What Insights Are Statebound Marketers Missing?

Lawrence A. Crosby
Marketing News
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Key Takeaways

​What? International marketing is partly about picking your spot but also about keeping the periscope up.

So what? Mistakes include cultural misfits but also the failure to detect service import opportunities.

Now what? Make more employees “international marketers” by simply buying them a ticket.

July 25, 2017

What efficiencies and customer insights are American companies missing by not looking abroad?

I’ve been fortunate to have traveled the world, visiting about 55 countries to date. A standing joke early in my career was if you leave the borders of the U.S., you qualify as an “international marketer.” As a consultant, part of my job was helping multinational companies assess their effectiveness in meeting customer needs abroad. I learned the importance of “picking your spot” after watching successful U.S. companies stumble in international markets.

One big-box home improvement retailer just couldn’t understand why Asian customers in an urban area weren’t gravitating to its stores despite having no car to get there and no ability to transport items back to their high-rises.

I recently returned from the Iberian Peninsula, and I continue to be impressed by Starbucks’ ability to “find its spots.” As you may know, the consumption of coffee is culture-laden. In Portugal, locals belly-up to the coffee bar to drink espresso in small cups and chat with their neighbors. For visitors from the U.S., a key word is “abatanado,” which will get you weaker coffee in a somewhat larger cup. Leaving the shop with 20 ounces of coffee in a paper cup just doesn’t happen. The Starbucks model doesn’t fit those Portuguese neighborhoods. There is no “Starbuckanado.”

In Barcelona, Spain, however, there are five Starbucks within walking distance along the Avinguda Diagonal, a busy thoroughfare housing a large shopping mall, a major hospital, university facilities and international offices. No problem finding your venti coffee there.


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While alert to effective marketing in foreign markets, I’ve also observed service processes that left me wondering “Why not in the U.S.?” Perhaps this sounds familiar. You are checking out at the supermarket and the cashier encounters an unmarked item. While the cashier requests a price check, the line backs up and you become the victim of numerous dirty looks. Not so at the Jumbo in Portugal (a Walmart-like supermarket owned by Groupe Auchan). When an unmarked item is encountered, the cashier calls for assistance, rings up the remaining items, freezes the transaction, asks the customer to step aside and processes the next person in line. When the price check is returned, the transaction is completed with minimum delay.

Another service process I’ve appreciated in Europe is paying your bill at a sit-down restaurant. When you flag the waiter and ask for the bill, the credit card machine is brought to your table. You insert the card, approve the amount, and you are done. The credit card never leaves your hand with zero chance of being duplicated in a back room.

Why haven’t these effective service processes, and probably many others, been imported to the U.S.? Maybe it’s technology or, in the case of restaurants, our tip culture. But these seem surmountable roadblocks. Part of the problem is lack of exposure, which brings me to my earlier point: Only about one-third of Americans own a passport, and most who do only cross the border into Canada or Mexico. It’s estimated that only 10% of U.S. citizens have traveled overseas. With limited exposure, customers are unlikely to demand a change in practice. More importantly, state-bound employees fail to detect ideas that could provide a marketing advantage at home. For this reason, I continue to encourage firms to broaden the population of employees they send overseas, if even for a quick trip. You’ll be surprised what they discover.

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Author Bio:

Lawrence A. Crosby
Lawrence A. Crosby, Ph.D. is the retired dean of the Drucker School of Management, a regular AMA columnist since 2000 and president of L.A. Crosby & Associates.
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