Fundamentals of International Marketing

You are doing great selling your products, but have you thought about your strategy abroad?

The key insight is that we have to get a lot better about playing the identity game.

When marketing in the USA, there is a tremendous amount of unspoken norms, things that we intuitively understand about how to function and how to appeal to someone. For example: racing magazines always have a model in a bikini pictured with the car–it’s not tasteful, but it’s expected. But what marketers have is a lot of experience with the identity of Americans and in particular the identity of the group that they are trying to appeal to.

However, when we move internationally, the identity game gets a whole lot more intense, and we have to ask deeper questions in order to arrive at a solid strategy for communicating our offer.

I have news: a Spaniard is NOT an American, and he doesn’t care to be. Neither does any other kind of European. This doesn’t mean that they don’t like American things, but they like them on their own terms. If there are fast cars and racing in American culture, then the Spanish like it to the extent that they like fast cars and racing as Spanish. If there is machismo in the Spanish culture, they like machismo aspects about American culture.

In more abstract terms, the differences between marketing practice in the USA and Spain are in some ways quite similar and others quite different. More importantly is to have a solid grasp of one’s marketing approach, really understanding the “why” of marketing, or dare I say the “philosophy” of marketing. If we don’t get to that most foundational level of our why, we will never have the ability to communicate our message or to understand the messages sent to us by any other culture or group.

On a more practical level, the internet has made “digital marketing” to be the new standard for marketing, i.e. to create a transference of value through electronic communications. Something that makes Americans different could be our need for consistency. While local retail with unique value propositions is returning, the need to always have enough in stock, a 2 pump vanilla latte from starbucks to taste the exact same, a Chipotle burrito to be equally good at any Chipotle, the success of many hinges on their consistency. In Europe, however, what flies is specificity–uniqueness to a certain area. For example, if McDonald’s wants to grow their market share in northern Spain, they are going to have to use high quality beef and vegetables grown in northern Spain. People are very proud of where they are from. In the USA we take for granted that we are Americans, with a few individual regionalisms. In Indiana they talk about “Hoosier values” or “Minnesota Nice” or “Southern Charm.” However, even within Spain, being “Spanish” can be looked down upon and rather being “from Navarra” from “pais Vasco” from “Catalunya” are much more likely to be valued.

In some areas, he reality is that some people are much more skeptical of working with any “brand” or “organization” unless that organization has made itself part of a community. American organization tend to create take-a-number service as the status quo, with those who can serve the biggest numbers of clients being the most successful. The European model, however, is quite the opposite. Wait times are expected to be long, however, personalized service without the slightest hint of rush is of greater importance. This means that when we are approaching new clients or new leads, the most important factor is to be able to have someone with a name explain the services or products you are offering. For example, instant chats or “call me” functions are of much greater importance to a people who is much more relationally and telefonically oriented than the majority of Americans.

These are just a few ideas to begin to describe the care and “cuidado” one needs to take when approaching international marketing. The risk you take by not considering the difference in cultures could be the worst consequence of all, being ignored.






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