Outlook: International DM Requires a New Navigation System

I have traveled to many countries during the past few months, sometimes three in a day. From Asia to Latin America and everywhere in between, I have encountered a sea of change — changing dynamics, changing needs, changing technologies — that has made the world smaller and faster.

In the not-so-distant past we saw new marketing and media channels emerge, take shape in the United States and begin to get exported overseas.

Today, speed is king. As new channels emerge ever more quickly, and with a widespread proliferation of international marketers and technology, the transocean journey from development and refinement in the United States to rollout abroad takes much less time.

Moreover, the direction from which new ideas, techniques and technologies come is no longer one way. We now can import almost as much in the way of creative technique, data analysis and account management as we export to our colleagues abroad. But there are hitches. Every global marketer faces local government restrictions and encounters a differing rate of technological penetration from market to market.

Rough waters. The world's differences and inconsistencies kept my travels interesting. But in terms of our industry's future, it can make difficult a global effort when nations continue to grow and change at different rates and in different ways. Some can be nurtured, while other circumstances are out of our hands. Spain is an example of a country with a lot going on. Databases and communications may be affected by privacy laws, bans on tobacco ads could be implemented and the general election could cause a shift in budget plans and decision making.

We should be alert to the misuse of telemarketing and the spam in some markets abroad. Taking their cues from the United States, many countries including India and Canada have begun to look at no-call lists of their own. Canada is awaiting the implementation of the no-call file.

Full speed ahead. In this world of flux, there are many industry strongholds globally, and they are growing stronger. Much of that can be attributed to the accelerated pace of penetration and acceptance of global techniques and practices.

Customer relationship management is very much an integral part of the marketing mix abroad, as it is in the United States. Comprehensive CRM strategies proved successful for many marketers from retailers to pharmaceuticals. Even so, CRM practices differ based on local conditions. For example, the Indian cell phone industry is shifting in focus from acquisition to retention, which is a key strategy because of the entry of several large players.

CRM also fuels much of the Canadian market's growth. More than 80 percent of Canadian businesses reported using CRM as part of the marketing mix. Newer entrants into direct/CRM marketing include pharmaceuticals and consumer packaged goods. The market will continue to grow in the first half in India, probably led by the airline and credit card industries followed by pharmaceuticals.

Reflecting on each other. On my journey I observed the extent to which we all have affected each other. Canada, for instance, is solidifying its position as an ideal market to test strategies for their broader applications south of the border. The sizes of the programs are manageable, and the market mirrors the U.S. across most key attributes.

India also saw expansion as an outsourcing base for data analytics, software development, call center and other back-end operations. Many large multinational corporations look to India, thanks partly to the availability of skilled software professionals and the huge cost advantage gained by using this tactic. Australia also holds the potential to become a testing ground for new ideas, thanks partly to its strong consumer acceptance of new technologies.

The U.S. should also learn from Spain's telecommunications success. The Spanish market has shown extremely quick growth in penetration, along with a continual need for development in new services, offers and models of use for a range of customers.

What's on the horizon. Direct marketing gained ground worldwide in the past year, often for a variety of reasons.

For example, a stable political situation in India helped lead to a growing economy and foreign direct investment. Key growth sectors included IT, telecom and banking. The short-term volatility has made it difficult to spot trends, but the upturn by the end of last year bodes well for the rest of this year.

The growing success of SMS wireless messaging can be seen in Australia and Europe, particularly in Germany and Britain. I think it will grow bigger still when it is fully embraced in the United States. Thanks to its large volume capacity, competitive pricing and ability to send and receive messages efficiently, wireless marketing represents the first wave of popular on-the-move, two-way communication channels between marketer and consumer.

Though Japan's direct mail industry is not bright in the short term, Japanese Postal becomes a private company in three years and appears keen to develop the market. Though the bulk of direct marketing obviously will stay in Europe and North America, we must aggressively explore potential in Latin America and Asia this year.

Data and China. As transglobal marketers, we no longer can rely on just channel mapping. The insights captured from data can help us navigate no matter where we are in the world. Consumers, regardless of where they live, want relevant information. Take China, a country that will present huge opportunities for large-scale data capture and analytics. Despite governmental restrictions and technological obstacles, the mainland Chinese economy is booming and could surpass that of some European countries. With a multitude of consumers and a burgeoning middle class making upscale purchases, China's potential awaits for database marketers.

Latin American creativity. The Latin American market also holds much potential. Brazil appears to be the key, with a stabilizing economic climate and a large population. It is no stranger to direct marketing. The region has some of the best creative minds in the industry. I have seen that firsthand at the International Advertising Festival in Cannes, France. Latin America also boasts an increasingly empowered youth culture. Twenty-somethings are growing more and more curious about new technologies and overseas brands. Their global-mindedness is critical to the Latin American market.

You can get there from here. For advertising and direct marketing agencies and the many global marketers they serve, the changing global environment provides a great opportunity. Agencies have to be on top of best practices because of our multinational clients. The need to know and convey ideas and information is incumbent on us, and this presents unique opportunities and new challenges. But even smaller agencies need to monitor best practices from abroad. Remember, you don't have to do business abroad to adopt great ideas. Indeed, the world seems to have become a much smaller place for all of us.

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