistic differences have a significant impact on the way a product can be introduced to a market, its brand name and advertising campaign. Operating effectively in different countries requires awareness of the fact that there can be significant differences in terms of culture, language and habits, although some commentators argue that there are visible signs that these differences are becoming less of a barrier. The dominance of a few global brands such as Microsoft, Intel, Coca-Cola, Nike, etc. - all competing in global markets that transcend national and political boundaries - are the proof that consumer needs are somehow converging across the globe. However, it is important not to confuse the globalisation of brands with the homogenisation of cultures. There are a large number of global brands, but even these have to manage cultural differences between and within national borders.
2. Legal environment
Legal systems vary in both content and interpretation. A company is not only bound by the laws of its home country, but also by those of the host country and a growing body of international law. Companies operating in the European Union are faced with an increasing number of directives that affect their markets throughout Europe. This can influence many aspects of a marketing strategy - for example advertising - in the form of media restrictions and the acceptability of particular creative appeals. It is crucial, therefore, for the firm to know the legal environment in each of its markets. All these laws constitute the 'rules of the game' for business activity.
3. Economic environment
It is important for all international marketers to understand economic developments and how they impact on marketing strategy. This understanding is important at the global level in terms of world trade infrastructure such as global institutions and agreements developed to promote international trade; at the regional level in terms of regional trade integration. Companies need to be aware of all the economic policies of countries and the direction in which a particular market is developing economically to be able to assess whether it will be possible to profitably meet market demand and compete with incumbents.
4. Political environment
The political environment of international marketing includes any national or international political factor that may influence the organisation's operations or decision-making. Many would argue that politics is a critical factor in any international business decision, especially in terms of investment and market development, and it is true that politics is intrinsically linked to a government's attitude towards business and its freedom to operate. Unstable political regimes expose foreign companies to a variety of risks that they would not normally face in the domestic market.
5. Technological environment
Technology and advanced information sharing represent an important driving force both in international marketing and in the movement towards a more global market. The impact of technological advances can be seen in all aspects of the marketing process. The ability to collect market data, control management capabilities and perform the practical aspects of marketing have been completely revolutionised in recent years by advances in digital communications.
Today, companies have the equal possibility to market goods and services online. The Internet has led to an explosion of information for consumers, giving them access to a plethora of brand content and the chance to buy products from anywhere and everywhere. The Internet, by directly connecting end users and manufacturers, has drastically reduced the importance of traditional intermediaries in international marketing as more companies have built the online capability to deal directly with their customers, particularly in B2B marketing.
International marketing VS domestic marketing
There are many factors within the global marketplace which substantially increase the challenge for international marketing. These factors can be summarised as follows:
Culture: diverse and multicultural markets;
Markets: widespread and sometimes fragmented;
Data: not difficult to obtain but expensive;
Politics: political risk could be become a crucial variable in the long term;
Governments: can have a strong influence on business behaviours;
Economies: varying levels of development;
Finance: many differing finance systems;
Stakeholders: commercial, home country and host country;
Business: different rules, culturally influenced;
Control: hard to manage and co-ordinate across markets.
So what are the particular strengths of an international marketing professional compared to a traditional, domestic marketing professional?
The tools at the disposal of both marketers are the same, but their strategies and skills differ substantially. The international marketer must consider several factors and variables that increase overall complexity. Market, culture, language, legislation and certifications of the foreign country are only some of the areas of competence of the international marketing expert.
To define a winning strategy, professionals must be able develop a proper internal organization - adapting to new technologies - and be ready to face all the countless variables introduced by the new international environment with confidence.
International marketing and its ever-changing strategies in the current economic context are becoming unavoidable options for the survival of the company. It is a new environment characterised by a continuous digital transformation and an increasing trend towards globalisation of markets.
So how can today’s companies succeed?
International Marketing planning
We have discussed the factors and variables involved in international marketing and the complexity of managing the wide range of factors that need to be considered that makes planning and control a difficult task.
Now we examine the planning and control process of international marketing and consider how managers can respond to challenges by ensuring that they have robust strategies and marketing plan processes in place.
The planning process is the method used by a company to define in detail how it will achieve its current and future strategic goals and objectives. In doing so, it must assess current and future market opportunities, evaluate its current and potential capabilities, and attempt to predict how changes over which it has no control might help or hinder its efforts to achieve its goals. The international planning process should enable the company to answer the following three marketing questions:
Where is the company now?
Where does it want to go?
How can it get there?
These questions are fundamental for most companies, large or small, and underline the need for the company to prepare for the future to ensure survival and growth in an increasingly competitive international environment. And the future is likely to be very different from the past, so planning is inevitably about anticipating and implementing the change that determines the very nature and future direction of the organisation.
