To be successful in a foreign market, companies must fully understand the foreign environment in which they plan to operate. Politics, cultural differences, and the economic environment can represent both opportunities and pitfalls in the global marketplace.
We have already discussed how tariffs, exchange controls, and other governmental actions threaten foreign producers. The political structure of a country may also jeopardize a foreign producer’s success in international trade.
Intense nationalism, for example, can lead to difficulties. Nationalism is the sense of national consciousness that boosts the culture and interests of one country over those of all other countries. Strongly nationalistic countries, such as Iran and New Guinea, often discourage investment by foreign companies. In other, less radical forms of nationalism, the government may take actions to hinder foreign operations. France, for example, requires pop music stations to play at least 40 percent of their songs in French. This law was enacted because the French love American rock and roll. Without airtime, American music sales suffer. In another example of nationalism, U.S.-based PPG made an unsolicited bid to acquire Netherlands-based AzkoNobel NV. There was a chorus of opposition from Dutch politicians to the idea of a foreign takeover of AzkoNobel, the Dutch paint manufacturer. The government warned that it would move to defend AzkoNobel from a hostile takeover attempt. AzkoNobel played up the sentiment, tweeting about its rejection of the hostile takeover with the hashtag #DutchPride.1Ellen Proper, “Dutch See Red Over Foreign Bid For Paint Giant,” Bloomberg News, March 10, 2017.
In a hostile climate, a government may expropriate a foreign company’s assets, taking ownership and compensating the former owners. Even worse is confiscation, when the owner receives no compensation. This happened during rebellions in several African nations during the 1990s and 2000s.
Central to any society is the common set of values shared by its citizens that determine what is socially acceptable. Culture underlies the family, educational system, religion, and social class system. The network of social organizations generates overlapping roles and status positions. These values and roles have a tremendous effect on people’s preferences and thus on marketers’ options. For example, in China Walmart holds live fishing contests on the premises, and in South Korea the company hosts a food competition with variations on a popular Korean dish, kimchee.
Language is another important aspect of culture. Marketers must take care in selecting product names and translating slogans and promotional messages so as not to convey the wrong meaning. For example, Mitsubishi Motors had to rename its Pajero model in Spanish-speaking countries because the term refers to a sexual activity. Toyota Motor’s MR2 model dropped the 2 in France because the combination sounds like a French swear word. The literal translation of Coca-Cola in Chinese characters means “bite the wax tadpole.”
Each country has its own customs and traditions that determine business practices and influence negotiations with foreign customers. For example, attempting to do business in Western Europe during the first two weeks in August is virtually impossible. Businesses close, and everyone goes on vacation at the same time. In many countries, personal relationships are more important than financial considerations. For instance, skipping social engagements in Mexico may lead to lost sales. Negotiations in Japan often include long evenings of dining, drinking, and entertaining; only after a close personal relationship has been formed do business negotiations begin. The table below presents some cultural dos and don’ts:
The level of economic development varies considerably, ranging from countries where everyday survival is a struggle, such as Sudan and Eritrea, to countries that are highly developed, such as Switzerland and Japan. In general, complex, sophisticated industries are found in developed countries, and more basic industries are found in less developed nations. Average family incomes are higher in the more developed countries than in the least-developed markets. Larger incomes mean greater purchasing power and demand, not only for consumer goods and services but also for the machinery and workers required to produce consumer goods.
Business opportunities are usually better in countries that have an economic infrastructure in place. Infrastructure is the basic institutions and public facilities upon which an economy’s development depends. When we think about how our own economy works, we tend to take our infrastructure for granted. It includes the money and banking system that provide the major investment loans to our nation’s businesses; the educational system that turns out the incredible varieties of skills and basic research that actually run our nation’s production lines; the extensive transportation and communications systems—interstate highways, railroads, airports, canals, telephones, internet sites, postal systems, and television stations—that link almost every piece of our geography into one market; the energy system that powers our factories; and, of course, the market system itself, which brings our nation’s goods and services into our homes and businesses.
Text adapted from Introduction to Business, OpenStax under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Access for free at https://openstax.org/books/introduction-business/pages/1-introduction