Digital marketing changes international strategies

Digital marketing has changed the marketing channel landscape in dramatic ways. While most marketers are rapidly learning how to work with the new digital channels in their home markets, these changes have even more impact on international marketing strategies.

Berthon, Pitt, Plangger, and Shapiro (2012) remind us that digital marketing has brought us three key changes:

  • A shift in activity from the user’s desktop to the internet, i.e. more and more applications are now cloud-based.
  • A shift in value production from the firm to the consumer, i.e. consumer reviews having more immediacy and resonance than standard PR efforts
  • A shift in the locus of power away from the firm to the consumer, i.e. blogs having more impact on brand building as compared to company-sponsored advertising.

Berthon et al. then developed five axioms that examine those key changes in terms of international marketing:

Social media is a function of the technology, culture, and government of a particular country. For example, the phone networks in India are well developed and robust, light years ahead of the traditional internet infrastructure development. So, Indian consumers are well connected to the Internet; however, they are primarily using mobile devices to access information. This could mean a major channel shift for companies developing digital marketing in this area, i.e. websites will definitely need to be optimized for mobile screens.

In the age of social media, local events seldom remain local. For example, China accused Starbucks of charging higher prices in China vs. other markets. This accusation was rapidly moved through the digital news channels, as well as blogs and Twitter. The lesson for an international marketer is that all markets need to be closely monitored for news that could relate to the company.

In the age of social media, general issues seldom remain general; that is, macro issues tend to be re-interpreted locally. An excellent example of this was the financial meltdown beginning in 2009. While the overriding issue dealt with financial stability of banks, the discussions became extremely local based on how each country was affected by the crisis.

The actions and creations of creative consumers tend to be a function of the technology, culture, and government of a particular country. Creative consumers have always adapted products for their own needs; witness the myriad uses for a simple box of baking soda. A far more interesting adaption, however, was when the rebels fighting the Gaddafi regime modified Fisher-Price Power Wheels Jeeps into armed unmanned vehicles.

Technology tends to be historically dependent; in other words, technologies in different countries evolve along unique trajectories due to inertia rather than because they are the optimal solution. Again, India offers an example. Due to the intense overcrowding of the roadways as well as their generally poor condition, standard cars are at a disadvantage. Therefore, the motorcycle and scooter market has exploded in India. While the better solution would be development of more and better public transit, this market has instead focused on development of transport systems that make the best use of the current poor infrastructure.


Berthon, P., Pitt, L., Plannger, K. & Shapiro, D. (2012). “Marketing meets Web 2.0, social media, and creative consumers: implications for international marketing strategy.” Business Horizons. 55, pp. 261-271.


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