By the end of this section, you will be able to:
- 1 Describe the challenges of segmenting international markets.
- 2 Discuss the advantages of segmenting international markets.
- 3 Explain methods of segmenting international markets.
Challenges of Segmenting International Markets
As we’ve outlined in this chapter, companies can’t be all things to all people because buyers differ in terms of their needs, wants, and demands. Accordingly, just as with consumer markets and B2B markets, companies typically find it necessary to segment international markets.
That’s not to say that segmenting international markets is easy; rather, the reverse is true: it adds a whole new set of complications, including differences in cultural, economic, and political environments in various countries. Additionally, because of those cultural, economic, and political differences, consumers in international markets tend to be more diverse in character than domestic markets. Moreover, the range of income levels and populations and the diversity of lifestyles in international markets tend to be significantly greater than in the domestic market.30 Accordingly, a single marketing strategy for all segments is questionable at best.
Advantages of Segmenting International Markets
The advantages of segmenting international markets aren’t all that different from the advantages of segmenting the consumer or B2B markets, but there are some subtle differences. A marketer in the United States may have a much easier time understanding the needs and wants of US consumers, but that may not be the case with international consumers. Segmenting the international market and conducting market research allows the marketer to have a better understanding of international customers. It also enables the marketer to identify similarities and differences across international markets, which may lead them to combine segments across countries or even regions.31
Methods of Segmenting International Markets
There are four primary methods of segmenting international markets, as shown in Figure 5.8.
Just as with domestic markets, international markets can be segmented geographically. A company might segment by regions, such as Western Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, etc. Keep in mind, however, that although geographic segmentation groups countries by location, they may be very different from one another in other respects. For example, if you were to consider the countries included in a Western European region, you’d find that, both culturally and economically, the United Kingdom and Scotland are very similar, but both differ significantly from neighboring Ireland.32 Similarly, people in West Africa tend to share similarities in dress, cuisine, and music, but these characteristics aren’t shared extensively with groups outside of West Africa.33
In terms of geographic segmentation, marketers also need to consider the infrastructure of the country—the basic physical systems of the nation, such as roads, sewage treatment, communication, water treatment, electricity, etc. You may have the best product for the consumers in the international market segment, but if the infrastructure is such that you can’t reasonably get the products to the consumers, that represents a restraining force that limits the opportunity.
Although the project is controversial, China has invested billions of dollars in an effort to strengthen its economy and global trade through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a vast network of railways, energy pipelines, and highways through six economic corridors, both westward through former Soviet republics and southward to Pakistan, India, and Southeast Asia. In order to expand maritime trade traffic, China is investing in port development along the Indian Ocean, from Southeast Asia to East Africa and parts of Europe. The BRI spans a multitude of infrastructure projects intended to promote the flow of goods and foreign investment and is expected to impact more than 80 countries.34
Segmentation Based on Political and Legal Factors
As you’ve seen from our discussion of segmenting consumer markets, it’s often done on the basis of factors such as age, gender, product usage, personality, etc. That’s true as well in international markets, but the marketer needs to add still another dimension: country characteristics. These characteristics are typically political and legal factors, such as the type and stability of the government, how receptive the government is to foreign firms, monetary regulations, and how complex the bureaucracy of the nation is.35 There are numerous other governmental policies that can interfere with international trade, such as tariffs (taxes imposed on imports), import quotas, currency controls, and local content requirements.
In 2022, in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, major sanctions have been put in place against Russia by the United States, the European Union, and the United Kingdom. For example, the United Kingdom imposed a 35 percent tax on some Russian imports, and several international companies like McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Starbucks and Marks & Spencer have either suspended operations in Russia or have withdrawn altogether. It doesn’t take much to imagine the financial impact on Russia as a result of these sanctions.36
Segmentation Based on Economic Factors
Still another way to segment markets internationally is on the basis of economic factors—the level of economic development and the income levels of the population. This is often differentiated on the basis of whether the country is developing, developed, or underdeveloped. This classification is based on the nation’s economic status (i.e., gross domestic product, gross national product, per capita income, degree of industrialization, and standard of living).
Developed countries typically have a high rate of industrialization and a relatively high level of individual income. Unemployment and poverty are typically low in developed nations, and citizens enjoy a relatively high standard of living, along with higher life expectancy.37 It’s likely in developed nations that companies will focus their international marketing efforts. According to the United Nations in 2020, 36 countries were classified as developed; interestingly enough, all of these countries were located in either North America, Europe, or “Developed Asia and Pacific.”38
Developing countries, on the other hand, have a lower standard of living, a lower per capita income, and a slow rate of industrialization. Unemployment and poverty tend to be relatively high compared to developed countries, as are infant mortality rates.39 The United Nations categorized 126 countries as developing, and all of these were located in either Africa, Asia, Latin America or the Caribbean.40
Underdeveloped countries are less developed economically than most other nations. These countries typically have little industry, and the standard of living is considerably lower than in developed or developing countries. Infrastructure may also be compromised in terms of roads, sewage treatment, water quality, etc. As a general rule, although there may be an attractive market for your company’s product or service in an underdeveloped country, the challenges of getting the product into the customer’s hands are often difficult to overcome.
