International Marketing: A Fast Growing Trend

International marketing is simply the application of marketing principles and techniques as applied to more than one country or region. It is often referred to as global marketing, and has become quite common with the surge in Internet businesses that cater to a worldwide audience. Companies that do business on an international level must analyze every aspect of their marketing campaigns, and determine if the scope, marketing mix, and message are consistent, and respectful, of the countries in which they do business. The biggest considerations in international marketing are the language barrier, and the cultural differences that exist between nations.

One of the things marketers must watch out for while studying and marketing in international countries is to avoid making blanket assumptions about or "stereotyping" a group of people.

The first challenge when dealing in international markets is trying to overcome the language barrier. Obtaining and interpreting market research data can be very difficult in these situations. It's also sometimes difficult to communicate effectively with your target audience. Even among other English-speaking countries, there is wide use of national slang, and therefore the potential for confusing or misunderstood marketing messages. For instance, in America we refer to officers of the law as police or policemen. In England a "policeman" is known as a "bobby" and in Ireland they're called a "garda".

The cultural differences between countries extend well beyond that of language. There are differences in gestures, body language, expressions, habits, ideologies, and more. For instance, in Saudi Arabia it's an insult to let someone see the sole of your shoe. In America, people make an OK sign with their hands. In Tunisia, that same sign means, "I'll kill you." In America, a dog is considered man's best friend and to many, a valued member of the family. In the Muslim tradition, however, a dog is considered a "dirty" animal.

In order to market effectively, companies must be well educated regarding these types of differences. They must take them into consideration and incorporate them into their marketing message. In general, there are really four key cultural traits that marketers must determine for a country:

Individualism v. Collectivism: Do people believe in individual responsibility and reward or are they more comfortable with a collective society that promotes group cohesiveness? Not surprisingly, the US trends toward individualism. Contrary to many stereotypes, Japan actually ranks in the middle of the spectrum.

Masculinity v. Feminism: This doesn't have anything to do with gender roles. Rather, it's simple a way to categorize a society as either being competitive, with a desire to conquer their natural surroundings, or one which is more harmonious and protective of the environment. Japan is one of the most masculine societies while the US lies somewhere in the middle.

Power Distance: This refers to the level of acceptance there is amongst the less powerful members of society over the unequal distribution of power. Cultures that have low power distance (like Austria and Denmark) expect to be treated mainly as equals and their citizens expect a very democratic society. A high power distance has an autocratic or paternalistic society that is accepted by its citizens.

Uncertainty Avoidance: This dimension measures how much citizens prefer a strict set of rules to minimize anxiety and uncertainty (high), or whether they prefer flexible rules and informal activities (low). In general, countries with low uncertainty avoidance, like the US, tend to be more comfortable of risk.

One of the things marketers must watch out for while studying and marketing in international countries is to avoid making blanket assumptions about or "stereotyping" a group of people. While there are similarities within a nation, you will also find great diversity among the citizens of any nation. In Latin America, for instance, there is a great difference between people living in mountainous regions and those living near the coast.

International marketers must walk a fine line between creating marketing messages that speak to the cultural traits of a people without resorting to blatant stereotypes.

International marketing is a fast growing trend, and one that can offer exciting new insights into the psychology of selling abroad. Marketers who take the time to study the cultural differences, and respect those differences in their marketing campaigns, will have no problem expanding the reach of their business and competing more effectively on a global stage.