The starting point of the planning process for any company is to set long-term goals and objectives that reflect overall aspirations and desires. These goals cannot be set in isolation as the company's history and current levels of success in its various national markets are usually crucial to its future.
Other international factors over which the company has little control, such as the economic and political situation in the countries in which it operates, the response of competitors, or the behaviour and expectations of its customers, all have a major impact on the company's operations and influence its overall success in meeting its objectives.
Today, too many companies - particularly smaller ones - fail to prepare for the unexpected and in some cases, even predictable events in international markets. And they are often surprised by, and unprepared even for, success.
When unexpected events occur, many companies digress from the plan and develop new strategies as they go along. While it may be possible to survive in a relatively simple domestic environment by reacting quickly to new situations as they arise, it is impossible to grow significantly in international markets, as an over-reactive management style is usually a waste of opportunities and resources.
Characteristics of best practice in International Marketing
Once the objectives have been set and the different factors have been understood, a company wanting to conquer new markets will need to develop detailed plans of marketing strategies and activities to achieve those objectives.
Decisions will need to be made on how the company will segment and target its international markets. How will it position itself in the different markets? How will it add value through product portfolio, communications, distribution and pricing strategies? These questions are crucial in the development of an international marketing strategy.
A central consideration in developing a marketing strategy for international markets is the dilemma that all managers face: how far can I standardise my marketing strategies in different country markets?
The answer to this question is simple. Each marketing plan must be action-oriented and contain programmes designed to provide clear direction for the implementation, ongoing evaluation and control of all marketing activity in the company.
Organisations planning to compete effectively in world markets need a clear and well-focused international marketing strategy, based on a thorough understanding of the target markets. International markets are dynamic entities that require constant monitoring and evaluation, and marketers must innovate and adapt to keep pace.
The challenge for international marketing is to ensure that any global strategy has the discipline of thorough research, accurate understanding and robust evaluation of what is required to achieve competitive advantage. Three main components are identified in the strategies of companies that compete successfully in international markets:
A clear international competitive focus achieved through in-depth knowledge of international markets, strong competitive positioning and a truly international strategic perspective.
An effective relationship strategy achieved through strong customer relationships, a strong commitment to quality products and services, and a dedication to customer service in all international markets.
Well-managed organisations with a culture of learning. Companies need to be eager to learn, display high levels of energy and commitment to international markets, and have effective monitoring and control procedures for all their international markets.
International marketing strategies in the digital era
The international marketing environment and global marketing strategies are influenced by continuous technological development. But how have companies’ behaviours changed with the advent of digitalisation, and what does that means for international marketers?
With the advent of digitalisation, companies have acquired a multitude of benefits, especially regarding product standardization across different markets. Indeed, digitalisation helps companies converge buying preferences and behaviours, and homogenise market characteristics across different countries, subsequently boosting their ability to reach and serve multiple foreign markets at the same time.
Today’s marketers, thanks to digitalisation, are in a better position than ever before, as they can take advantage of various online strategies for the multitude of segments present in each market.
Using online strategies and various digital platforms, methods and tools like social media, blogs and CRMs, marketers now have the chance to showcase their mission and their values to a broader audience using a smart digital marketing strategy.
Today's technological evolution is creating the need for companies to reach their audience (B2B or B2C) by methods other than the traditional. This is where the concept of digital marketing is born. Digital marketing differs from traditional marketing in that it involves the use of online communication channels and methods that allow strategy adoption and performance to be evaluated and changed quickly as required.
For a company that is already internationalised, a simple and effective way to increase its brand awareness and increase its return on investment and margins, is to implement a proper international digital marketing strategy.
Reaching the audience through the web, social media or direct email marketing is undoubtedly less expensive and time-consuming than traditional marketing methods. In addition, international digital marketing allows you to achieve better results in lead generation and increased conversion rates by offering accurate measurement of results, allowing you to identify any problems and areas for improvement. The benefits of digital marketing cover the entire process from contact generation and customer management to marketing automation. If implemented correctly, a digital marketing strategy can lead to:
Improved contact-making capacity
Improved management performance
Increased capacity for analysis, audit and business intelligence. To achieve optimal results, you need to know your audience, the culture of the target country, and plan (then implement) a proper international digital marketing strategy.
A localised international digital marketing strategy allows companies to reach foreign audiences more effectively, study their characteristics and increase their return on investment and brand awareness.
In addition, digital marketing allows you to manage communication across all online channels in an integrated and consistent manner, thereby improving co-ordination, reducing errors and making optimal use of resources.
Today, digital media offers companies a unique opportunity to promote their product according to the local culture. Why not take advantage of it?
