#127 Global. Local. Standardization. Adaptation

When discussing the issue of standardization vs. adaptation of the marketing mix with students, I am often asked for convincing examples and illustrations of the differences between those strategies. One example that I personally like as a candy lover are wafers. As a category, they exist in most markets globally, and there is an abundance of local, regional, and global products.

Before I provide examples for different wafer products, I also should say that it is really important to distinguish between two types of standardization. The first type is that, which is employed by a mere sales approach, followed by the export-focused international company. These companies have a product that has been developed for and tested in a core market (usually the home market), and they are trying to sell the product in foreign markets as is. They are not interested in adapting their product to local needs, but just want to expand their sales territory with the lowest investment and risk possible. These companies products are standardized based on the needs in the core / home market. Their strategy is a clear hit or miss – the product may work in some markets, but not in others, and there is definitely always some market potential that is left untapped. I call this the outbound standardization. The other type of standardization is the one followed by global companies. They identify target groups that are globally homogenous with highly similar needs, and then they design or redesign their products to fit the needs of these target segments – regardless of geography. The product is therefore standardized, but not based on a singular home / core country market, but based on the needs of global segments. This is a costly and complex endeavor that involves a great deal of planning and investment. I call this the inbound standardization.

Now, back to candy and wafer examples. As they are widely appreciated across markets, there is an abundance of local brands such as, for instance, Manner in Austria, Loacker or Balocco in Italy, Minoo in Iran, Apollo in Malaysia, Kopobka in Russia, or Gossip in South Africa. These can be considered typical local products. Were the companies behind these products to internationalize their products as they are (which many of them have done), they would be  following the first type of standardization approach, the outbound orientation. Under a mere sales / export approach they (would try to) sell the exact same product with highly similar price positioning and promotion through the same channels they are used to work with.

A good example for a global wafer product is Kitkat. While originally developed and sold in the UK by Rowntree, the Kitkat was launched into a global product by Swiss-based multinational Nestle after its acquisition in 1988. While there are some country-specific variations, the core, chocolate covered wafer is available in the vast majority of the world under the same brand, with the same ingredients, at the same price point, etc. catering to the exact same global target segment. Between the purely local and the truly global, there are some regional products that aren‘t global, but also not tied to a singular country market only. Take, for instance, Knoppers. Knoppers is a wafer product by the multinational Storck, that is positioned as a snack for children in the regions of Central and Eastern Europe. Storck has clearly identified a homogeneous target group in those regional markets, but hasn‘t taken the step to creating a globally standardized product (yet).

One good example for how a candy product (although not originally a wafer) can grow from American beginnings (at National Biscuits – Nabisco – today a division of Mondelez) into a highly standardized global product and then, later, into a multinational one by being adapted for specific markets are Oreos – the quintessential American cookies (so, not exactly a wafer – at least not in the US, as you‘ll see). Oreos originally had limited market potential in China, but through adaptations to the product (for instance, the chocolate covered Oreo wafer stick; new flavors such as strawberry, etc.) and the pricing (offering smaller, more affordable units) grew market share rapidly. The changes not only made Oreos hugely successful in China, but the innovations in that market were also leveraged in other markets.

What always needs to be pointed out in the international marketing debate is that the idea of an entirely standardized product is pure fiction. It is an idea, an extreme that helps to illustrate the dichotomy of the theoretical concepts of standardization vs. adaption. In reality, there is always one element of even the most global product – from the branded soft drink to a commercial aircraft – that is adapted to fit the local environment better.

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