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How to Thrive When Foreign Competitors Enter Your Market

Nandini Ramani and Raji Srinivasan

In recent years, several governments have liberalized by opening their domestic markets to foreign investment in the hope of increasing economic growth. Foreign companies often bring superior technologies, products, and management practices to these markets. Countries that liberalize in a quest for economic growth can, however, create negative consequences for incumbent companies who have become accustomed to operating in protected markets and may not have the resources to match their incoming foreign rivals.

Managers of incumbent companies are, naturally, concerned about the effects of liberalization on their companies’ performance. For example, in response to the potential liberalization of the Indian retail sector, Kishore Biyani, chief executive of the largest incumbent retailer in India, stated in opposition to the reform, “The retail sector…should not be given away to the foreign players while it is too young to compete on a level-playing field.” Similarly, founders of incumbent Indian technology startups, who have been fiercely battling U.S. entrants such as Amazon and Uber, have argued that foreign competitors destroy domestic industry and have asked the Indian government to introduce protectionist measures. 

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Given that liberalization may be inevitable, how can managers protect themselves against its negative consequences? In a new study in the Journal of Marketing, our research team examined whether incumbent companies can change their marketing mix responses to liberalization in order to improve their performance. We consider several aspects of incumbent companies that may influence marketing responses and performance, including knowledge of domestic institutions and market forces and prior exposure to foreign markets and companies.  

To estimate the effects of liberalization on incumbent companies’ marketing mix responses and performance, we take advantage of a quasi-experiment conducted by the Indian government in 1991 in which some industries were liberalized, while others were not. Using this quasi-experiment that included 3,000 companies allows us to control for other factors that may have simultaneously changed along with liberalization.  

Our findings suggest that incumbent companies with greater knowledge of domestic institutions and market forces should intensify their distribution in response to liberalization. For incumbent companies that have prior exposure to foreign markets and performance, our findings suggest that they can improve their performance by increasing their promotions, such as consumer rebates and discounts.  

For policymakers who may be tempted to heed the demands of domestic business leaders to raise barriers to protect domestic companies from foreign competitors, our study identifies incumbent companies’ marketing mix responses as a mechanism to prevent being crowded out following liberalization. Policymakers need not accede to the demands of incumbent business leaders to heighten protectionist barriers, but can instead find ways to facilitate incumbent companies’ learning from foreign entrants such as through fostering alliances and trade associations. This will create a win-win situation for domestic firms and policymakers.

Read the full article

From: Nandini Ramani and Raji Srinivasan, “Effects of Liberalization on Incumbent Companies’ Marketing Mix Responses and Performance: Evidence from a Quasi-Experiment,” Journal of Marketing, 83 (September).

Go to the Journal of Marketing

Nandini Ramani is Assistant Professor of Marketing, Mays Business School, Texas A&M University.

Raji Srinivasan is Sam Barshop Professor of Marketing Administration, Red McCombs School of Business, University of Texas at Austin.