Marketing Globalisation: Challenges and Opportunities


Sitting at your desk, trawling through Facebook while pondering calling an Uber  to grab a McD’s Nasi Lemak Burger? Welcome to the joy of globalization. It tastes like victory (and preservatives).

Globalization has delivered unprecedented change in Malaysia and beyond over the last two decades. The emergence of an increasingly interconnected global marketplace has enabled rapid economic growth, helping world GDP to grow from around US$50 trillion in 2000 to US$75 trillion in 2016.

While globalization has its challenges, and its tangerine-coloured pseudo-detractors, it has undoubtedly been a revolution in the way we live and work. That’s equally true when looking at the globalization of marketing.

What’s the reality of globalization on the ground?

Globalization isn’t just about communicating across borders, it’s about trading across them. The total value of global merchandise exports provides a fascinating example of this growth. In 1997, global merchandise exports were valued at US$5.37 trillion. A decade later that had risen to US$14.116 trillion, growing to total US$17.88 trillion last year. That’s an awful lot of goods crossing borders. Let’s look at this in a local context. In 2001, Malaysian exports stood at US$88 billion. By 2008, that figure had risen to just shy of US$200 billion.

The crucial inflection point in that growth emerged between 2001 and 2008, with global exports almost tripling in just 7 years. Something else happened in that same period that would revolutionise the way we work, transform the marketing concept, and rapidly accelerate the inevitable emergence of a connected global landscape – widespread adoption of the internet.

This correlation isn’t purely hypothetical. Studies have shown a demonstrable link between the rise of internet penetration and the growth of bilateral trade.  Consider also that between 2001 and 2008, the total number of internet users tripled, from just over half a billion to over 1.5 billion. Since then that number has grown to almost 3.5 billion people. That’s 3.5 billion examples of the increasing globalization of marketing.

How does globalization impact your marketing?

Let’s be up front – the internet was not and is not the sole catalyst for globalization. The globalization of trade has existed since the days of the Silk Road and beyond. In terms of globalization of marketing though, the inherent connectivity of the online world is arguably the single biggest opportunity for international marketing that’s emerged to date. Take that Guttenberg.

What that means is your audience just got bigger, a whole lot bigger. That’s the crucial takeaway from the rise of connected globalization. An integration of the international marketplace also means an integration of international conversation.

The ability to connect across borders via the internet has literally opened up a world of opportunity for businesses, and their marketing efforts. It’s now easier than it’s ever been to build and benefit from a customer base that extends far beyond your national borders.

Social media is perhaps the most obvious and powerful example of this international outreach. It offers a variety of readily accessed global platforms, enabling everything from customer communication to stakeholder engagement and even e-commerce marketplaces. The figures for some of the top platforms alone highlight the potential global reach you can achieve.

Globalization comes with marketing challenges

Blindly listing the social media opportunity doesn’t really encapsulate the nuanced challenges of globalization in marketing. Let’s face it – understanding a local demographic can be tough enough – understanding a global audience is positively intimidating.

Cultural understanding is crucial to effective marketing, which means the larger your global audience gets, the more vital and yet challenging understanding cultural references can be. Take just one (hilarious) example – when the Ford Pinto launched in Brazil, it quickly became apparent that nobody wanted to buy a car named after the local slang for ‘tiny penis’. Yes, you heard right.

Translation errors aren’t the only hurdle when it comes to a global audience, albeit it’s an element that makes for some particularly hilarious fails. Understanding the social context of your offer is also important. Cultural norms and perceptions are a core part of marketing that connects, which means blindly charging into a new market without any concept of how these might relate to your marketing is a foolish mistake indeed.

What’s next for global marketing?

Global marketing may once have been the preserve of sprawling multinationals, but it’s increasingly becoming an important consideration for medium and small enterprises that form the foundation of Malaysia’s economy. With the ASEAN Single Window aiming to support friction-free trade throughout the region, now is the time to plan for the future.

Initiatives such as the Digital Free Trade Zone (DFTZ) are further unlocking the significant opportunity of a more global customer base for Malaysia’s MSMEs. Part of making the most of that opportunity will also require an increasingly global outlook to marketing.

Whether you’re an ambitious MSME or a global corporation, digital platforms offer the kind of global outreach which companies could once only dream of. With that connectivity comes opportunity, but it also comes with its challenges. The crucial marketing caveat must be foremost in your mind – work to understand your audience, and adapt your content to fit. And whatever you do, be sure and run your product names by a native before you launch.

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