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Archive for the ‘Management’ Category

Exam survival kit: revision posters

In Management, Marketing on May 1, 2013 at 2:24 pm


Revision is a bore. But knowing where to begin brings you a long way towards exam success. HBR has thrown together 4 examples of how to separate the main themes and topics of a module, while developing your overall view of the marketing and management disciplines.

HBS revision 001

HBS revision 003

HBS revision 002

HBS revision 004


Global pricing: standardisation v. adaptation

In Management on April 18, 2013 at 4:38 pm


HBR has previously explored the impact of competition, product and demand on the pricing strategies of businesses. In this article, we build on this by looking at the pricing in the global context. Largely, MNEs have to adapt prices to account for local conditions. This includes factors relating to the customers, product and market.


The golden rule of standardisation extends to pricing. If prices can be extended across regional markets, multinationals reduce the complexity of marketing and their organisational structure.

In the pursuit of standardised prices, psychologists have worked with marketers to establish pricing techniques which are effective in raising sales across cultures. Bundled prices, along with ‘99p’ selling, subscription and discounting models, can make a market offering appear more attractive to buyers. However, pricing is always designed to befit the business – by encouraging rapid or widespread adoption, securing a return on capital expenditure or by positioning the organisation in the market.

Bundling is most often used to justify a higher profit margin while lowering buyers’ willingness to negotiate. For these reasons, EasyJet has become adept at building relationships with local hotels and car hire companies – using holiday packages to maintain competitive flight prices.

The elasticity of demand restricts the price range of a good and can lead businesses to interesting strategies. As the recession set in during the first decade of the 21st century, Starbucks was losing customers. Against conventional advice, the coffee chain benefitted from an 8% price rise. This is because, with the departure of price sensitive customers, Starbucks was left with inelastic demand. Instead of regaining customers, Starbucks extracted more value from their surviving base.


The exclusivity and representational value of a product both impacts and is impacted by its attached price tag. Firms in luxury product segments, from LVMH’s bags to Cartier watches, use fixed prices to added representational value to products which stand for membership of a global elite. On the other side of the spectrum, Ironman marathon runners protested expensive membership schemes as antithetical to the ethos of the sport.

Covering costs is a central objective of pricing strategies, and is established by product specifications. Cost pricing provides the benefits of achieving return on investment, but needs to be set with a determined recovery period. For instance, GlaxoSmithKline’s pharmaceuticals command high premiums so that they might recoup development costs before the drugs become commoditised.


Geocentric strategies have been developed to balance local conditions with the risk of pricing arbitrage. They consider the different levels of wealth and development across global markets. Correspondingly, prices vary even within clustered economies. In terms of consumer prices, Demark is 42% higher than the average EU state, whereas Bulgaria is 49% below the average.

Market pricing relies on market forces to set price levels. This enables companies to maintain their positions through fluctuations in demand, but can result in a lack of differentiation between market offers. Due to this pricing method, the competition between Swedish food retailers was unresolved through the 2000s.

Companies might otherwise be obliged to adapt price because of legal requirements, exchange rate fluctuations or opportunities for counter-trade as in BAE Systems’ arrangement with Saudi Arabia.


International pricing strategies can successfully have standardised features, such as promotional reductions, and be rooted in the same orientation – cost, market or value. However, the level of maturity and currency used in a national market will determine the relative prices at which a product can be expected to be embraced by a local customer base.

Pricing strategy in B2B markets: Demand (1/3)

In Informatics, Management on April 16, 2013 at 3:50 pm

1956_The Price is Right

The price is right

Price is an essential component of marketing and revenue generation which cuts to the heart of the purpose of modern enterprise. Businesses address customer needs through the provision of goods and services. However, this is not an end to itself. Primarily, firms exist to increase the wealth of their owners. To do this they engage in revenue and profit generating activities.

