Organizations need highly skilled marketing talent to define strategic pathways for global organizations to achieve a competitive advantage. As such, global marketing excellence is more than conceptual marketing acumen. It is also more than having the ability to define the unique attributes of the marketing mix while balanced against the positioning and differentiating strategies directed toward a target market. Global marketing excellence also requires cultural awareness and decision-making skills.
Prior to entering the world of academia, I spent many years as a member of senior management for several Fortune 100 corporations responsible for global management and marketing operations. During this time, I worked in all corners of the world managing business opportunities in diverse cultural settings. This experience was exciting, insightful, and meaningful because it allowed me to gain substantive experience and accountability early in my career.
Throughout my professional career, I have worked with countless individuals in an effort to develop top-notch global marketing managers that could provide marketing leadership for these organizations. As a result of this experience, I created a coaching model for global marketing talent.
The main attributes reflected in this model that may help guide your success include cultural awareness and making informed decisions. Here we explore both.
Keen Cultural Awareness
Effective global leaders must be aware of the culture of the country in which they are working and have a global mindset. A global mindset is described as having an appreciation for the cross-cultural differences that exist in global markets. Therefore, ineffective global marketing leadership can arise due to different attitudes and beliefs that reflect a lack of cultural awareness. A contributor to this challenge is self-reference criterion, which contributes to cultural myopia. Self-reference criterion can be described as unconsciously using and applying cultural values, experiences, and knowledge when making decisions in a global setting.
Case Study - Disney
Consider the experiences that Disney encountered as it sought to expand their footprint to Japan, China, and France. Each expansion attempt came with different cross-cultural experiences that were in some cases positive and in other cases negative. While one might consider Disney to be an astute organization with an outstanding human resource infrastructure supporting a global enterprise team, the company displayed a lack of cultural awareness in their decision-making processes in France (Cateora, Gilley, Graham and Money, 2016). While this example displays a lack of knowledge, it was avoidable had they recognized the challenges associated with managing a multicultural workforce and customer base that wanted a French cultural experience.
To minimize cultural myopia, a global marketing leader and the organization should consider developing a worldview that is global in scope. Marketing global leadership requires ensuring that some level of tolerance and understanding, awareness of cultural myopia, and expanding a worldview is developed within organizational entities. Chin, Gu, and Tubbs (2001) suggested that organizations train their employees to be aware, understand, appreciate, and accept cultural differences. This kind of training leads to the point when transformation takes place and cultural globalization becomes the norm.
Clearly, a lack of understanding of cultural differences can result in some unnecessary and unintended strategic choices that, in turn, create poor organizational effectiveness. Unfortunately, an absence of cultural awareness emerges on an ongoing basis and can result in conflict and lack of communication. Having the tools to mitigate this challenge is an important ingredient and dimension for global marketing leaders.
Strong Decision Making
Effective global leaders must make smart and informed decisions.
Being an effective marketing leader on a global basis is significantly impacted by strategic decision-making efforts. Such decision making has a profound impact on marketing leadership and the ability to initiate and manage diverse cultural markets (Slater, Olson & Finnegan, 2010). As a result, an organization must find a strong position in the marketplace that reflects value for the target market and provides a unique value proposition that meets customer needs that can be defended from the competition.
Case Study - Caterpillar
A global equipment manufacturer, Caterpillar, made a bold strategic move when it acquired a machinery manufacturer in China. This decision was made in a changing cultural environment and ultimately had a negative impact on the company’s financial results. In the end, they had to take a nearly $600 million write-down due to poor decision-making and a lack of due diligence. In this case, the company, in a hurry to move forward, lost sight of the risk associated with acquisitions in China (Bouchard & Koch, 2014).
In the book, “Blue Ocean Strategy” Kim and Mauborgne (2004) discuss how organizations seek out new uncontested marketspace through effective marketing decision-making. Key points include: not allowing the other companies to drive your organization’s strategy, do not assume that industry structure is fixed, be creative with strategy, and align execution with strategy.
There is great importance attached to making smart choices when faced with a difficult decision. Clearly, using informed, effective, and thoroughly evaluated criteria when making a decision makes a strategic marketing difference. Unfortunately, many decisions are made with cognitive biases. Cognitive biases happen when we make decisions using assumptions based upon prior experiences in an attempt to make sense out of a complex situation. As a result, we do not take into account different contextual circumstances and errors occur (Hill & Jones, 2013).
Being a high-performing strategic global marketing leader is a critical factor that will determine the viability of an organization and its ability to conduct business in a dynamic environment.
Understanding and managing cultural awareness factors play a key role in this process. While awareness represents a key element in global organizational performance, it also provides a prism by which sound and effective marketing leadership can be exercised.
Additionally, decision making is a critical and central attribute of marketing leaders that is reflected in the manner by which organizations react to change and manage international business relationships. It is somewhat mystifying to understand how poor decisions are made that will result in failed opportunities.
Be an informed, culturally aware leader that makes smart decisions. It will serve you well.
Written by Robert Thompson, PhD, MBA. Adjunct Instructor, Forbes School of Business and Techonology™
Bouchard, C.T. & Koch,, J.V. (2014). The Caterpillar way: Lessons in leadership, growth, and shareholder value. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Cateora, P.R., Gilley, M.C., Graham, J.L., & Money, B.M. (2016). International marketing (17th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Chin, C.O., Gu, J., & Tubbs, S.L. (2001). Developing global leadership competencies. The Journal of Leadership Studies. 7(4), 20-31.
Hill, C.W. & Jones, G.R. (2013). Strategic management: An integrated approach (10th ed.). Mason, OH: South-Western, Cengage Learning.
Kim, W.C. & Mauborgne, R. (2004). Blue ocean strategy. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press
Slater, S.F., Olson, E.M., & Finnegan, F. (2010). Business strategy, marketing organization culture, and performance. Marketing Letters, Springer Science + Business Media. 2011(22), 227-242.