Adapting marketing for differences between countries and demographic segments

In the US, marketers have long recognized that there are distinct heterogeneous market segments within a national market. For example, the Claritas PRISM approach identifies demographic segments such as Blue Blood Estates, Money & Brains, Shotguns & Pickups, and Bedrock America. Marketing campaigns are often created to speak directly to one of these segments, frequently because the product itself has the best functional/emotional benefits for that segment.

In international marketing, however, most campaigns are created for a national audience. Quite often, the strategies are based on one or more of the major cultural dimensions schools of thought (Hofstede, Hall, Globe, Schwartz, etc.). For example, the US scores high, nationally, in terms of masculine behavior. What this means is, as a group, Americans are more apt to be concerned with personal achievement. These attitudes are often baked into the US culture through the persistent “legends” about pioneer spirit and the idea that anyone can achieve anything with enough will and effort. Therefore, campaigns in the US frequently appeal to the idea of personal growth and achievement.

Recent research, however, has shown that international marketing needs to expand beyond the idea of a simple national culture and a single demographic in a particular country. Instead, campaigns should recognize that there is the “baked in” national culture as well as the heterogeneous market segments within that culture. So, essentially, there should be two levels of adaptation taking place:

  • National level, adapting for prevailing national cultural dimensions
  • Demographic segment level, adapting for the nuances of a particular customer segment

The research identified four possible marketing outcomes, based on the level of differences between these two levels.

Large differences between countries and demographic segments

If there is a large difference between the national culture of the company’s home country and the target market, as well as a large difference between the values of the demographic segments in the target market, the marketer should use a fragmentized approach. This means different advertisements for the target market and different advertisements for each segment within the target market.

Small differences between countries and large differences between demographic segments

If there is a small difference between the national culture of the company’s home country and the target market but a large difference between the values of the demographic segments in the target market, the marketer should use a glocalized approach. This means different advertisements for each segment within the target market. It should be noted, however, that these campaigns could also be used for similar demographic segments in other countries as well.

Large differences between countries and small differences between demographic segments

If there is a large difference between the national culture of the company’s home country and the target market but a small difference between the values of the demographic segments in the target market, the marketer should use a localized approach. This means different advertisements for the target country, but the same advertisement for all demographic segments.

Small differences between countries and demographic segments

If there is a small difference between the national culture of the company’s home country and the target market, as well as a small difference between the values of the demographic segments in the target market, the marketer should use a standardized approach. This means the same advertisements for the target market as for the home country and the same advertisements for each segment within the target market.

Marketing Implications

While it is critical to consider cultural differences at the national level (and to incorporate changes based on those differences), international marketing campaigns shouldn’t forget that there are often major demographic segments within those countries that should also be considered. International marketing should incorporate the best practices of market segmentation from the home country and then apply the nuances related to the unique culture of the target country.

Marketing Checklist

  1. Have you evaluated the level of cultural differences between your home country and the target country?
  2. Have you evaluated the number and strength of the demographic segments in the target market?
  3. Have you determined the ideal level of localization required based on the culture and demographic differences?

References

Koslow, S., Costley, C. (2010). How consumer heterogeneity muddles the international advertising debate. International Journal of Advertising. 29:2. pp. 221-244.

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