When planning to expand your marketing activity to foreign markets, the more countries you target, the more complex things become. But that complexity is not equal across all marketing elements or locations. It’s important to know where things stay the same and where they can get more complicated.
The same rules of thumb can be applied whenever you are marketing internationally; regardless of whether you are introducing your products or services to new markets, or are diversifying or increasing your penetration in existing international markets.
When putting in place an international marketing plan using the McKinsey 7S framework, the three hardware elements – strategy, structure and systems – can be applied across international markets without much need for modification.
The four software components, however – style, staff, skills and shared values – are hugely affected by cultural differences and vary from place to place, so you need to implement them at local level – country by country.
So although planning and control procedures are pretty much the same for both international and domestic markets, you may need to invest more time and energy in communicating these processes when applying them across several countries, especially if several languages are involved. In addition, you will probably need to provide longer lead times, and you may need to allow for greater analysis of results, which typically seem less consistent than data collected used to in a domestic sphere.
One of the biggest challenges is keeping relationships productive and mutually respectful between staff in a head office and staff based locally. Colleagues at HQ may be closer to the strategic decisions but subsidiary staff may be more in touch with individual markets and better placed to identify opportunities.
In-country marketing managers play a pivotal role in defending a company’s market position. They can sense local clients’ and consumers’ needs while at the same time satisfying head office requirements.
Meanwhile people at head office need to have genuine transferable skills that can bridge cultures. Without this sensitive approach they will have difficulty relating to their colleagues or customers in country.
They must be able to understand and respond to a diverse range of attitudes to hierarchy, humour, assertiveness and ways of working, even including working hours.
After all, these are the human elements of an international marketing plan so must remain fluid even when strategy, structure and systems remain firm.