In general, the paper "The Standardisation vs Adaptation Debate" is a perfect example of marketing coursework. Whether multinational corporations (MNCs) are supposed to pursue a standardisation strategy or an adaptation approach in their operations is an issue that has been debated for more than 40 years. Given the international nature of their operations, MNCs are always concerned with how their products or services will be perceived by different people in different countries where the MNCs operate. The big question is whether the products or services or the practices used to make or market them should be uniform across the world or if they should be modified to suit the different needs of different regions or countries across the globe.
This forms the basis of this essay. In view of this, the essay will discuss the standardisation versus adaptation debate and outline some of the advantages and disadvantages that are associated with the two concepts in regard to the operations of MNCs. Based on the discussion, the essay will provide an opinion on which of the two concepts is the most appropriate approach for the international marketing environment of the twenty-first century.
It is argued that there is really no ‘ most appropriate’ argument between standardisation and adaptation; and that decisions on which approach to pursue should be made by organisations based on the circumstances that the organisations face in the international market at a given time. The standardisation versus adaptation debate Standardisation and adaptation are two approaches that MNCs can pursue to reach their markets and sell their products or services. Standardisation denotes a unified approach to business across the world, whereas adaptation implies a situation whereby an international firm employs a different approach in every market in which it operates (Ang & Massingham 2007, p.
6). The same authors also point out that the decision on whether to adopt or standardise is commonly made in regard to many operational areas of a business, such as a strategy to adopt, marketing, and human resources. For instance, a company can choose to market its product with one brand name, with the product having uniform features across all markets in the world, or modify the product using different names, different packaging and so forth in different regions. For more than 40 years, practitioners and academicians have debated standardisation versus adaptation of strategies that are used in international marketing (Ryans Jr, Griffith & White 2003, p.
588; Theodosiou & Leonidou, 2003). The focus of the various studies that have been conducted has ranged from targeting various aspects such as the individual elements of marketing (mainly products and advertising) to targeting the whole marketing mix or a company’ s business strategy in totality (de Mooij 2010, p. 14). As early as the 1920s, there were contrasting views regarding the standardisation of international advertising.
For example, in 1923, David Brown and Carl Propson expressed different views on the issue. On one hand, Brown considered human beings as possessing common attributes, thus making it possible for standardisation, but on the other hand, Propson was of the view that adaptation was oftentimes needed to attract different local markets (Ryans Jr, Griffith & White 2003, p. 590). Over the years, three schools of thought arose regarding whether to standardise or adapt marketing operations in foreign markets.
These are the standardisation school of thought and the adaptation school of thought – which constitute the two extreme points of view – and the contingency school of thought, which notes that adaptation and standardisation are two endpoints of the selfsame continuum (Codita 2011, p. 23). Standardisation school of thought Early proponents of the standardisation school of thought, such as Theodore Levitt and Erik Elinder, proposed that convergence of standards of living combined with global companies’ focus on homogenous needs among the world’ s population would enable such companies to sell products of high quality at low prices across the world (Codita 2011, p.
25; de Mooij 2010, pp. 14-15). Based on this view, the main driver of standardisation is, therefore, the growing homogenisation of the needs and wants of consumers across different markets in the world – an occurrence that is attributable to the phenomenon of globalisation. Globalisation can be broadly defined as the process of intensification of social relations across the world, which creates linkages between distant localities in that events in one locality are shaped by those in another locality and vice versa (Codita 2011, p.
25). This is reflected in aspects such as the convergence of manufacturing, communication, and transport technologies as well as the increasing mobility of consumers and exposure to mass media. Levitt’ s argument that there is an increase in global brands has been criticised based on the point that there has been no empirical increase in global brands such as Coca-Cola and McDonald’ s (de Mooij 2010, p. 15). The authors who opposed Levitt’ s argument noted that what was common was global branding as opposed to global products and that the few global products that existed did not necessarily represent a wide diffusion of products across different regions (de Mooij 2010, p.
15). However, it is evident that there are many examples of globalised and standardised products, including electronic equipment, Adidas and Nike shoes, compact discs, cosmetics, toothpaste and some forms of clothing (Pride & Ferrell 2006, p. 135). Adaptation school of thought The adaptation point of view arose as a counterargument to the stance taken by advocates of standardisation. Adaptation proponents opined that existing differences between nations with regard to aspects such as language, culture, legal and political systems, economic development, customer behaviour, marketing infrastructure, competitive situation and usage patterns, necessitate the adjustment of firms’ marketing strategies to suit local market conditions (Codita 2011, p.
26; Onkvisit & Shaw 2004, p. 457). Opponents of standardisation also argue that the rise of global markets is not the outcome of a “ pull” from consumers with similar interests, but rather a “ push” by companies attempting to harmonise their processes all through the value chain (Codita 2011, p. 26). While some authors (e. g. Cavusgil 1997, p.
575) appreciate that a borderless world is emerging due to forces such as technological advances and regional integration, others (e. g. Kotabe & Jiang 2009, p. 465) suggest that business activities are regional as opposed to global. What is clear is that adaptation advocates are of the view that marketing programmes need to be local issues; that is, the best product strategy should be one that differs from market to market (Codita 2011, p. 26). For example, Onkvisit and Shaw (2004, p. 457) note that Shiseido, a Japanese giant cosmetics company, performed poorly in its initial attempt to enter the United States market since its advertisements included only Japanese models.
A better approach would have been for the company to include US models in its adverts since it was targeting the US market.
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