Revenue = price of good x quantity of good sold

Profit = total revenue – total costs

The profitability of a business can be increased by selling more, decreasing costs or raising prices. Although most obviously involved in the latter option, price strategy is an element of all of these methods. Enterprises can alter price to maximise profits, penetrate or skim markets, reduce inventories or encourage up- or cross-selling. Typical objectives include getting a return on investment and increase market share.

Businesses do not operate in a vacuum, however. Only certain pricing decisions will be viable for any one market situation. This article separates the relevant factors into demand, product and competitive conditions.


In neoclassical economics, lowering prices increases demand and adding to buyer costs reduce the number of potential customers willing to buy. However, more sophisticated models differentiate between inelastic and elastic demand.

Price elasticity refers to the percentage change in the quantity of a good demanded resulting from a 1% price change. If demand is inelastic, price alterations have a rapid effect. On the other hand, customers who are slow to be discouraged from buying as prices increase demonstrate elastic demand. The second scenario occurs when a product cannot be easily substituted or provides value through high quality. Similarly, buyers who are not attentive spenders or find searching for lower prices challenging are flexible in the prices they will pay.


Pricing strategy in B2B markets: Product factors (2/3)

In Management on April 16, 2013 at 3:47 pm

Price target


Analysing demand elasticity soon reveals that product and market factors enable or constrict businesses in setting prices. At the most basic level, the cost of producing a market offering usually needs to be covered by its selling price. Businesses aiming to achieve a certain rate of return will price to gain a percentage of profit in addition to covering costs of production.

Cost based prices are easy to administer and use in forecasts, but come with several drawbacks. Firstly, the rationale of this pricing system (price = costs + profit %) means that cost reductions do not increase the profitability of the sale of individual units. Further, companies risk missing opportunities to profit by selling products and services at a level below the maximum customers would be willing to pay.

Evidently, a more satisfying pricing structure would consider both product and demand conditions. Value pricing addresses this desire by considering the buyer side of the buyer-seller relationship. Buyer value (the worth of an object or condition, relative to competing offerings) is measured by weighing the costs incurred and benefits gained through the purchase of a good or service.

Customer perceived value = perceived benefits / perceived costs

According to theory of wealth maximisation, a consumer will choose the good or service which they believe provides the most favourable benefit to costs ratio. Perceived benefits include physical attributes, service attributes, associated prestige and technical support. Costs consist of purchase price, opportunity costs, risk of failure and other sacrifices made in the exchange. Companies create differential advantage based on superior benefits and/or costs.

A value pricing strategy charges in line with customers’ assessments of the benefits and costs promised by a purchase. This has the benefit of balancing considerations of customer goodwill with supplier profitability, and highlighting product lines which do not adequately meet the needs of a market.

Value pricing also considers external changes, such as the product lifecycle. A business producing a new product to address nascent consumer demand might opt for high initial prices to engage in ‘time segmentation’. ‘Time segmentation’ involves tailoring product offers to extract value from each stage of the product life cycle. In pricing this typically means using high initial prices to maximise profits from the inelastic demand in early adopter segments before reducing buyer costs for a more mainstream appeal and finally inventory reduction as the product becomes obsolete.


Pricing strategy in B2B markets: competition (3/3)

In Management on April 16, 2013 at 3:43 pm



Exclusivity is an element of value. Businesses without competition enjoy markets with inelastic demand conditions and can price accordingly.

Industrial component manufacturer, Parker Hannifin was able to transform its fortunes by establishing five categories of products, priced according to value. These included A items which were bought at high quantities in competitive markets and B items which were differentiated to add value. At the other end of the scale, items which were exclusively sold by Parker in the E category commanded high prices.

One of the most extreme effects of competition on price can be in price wars where firms repeatedly cut their prices in an attempt to win market share. Oftentimes, this is unsustainable and is only advisable if your business is starting from a position with a substantial cost advantage or if market share growth is clearly prioritised regardless of profitability concerns.