A multitude of digital marketing strategies
With over three billion people online, it is natural that the current marketing landscape, both local and international, is almost all digital, which is why an introduction of digital marketing strategies is necessary.
In 2017, a Salesforce study found that 67% of digital marketers reported higher engagement rates and 64% reported increased ROI. However, only 34% marketers had a well-documented strategy in place, while the remaining 66% are in the dark, and without a clear strategy to generate results in the medium to long term.
Today, the market offers a plethora of digital strategies and companies must decide the most efficient and best suited to them:
Email Marketing: Email marketing is the sending of emails and newsletters as a means of communicating directly with your leads and prospects for sales and retention purposes. A well thought out email becomes the perfect bait to get your fish on the hook: prioritise a direct connection with the recipient with a personal and engaging touch. Email marketing automation tools will help you segment your target audience and automate the sending of your newsletters. To find out more about email marketing, read the following article (link)
Search engine optimization: Search Engine Optimisation comprises those activities that optimise your site's performance in terms of organic visibility and search engine positioning. Google, Bing and other search engines reward sites with the best content and user-friendly design. Make your website easy to find, clear, beautiful and usable by following our suggestions (link)
Content Marketing: Content marketing comprises all those activities of creating and distributing content such as blogs and articles. The aim is to attract qualified users to your site by prioritising relationships over transactions. Interesting content can become a goldmine for the growth of your business in terms of SEO and acquisition of leads and traceable data. Traceable data, if analysed in the right way, will give you the ability to guide your users through the sales ‘Conversion Funnel’, all while adding value and providing and interesting and fun experience. To find out more about Content marketing, read this article (link)
Influencer Marketing: This represents the ability to 'influence', to generate strategic word-of-mouth that has a significant impact on the visibility of a brand and is a concept closely linked to social media, so much so that we also speak of 'social influencers'.
Viral Marketing: This refers to a particular type of marketing that exploits, at least initially, the communicative capacity of a few interested parties to convey an advertising message to a large number of other people, thus guaranteeing the exponential growth of brand awareness.
Social media marketing: Social Media Marketing is all about promoting products, services and brands through social networks that allow direct interaction between user and company. Social channels can become a powerful user engagement machine capable of directing users to your website. To find out more about this strategy, follow our guidelines here (link)
Search Engine Marketing (PPC): This refers to all those activities aimed at improving the visibility and positioning of the site on search engines, to achieve your marketing objective. In particular, SEM (Search Engine Marketing) campaigns are paid marketing campaigns (CPC or CPM) on search engines. An example of SEM is Pay-per-Click (PPC) campaigns in which the advertiser pays according to the clicks the ad receives. To find out more about this strategy, take a look at our in-depth elaboration (link)
In this article, we have looked at the ever-growing strategic importance of international marketing and the issues associated with competing successfully in international markets. We have examined the key aspects of SLEPT factors in the international marketing environment, typically characterised by uncertainty and change which can increase the element of risk for international marketing players.
We know that marketing managers need to have a properly planned approach to any international activity because, without this, costs and the likelihood of failure are bound to increase.
In addition, we have looked at the planning process of international marketing and considered how managers can respond to the challenges posed in the international marketing environment by making sure they have robust strategy development and market planning processes.
Finally, we looked at the reasons for success and failure in international markets and suggested that companies operating successfully in the global market are those that perceive changes in the rapidly and can develop strategies that enable them to respond accordingly. Embracing technological development and digitalisation of marketing strategies provides companies with an enormous competitive advantage in global markets and lays the foundation for successful internationalisation.
We are here to succeed with you
The combination of international marketing strategies and the use of digitalised processes is the trump card for companies with an objective to conquer new foreign markets.
Our international marketing company offers its clients the opportunity to achieve this goal. Thanks to our wide range of services (links) and our international team of experts, you have access to the many facets of today’s digital marketing world, and the opportunity to achieve unprecedented short-term and long-term goals.
Why choose Xplore Digital?
At Xplore Digital, our mission is to make marketing excellent, accessible and affordable. For everyone. We put your success ahead of our own - that's why we tailor our business to help your business. Because we understand the complexities and costs associated with traditional agency contracts, we work on-demand with rolling montly contracts that ensure total flexibility at a very attractive price-point; no long-term commitment. With these benefits, we ensure companies’ growth and we lead them towards the conquests of new markets ensuring a secure internationalisation.
Xplore Digital was conceived in response to a rapidly changing global environment, but it was also born out of a deep conviction that the marketing industry itself needed a shake-up. Founders Sébastien Faelens and Cécile Loire believe that, for too long, traditional marketing agencies have been overbilling and underperforming, without consequence or accountability.