Overcoming the challenges of product management in the international market

The core of a firm’s international operations is its products or services. Its success depends on the quality offered and the differentiation from its competitors. To the consumer, any product is a cluster of value satisfactions. The perception of value differs across cultures around the world. For example, in Latin America, a product produced by an American brand tends to hold greater value than something similar produced by a Latin American brand. This does not mean that the product produced by the Latin America brand is in any way inferior in quality or appearance, but that perception creates different values. Here, I explore the challenges facing product management and offer an example from Apple’s recent launch of the iPhone X.

International product management has rapidly gained in importance. The ever-expanding array of product offerings, rise in the global GDP per capita, technology advancements and changing consumer behavior has led to a re-evaluation of product management strategy. The international marketer must address the variables that may call for an adaptation in the product offering. There are internal and external adjustments that enable firms to compete in the constantly evolving international market. Culture, language, government regulations, domestic competition and consumer behavior are some of the external challenges to entering an international market. There are also internal challenges such as talent acquisition, communication, standardization and coordination that companies need to consider.

One company that has dealt successfully with these challenges is Apple. It has adapted the product offering to customer needs, overcome cultural and national barriers and established brand loyalty. Traditionally, product managers spend the bulk of their time crunching numbers and analyzing data to drive new products forward. But with increased pressure on companies to stay lean and at the same time decrease their time to market, a purely traditional approach to product management isn’t quite enough anymore. There is a new need to sell benefits, not just the product. In recent time, Apple has used this technique to market its latest products. At a time when Apple was criticized for not including significant value-add features compared to previous models, the new iPhone X went above and beyond the market expectations. Apple used differentiation based on the advantages of cutting-edge technology and sophisticated design in the manufacturing of the new iPhone X. With facial recognition, wireless charging and edge-to-edge screen display, the phone continues a league of its own.

Ultimately, the specific strategy adopted by marketers in dealing with the challenges of product management will differ from country-to-country but will be in accordance with the region’s cultural norms, affordability of the target market, government regulations and inherent preferences. Addressing each of the challenges, Apple has successfully penetrated the global market. Their success is also testament to the fact that trusting a committed workforce and empowering them with decision-making will yield positive results for an international company launching a product or service in foreign markets.

Professor Michael Czinkota (czinkotm@georgetown.edu) teaches international marketing at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business in Washington D.C. and the University of Kent at Canterbury, U.K. His key book (with Ilkka Ronkainen) is International Marketing, 10th ed., CENGAGE

Leave a Reply