Marketing Consumer Products Overseas

A Case Study

During the many years that I was practically involved in marketing and selling consumer products overseas I realised there were a number of fundamental issues that always need to be addressed. For my company the core task was to maintain a consistent programme that enhanced brand image and product performance in differing markets throughout the world,

Each of our branded products possessed a value in the mind of the consumer which we wanted to preserve and enhance. We offered a wide range of international products which would be categorised according to the brand profile. Our range would be segmented into International brands – generally high value and imagery and standardised, where possible, across all markets; Regional brands developed to target local consumer preferences and Tactical brands created market by market to satisfy a specific need such as flavour, style or price

Being a consumer product, most were sold to the end purchaser through a retail outlet. .There are, therefore, two distinct forms of planning and activity to be considered.

First the traditional consumer marketing directed at the end user through sales, advertising and promotion. The second and as important, is trade marketing which ensures the right parties in the local supply chain, including the retailers themselves, are handled and directed in the right way.  The key to successful trade marketing is grouping customers into trade channels so as to focus marketing efforts on the special needs and characteristics of each channel.

There is much evidence that trade marketing is either ignored or not followed through by many exporters.

Some of the key elements of trade marketing are channel mapping – how many of each trade type are selling what and where; decisions on channel priorities; assessment of trade pricing and promotional policies; agreement with local partner, agent or distributor, on how best to handle the trade. All of which are carried out to ensure every potential consumer will be able to purchase your products at the right place, at the right time, at the right price, in the right manner in the right quality and in the right manner.

Space prohibits a detailed examination of these activities but to endorse my message let me pose some rhetorical questions.

Select a key market to which you have exported for a number of years. Can you describe the trade through which you sell? How many wholesalers and retailers? Of the wholesalers how many are traditional and how many are of the cash and carry style? What are the main retailer types that should be selling your products and how many are there in each trade sector? The questions could go such as who are they – by name and where are they and how often do they purchase and in what quantities?

Let me briefly describe two examples from my experience – the Middle East and West Africa.

Working with my local distributors I would analyse the breakdown of local trade – remember this is for the sale of consumer products. In the Middle East main sectors would be Wholesalers, Supermarkets, Specialist shops, small shops in the Souk, Horeca outlets and so on. In West Africa there would be a similar breakdown of sectors but with the addition of street side Hawkers who, incidentally, in certain countries accounted for over 60% of the sale of our products.

We would then total or estimate the numbers in each sector and set trade promotional strategies accordingly. For the key sectors we would develop specific advertising and promotional activities including special discounts or rebates. For the literally thousands of souk and hawker outlets we would rely upon the salesman’s word of mouth and giveaway items.

Let’s return to the all important consumer marketing element. Frankly it would take a book to cover most aspects but I will raise a number of issues that we always had to consider. With regard to the product itself there are two broad areas to manage – changes that have to be made to the product and changes that are required to suit the local consumer.

Most exporters are aware of the various factors that could enforce product changes such as legal, governmental, and logistical. Other common issues can include transportation and climate.

Let me provide one example affected by the latter. We marketed semi-perishable products around the world with a six-month sell-by date and normally used a series of protective packings enclosed in a plastic display tub for each individual product. For some of our South American markets we found that these protections were not sufficient. We had analysed the period from manufacture to point of sale and taking into account the shipping time, period from landing to delivery to a retail outlet, the ambient temperatures in local outlets and the time for a consumer to purchase, sell dates were exceeded. The whole package was redesigned and enhanced to ensure the freshest product available to local consumers.

The second critical area is adaptations required to suit the culture and buying habits of the local consumer.  This raises a vast number of considerations including pricing, style, colours and language of product packaging, appropriateness to local lifestyles and so on. One factor that was critical to us was the affordability of the unit of sale.

Our standard unit of sale for our European products was 6 items to one retail pack. However in certain markets both the size and the affordability were too high. This factor had nothing to do with the basic price; it was that consumers locally just did not buy products this way. We therefore provided a four-pack for these markets.

We normally marketed branded products with high perceived value. However in some markets the predominant preference was for local products at a lower price point. To gain both a trade presence for all of our products and provide the local consumer with a choice, we provided a generic product in addition to the premium brands. Tactically we were able to ‘buy’ shelf presence through the value product and gain listings for the higher value brands.

There is, of course, much more that can be discussed by space does not permit it. The main lesson of my international experience is to spend a good proportion of effort marketing to the local trade as well as the end-consumer to ensure a better chance of long term success.


Written 9th January 2014 by Dick Brentnall S&H LLP Associate/ Trainer

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