Price strategies offer tempting routes to competitive advantage. Not only does pricing clearly affect the profitability of sales, but it its easier and quicker to change than other areas of the marketing mix. However, pricing alterations should be adopted to achieve long term growth, not as a short term fix. This involves considering market conditions, including demand, product and competitive factors. Just as the customer considers the value of their purchase, so should business leaders evaluate pricing options. Costs must be justified by the benefits received in return.

Always Be Closing: the dirty business of direct selling

In Coaching, Management on April 13, 2013 at 9:01 pm

alec-baldwin-glengarry-glen-ross-always-be-closing (1)

It is indicative of the strains of direct sales, that the biggest issues facing customer-facing departments are the recruitment and retention of salespeople.

The sales function has an average labour turnover of 100% per annum. Small wonder! Salespeople can expect brusque rejection, high pressure targets, pick up deflected business risk and see skill go unrewarded, while ineffectual effort is recognised.

It’s a difficult job, but somebody needs to do it.

The six million involved in all variations of direct sales in the US are employed with a purpose. Teams of experts in face-to-face selling was conceptualised as a response to the burst of innovation and mass-production in the late 19th century. Firms suddenly had great need for a form of selling which consistently created need for products which the public did not understand, let alone want. The travelling salesman would pound pavements and knock doors, demonstrating why the latest output of Fordist manufacturing was an essential addition to their home.

By the 1920s, the essential characteristics of the profession had been etched. Attracting Attention, fostering Interest, forcing Decisions and driving Action continues to be the preserve of salesmen and saleswomen. Likewise, businesses knew which products benefitted from direct sales channels, namely experience goods which a demonstrable function in markets characterised by strong customer inertia and limited price transparency.

Direct selling was designed to meet the business needs of an era of transformation in manufactured goods. By going to possible customers and engaging them in a face-to-face meeting during which a sales representative hoped to create a urgency to purchase, direct sales pioneers found a way to quickly distribute products in advance of demand, at low costs (saving on promotions) and even passing the risk of failure onto the sales force.

This last point is particularly true of multi-level distribution systems which use independent contractors as salesmen. In this model, the sales force buy stock and the rights to sell in return for commission. The business is relieved of employment costs, but loses control over its sales force, the behaviour of which can establish or destroy a brand.

Recommended practice in direct sales mercilessly pushes for improved results. Managers encourage a vigorous culture of success, built on providing good careers for top salesmen and weeding out those who fail to meet the required number of conversions. Status is based on financial success, enshrined in tiered sellers clubs. Further, ostentatious consumption is institutionalised in schemes such as Eureka Forbes’ ‘Buy Your Own Bike’ incentive.

So, direct sales serve a unique and results-driven role in business. But brutalised and independently-minded salesmen are liable to strive to improve their lot by acting opportunistically. This includes jumping ship for a more attractive role in another business. Salesmen are a necessary part of business, but salesmen may not be tied to their firms until they are seen as a long term investment.

Why we buy (2/2): social spending

In Management, Marketing on April 10, 2013 at 3:40 pm

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Psychological models provided much-needed insight into non-rational motivations. Sociologists became active in this field, recognising the social nature of purchase decisions. When we buy shoes, we may consciously emulate our peers, weigh their symbolic value and their suitability against the ‘habitus’ of the social ‘world’ we occupy, even before questioning their durability and comfort. Snowden (2009) found, for instance, that SUV drivers strongly identified with their ownership in-group.

The contribution of sociologists

Maslow established a hierarchy of rational and non-rational needs in 1945, unwittingly setting the model for marketer’s understanding of consumer needs, wants and desires. A need complies with the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy, something required for physiological comfort, health or survival.  The higher levels needs of a sense of belonging, esteem and self-actualising activity represent a spectrum of intangible desires which goods can fulfil.

A woman might need to carry her diary, purse and spectacles, but she wants a Gucci handbag because of the status gained from owning it. Hirsch (1979) would describe the Gucci bag as a ‘positional good’, because it places its owner in a particular social role by association.

