Dragon for Dinner?
Opportunity awaits U.S. marketers willing to explore the world’s underserved markets
In times past, intrepid explorers feared falling off the edge of a flat Earth into a nether space full of man-eating dragons and other dangerous unknowns. Today, adventurous marketers rarely fear a fall off the world’s edge or find themselves the main course of a feast, but they do fight their own battles—with the modern dragons of business strategy, campaign development and program execution in unfamiliar locales.
Executing programs in the world’s high-potential developing markets represents a direct marketer’s most complex undertaking. Not only must you select the appropriate channel and communication strategy for your product in each new market, but there also are challenges presented by cultural context and language subtlety, and enormous variability in the sophistication of infrastructure and local supplier economies. Still, for those rare and courageous souls, opportunities presented by accelerating economies, expanding globalization and rapidly growing consumer purchasing power offer some of the most compelling opportunities for direct marketers.
A World of Opportunity
Approximately two-thirds of the world’s population resides in a small selection of countries that, even today, remain underserved and generally unmarketed to in relation to the standards we ascribe to mature economies. India, China, Indonesia and the Philippines, for example, on a combined basis are home to more than 3 billion consumers and yet receive less than an estimated 1 percent of total marketing spend budgeted by the Fortune 500.
Rapidly expanding economic opportunity, capital access and job growth—prompted by the recent and ongoing outsourcing pandemic—and accompanying increases in consumer discretionary income are creating extraordinary opportunities for marketers. So why aren’t more businesses rushing to capitalize on selling opportunities—especially the direct sales opportunities now being created in newly empowered populations? The answer lies in perceived barriers to market, concern regarding market entry costs and assumed complexities of establishing beachheads in markets that, for many, still conjure visions of elephants delivering mail.
Adding to this fear is concern over bridging the cultural and contextual unknowns that make even the most seasoned direct marketing professional worry about finding a relevant voice and a market-appropriate message.
And yet, despite all of the complexity that accompanies marketing in a strange land, marketers who recognize the enormous opportunity that exists are in a powerful position to produce programs with a high rate of return.
A Foray Into India
Recently, I had an opportunity to guide the development of a direct mail campaign in India. The campaign coincided with the arranged-marriage season, and the message highlighted the need for life insurance by newlywed husbands, now newly responsible for a wife and soon a family. Copy, imagery and iconography all leveraged culturally resonant themes, and language cued from both the market and our research sources.
The campaign was well-received by our Indian clients, and this experience reinforced the notion that the principles driving a successful direct mail promotion really don’t change across markets. An on-target offer and creative development, while aided by in-market communication, may not require staff a world away.
While I am still waiting to see the response and sales figures of this program, earlier programs launched in India have achieved double-digit response rates.
This burly response likely is due to the fact that the average qualified Indian consumer receives less than one mail or phone solicitation per month. This translates into unimaginable opportunity in this market. The same is true of China, Indonesia and the Philippines, which are little different when viewed for marketing saturation and targeted marketing communication frequency within qualified purchasing populations.
While domestic and European marketers continue to slug it out in mature markets for fractional response and piffling market share, almost two-thirds of the world’s population still has not been properly introduced to the array of products and services we take for granted. Can you imagine a more compelling marketer’s dream: billions of people waiting to purchase vacuums, jewelry or rotisseries by mail, phone, DRTV or any other appropriate channel?
Local Approach vs. Regional Approach
Credit card issuers—and to a lesser degree, insurers and other financial services companies—have been the first direct marketers to gain entry to these developing markets. American Express, Citibank, Barclay’s and HSBC are a few notable examples. These marketers have entered these markets using different approaches.
Having worked in different ways with a number of businesses that have made the migration into these markets, it is clear that no single formula for program development and execution exists. Rather, as entrants to new markets, the businesses building the first roads determine how and where they are laid, and with what materials.
Some businesses advocate multi-country program strategies, developing common themes and structures for the extension of direct marketing programs across multiple countries. Other businesses have adopted a more individualized approach by developing campaigns at the individual-country level. Both of these approaches offer advantages, and each presents its own challenges and limitations.
In a regional strategy, marketing can adopt common formats, leverage consolidated management and execution. You also can identify opportunities to save costs from operating on a larger scale, and quickly translate a successful program across multiple markets. Challenges for this structure, however, include limitations in the degree of cultural specificity that can be achieved in messaging and complexity issues surrounding adjustment of offer, format and execution to achieve multiple market application.
Individual market approaches, while capturing more cultural nuances and permitting niche or tight-
segment marketing, often are limited and don’t allow for easy adaptation across markets. Also, management of direct marketing programs at the country level may necessitate production infrastructure, campaign management resources and reporting frameworks in each market.
Both strategies work, and your decision should be based on the degree of existing in-country market presence, investment tolerance, program scale goals and offer specifics, such as the product’s or offer’s ability to translate across markets effectively.
Regardless of how you plan to contact the remainder of the world’s population, do it soon. The rich fruits of our Western direct marketing world are going to be quickly on their way to places such as Laos, Thailand, Taiwan and India, attracted by capital growth of astounding proportion. In no time, everyone and their cousin will proudly prepare their regional specialties of choice on their very own George Foreman grill. Perhaps they will be cooking dragon.
Craig Schmeizer is corporate vice president of marketing with a Fortune 100 global company. He can be reached at (813) 288-5929 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org