Segmentation Based on Cultural Factors
Cultural factors, such as common language, religions, values, and attitudes, can also be used to segment a country or region. McDonald’s uses a “think global, act local” strategy to help meet the cultural needs of various market segments. On one hand, it offers a standardized menu of offerings worldwide, like McNuggets and the McFlurry. On the other hand, it customizes other offerings on its menu to adapt to the cultural requirements of consumers. For example, in India, in order to appeal to vegetarian and non-beef-eating customers, McDonald’s introduced the Maharaja Mac, which is made with a corn and cheese patty. The company also used the term “Maharaja” to appeal to India’s history and liking of royalty and called it the “Social Burger” to suggest that it can be eaten quickly, giving people more time to spend with friends.41
McDonald’s not only customizes its menu based on where it operates, but it also customizes its digital and TV advertisements depending on each country and consumer segment. For example, in Singapore, McDonald’s ads attempted to appeal to consumers’ love of nightlife by showing how McDonald’s can enhance a night out, whereas in the United Kingdom, the company created cartoon ads focusing on Happy Meals to attract the large segment of children in the UK.42
Not to be outdone by McDonald’s, Burger King also offers a wide variety of international menu items that aren’t available in the United States. Did you know that there’s a Spicy Shrimp Whopper available in Japan and a SufganiKing (Donut Burger) in Israel? In Norway, where there is one sauna for every two people, Burger King opened a fully operational spa complete with a 15-person sauna and media lounge where customers can enjoy their meals.43
One model that is particularly useful in assessing culture is social psychologist Geert Hofstede’s cultural dimensions, originally published in the 1970s. Hofstede had studied IBM employees in over 50 countries and identified five dimensions that could be used to distinguish one culture from another.44 Four of these dimensions directly affect marketing in different cultures:
- Power Distance Index (PDI). This dimension refers to how much power inequality exists within a culture and the degree to which people are accepting of this inequality. A high PDI score suggests that society accepts an unequal distribution of power, whereas a low PDI score means that power is shared and widely dispersed. If you’re curious, the United States has a moderately low PDI score of 40 on a scale of 1 to 100, compared to a world average of 55.45 This means that the United States is less accepting of hierarchy and authority than nations such as Malaysia, which has the highest power distance index in the world.46 This cultural dimension plays an important role in marketing because, in countries where there is a high power distance index, marketers need to appeal to the leadership or the head of the family, whereas in low power distance index countries, it’s more important to reach a broad range of “ordinary” people who will be the ultimate decision makers.
- Individualism versus Collectivism (IDV). This dimension refers to whether the culture emphasizes the needs and goals of the group as a whole or whether individual needs are paramount.47 Think of individualism and collectivism as an “I” versus a “we” orientation. An individualistic society places emphasis on attaining personal goals, whereas a collectivist culture places emphasis on group goals and the well-being of the group. The United States has a very high individualism score of 91, compared to many Latin American countries such as Ecuador and Guatemala, which have single-digit individualism scores.48 The implications for marketing are important here because for countries with high individualism, the marketing messages should emphasize how your products or services benefit them individually, such as by saving time and rewarding themselves. On the other hand, in countries with a low individualism ranking, it’s more important to stress how buying your company’s products will benefit the community as a whole.
- Uncertainty Avoidance (UAI). This dimension refers to the degree to which a society avoids risk or ambiguity. Societies with a high degree of uncertainty avoidance compensate for this uncertainty by establishing rules, policies, and procedures, whereas societies with low uncertainty avoidance more readily accept change. The UAI for the United States is 46, putting it into the moderate range compared to European nations like Italy (UAI of 75) and Poland (UAI of 93).49 Let’s consider how this affects marketing. Cultures with high uncertainty avoidance generally prefer to have product characteristics clearly spelled out, complete with product warranties and money-back guarantees. For example, if you want to market automobiles in that type of culture, it would be important to focus on the safety features of the car. Conversely, cultures with low uncertainty avoidance are more accepting of trying something new.
- Masculinity/Femininity (MAS). This dimension refers to the degree to which gender-specific roles are valued in the society: Are “masculine” values such as achievement, ambition, and acquisition or “feminine” values such as quality of life and service to others valued more? In countries with a high masculinity ranking (e.g., Japan), men are intended to lead; women are supposed to follow. This is in direct contrast to countries with a low masculinity ranking (such as the United States and Canada), where women are treated equally to men and gender roles are more fluid. Societies with low masculinity would tend to respond negatively to gender-oriented promotion, so a neutral approach that appeals to both men and women would be more appropriate.50 Consider how many brands in the United States focus on female empowerment and positive body image. That type of advertising would not appeal to a society with a masculine orientation.
It’s time to check your knowledge on the concepts presented in this section. Refer to the Answer Key at the end of the book for feedback.
power distance index
individualism versus collectivism
inflation and unemployment rates
degree of uncertainty avoidance
power distance index
Power distance index
Individualism versus collectivism