The Janus Face of International Marketing – Part 2

Distorting aspirations. As economic growth in emerging markets allows millions of people to enter the middle class, it brings great new opportunities for them to improve the quality of their lives. It also exposes them to the challenge of rising aspirations with limited income. New international consumers must learn how to manage their aspirations as they experience emotional marketing appeals for products and services that might not be considered practical or “good for them.”

In a chapter titled “Ethical Lapses of Marketers” in Jagdish Sheth and Rajendra Sisodia’s book, Does Marketing Need Reform? (M.E. Sharpe, 2006), good friend Philip Kotler posed two dimensions of “the marketing dilemma” for all marketing: (1) What if the customer wants something that is not good for him or her? (2) What if the product or service, while good for the customer, is not good for society or other groups? How consumers, marketers and societies manage that dilemma in international markets will need to be resolved on a country-by-country basis.

Coping with culture. All too often, cultures are insufficiently studied or wrongly interpreted. It might seem that responsiveness to cultural differences should be second nature to marketers and therefore virtually reflexive. However, cultural differences continue to challenge marketers and can negatively affect the marketplace. Many times, disregarding local idiosyncrasies is like the introduction of a destructive virus on a culture. For example, bringing snakes to Guam almost exterminated all birds there. Or, when selling construction wood to Japan, the importer of the boards needs to consider both the typical Japanese “tsubo” size, as well as the Japanese tendency to build smaller rooms. Not doing so supports the success of competitors and leaves Japanese purchasers dissatisfied.

 Though there is frequent talk about how we understand each other so much better than in the past, the reality looks different.  The actual overlap between societies is typically very miniscule. There may be a number of Chinese industry leaders who have been to the United States and have developed a clear understanding of America and Americans, but they represent a very small fraction of the Chinese populace. The average Chinese person may knowledgably understand as much about Columbus, Ohio, as the average Buckeye State resident knows about Tianjin. The consequence of that limitation is a danger of misunderstandings and susceptibility to hostility.

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