Standardisation and Adaptation in Marketing: The Debate (Briefly…)

person holding world globe facing mountain

This blog discusses international marketing and the decision to standardise the marketing mix for different countries and regions or adapt to create a more bespoke marketing strategy for a specific audience. These ideas are also relevant for small businesses. Standardisation is using the same marketing tools such as branding, adverts, products etc.  across all of the marketing strategy in all regions where you are in business.  Conversely, adaptation is where you change aspects of your marketing mix to better suit different target markets. An example of adaptation is changing the name of a brand in a different country, like the German car manufacturer Opel who changed the name of their cars in the UK to Vauxhall to make the car more marketable.   It is certainly cheaper and easier to standardise your marketing strategy, but is that the best option for your business?

It is largely believed that it is possible to plan a marketing strategy according to the view that we are becoming a standardised population, and due to globalisation and constant interaction on social media, the world markets are heading towards a converging commonality whereby lot of people enjoy the same products, services and brands. As a result of this globalisation, many business leaders believe it has become a possibility for multi-national organisations to consider the entire world as one single entity, and therefore market their products the same way around the world. Think about your business? Are all of your customers similar, or are your customers who contact you on the phone different to those who contact you by email or through your website? 

On the other hand, when you delve deep into the literature on this subject, there are many conflicting arguments regarding standardising and adaptation of marketing strategies. Some scholars strongly believing in adaptation to be the most effective strategy, but what about the cost of this adaptation both in terms of time and capital? One of the key influences of the decisions when considering the importance of adaptation in some elements of a marketing mix, is the work of Douglas and Wind. They write of the myth of globalisation, and in fact that homogenisation of the population is not a clear and universal trend. 

Many individuals, academics and business leaders have previously discussed standardisation and adaptation when it comes to marketing as two polarised decisions. However, it is often the case that when developing an international marketing strategy or indeed a marketing strategy targeting different market segments within your area, you quickly realise it is often a balancing act between adapting and standardising. The choice to adapt, over a standardisation strategy, or vice-versa, is context specific and the appropriateness of the selected level of strategy should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. For example, in your marketing strategy are you going to advertise free delivery to people who live withing 15 minutes of your store? Or would you send out a different marketing message to those who live close to your such as, receive a 10% when you spend over £50 in- store, and send the Free Delivery Ads to those who live further away.

 Overall, there are good arguments for both standardisation and adaptation in marketing, concerning the benefits and drawbacks of both approaches and these ideas can be used for both small business owners as well as global company leaders.  However, through viewing real world examples it is the reality that very few organisations have fully standardised global marketing mix. Companies such as the Coca-Cola Company, who you could have previously assumed to be fully standardised, the majority of the elements of the marketing mix are standardised, there is a degree of local responsiveness. In fact, there is even variation in the product, for example the sugar content is lowered in Greece, and the levels of carbonation are reduced in eastern Europe. Similarly, organisations such as Unilever, who are well known for their ‘Think Global, Act Local’ strategy.

Therefore, through looking at marketing campaigns for a range of multi-national businesses, we can see that the general principle is to standardise where you can, and adapt where you must, and this is a great point to keep in mind when you are developing your marketing strategy.

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