You cannot spend more than a few minutes perusing the literature related to international marketing without realizing there is an intense debate between the theory of standardizing marketing across all markets and the theory of localizing marketing messages for a particular country or culture.
Defenders of the localization theory often use cultural dimensions, such as Hofstede‘s, to identify how core messages can mean different things to different groups based on traits such as individualism or masculinity.
However, as Koslow and Costley (2010) rightly point out, those cultural dimensions are hardly homogenous across an entire nation. In the US, for example, the Claritas PRIZM demographic breakdown identifies no fewer than 66 separate cultural groups, including “blue blood estates, money and brains, shotguns and pickups, and bedrock America.” So, a standardized marketing campaign in the US would miss the messaging boat, so to speak, with 65 of those groups.
And the rest of the world is no different. A country may be classified as collectivist and masculine, such as Japan, but it will still have many, many sub-culture groups under those main cultural dimensions.
Koslow et al. identified four possible advertising strategies based on the relationship between heterogeneous groups (between countries and within countries).
- Fragmentized – If there are large heterogeneous differences between targeted countries and within the target countries, marketers should use different advertisements for each country, as well as different advertisements for each segment within the countries.
- Glocalized – If there are small heterogeneous difference between targeted countries, but large differences within the targeted countries, marketers should use different advertisements for each segment extended across countries (similar segments across the targeted countries)
- Localized – If there are large heterogeneous differences between targeted countries, but small differences between segments within countries, marketers should use different advertisements for each country and the same advertisement with the country.
- Standardized – If there are small difference between targeted countries and within the target countries, marketers should use the same advertisements for each target country as well as the same advertisement within each target country.
As this research shows, it is critical to not only be cognizant of cultural differences between target international markets, but to also be aware of the demographic differences within countries that could require additional localization messaging.
Koslow, S. & Costley, C. (2010). “How consumer heterogeneity muddles the international advertising debate.” International Journal of Advertising. 29 (2), pp. 221-244.