The importance of being ‘seen’ as owning representational goods is at the heart of conspicuous consumption, a theory established by Veblen in 1899. Veblen and Hirsch have been criticised for assuming that every consumer purchase in emulation of higher social groups. In doing so, they do not account for peer pressure to reject the behaviours of other groups. The bitterness towards middle class grocers Waitrose was publically revealed when its ‘#WaitroseReasons’ Twitter promotion was hijacked by tweets such as ‘I shop at Waitrose because … I don’t like being surrounded by poor people.’

Human capital

Bourdieu (1979) helped to set purchase decisions into their social context in his writing on human capital. In his theory, consumers can be grouped by their economic capital (material/financial wealth), cultural capital (education/aesthetic tastes) and social capital (network of friends/influencers/family). An individual’s human capital, therefore, places them in a distinct social ‘world’.

These worlds come with their own fashions, ‘habitus’ (social norms and habits) and sanctions. For example, members inclined to the mod subculture by economic, cultural and social conditions are more likely to buy into a nexus of goods, including the iconic motor-scooter, suit and shades.

Bourdieu’s understanding is flawed, more representative of the separate class cultures of France, than the Western world as a whole. Moreover, he neglects Galbraith’s (1950) ideas of external factors, such as marketing, imposing wants on social groups.


So, are we left with merely a handful of imperfect theories? Yes, but theories which can build upon each other to bring us nearer to the truth. Reflect on our economic, psychological and behavioural explanations next time you are scanning the shelves.

Why we buy (1/2): understanding consumer purchase decisions

In Management, Marketing on April 10, 2013 at 3:36 pm


We live in a mass consumption society. The majority of citizens have access to a range of standardised and mass-produced goods. We can all relate to models describing the stages of consumer decision-making: need recognition, information search, evaluation of alternatives, purchase and post-purchase behaviour.

When a large proportion of our daily purchase decisions are routine and almost reflexive, it is easy to forget the complexity of the transactions occurring over tills and online shopping baskets. In fact, experts remain divided between 3 ways of thinking about consumer purchase decisions.

Model Economic Psychological Consumer behaviour
Basis Rationality Cognitive processes Mixed economic and psychological
Evidence Quantitative Qualitative Mixed
Used by Economists Sociologists Marketers

(To view click article heading for full display)

Neoclassical economics

Over time, business has taken to each type of model and is currently enamoured by hybrid explanations of consumer behaviour drawing on economic and psychological models. The most famous of these describes demand as being based on price. This idea stems from neoclassical economics which regard the consumer as a rational actor who should demonstrate consistent preferences between goods based on value. Logically, therefore, consumer demand will increase as price decreases, with products being substituted because of a change in income or the relative price of goods.

s and d

Neoclassical Supply and Demand Curve

This curve persists as the foundation of many business decisions. For example, the prices at which Nestlé can procure coffee are determined by supply and demand calculations in world commodity markets. Setting prices according to demand affects Nestlé’s fair trading commitments. The multinational protects against this by advising producers in how to increase payment (take on processing stages, sell directly) and reduce costs (share processing/transport facilities).

However, neoclassical economics have become part of a wider picture as experts have realised that few markets exist with the perfect information required for consumers to be so logical. A more complicated picture of consumer motivations has emerged.

Consumer information-gathering process

One criticism of neoclassical readings of purchase decisions is that they assign a minimal role to marketing. Our current understanding is based on a more contextual view. Namely, the influence of marketing on a purchase decision is determined by the nature of the good in question. Phillip Nelson distinguished 3 types of consumer good.

Type Search goods Experience goods Credence goods
Definition Characteristics identifiable through inspection Features revealed by consumption Value hard to measure even after consumption
Examples Glassware, camera Wine, cosmetics Vitamins, maintenance
Impact of marketing Positive relationship between advertising and product quality Advertising plays an important signalling role Advertising plays an important signalling role

Technology can turn experience goods into search goods. Klein (1998) argues that the internet has had this effect by lowering the search costs of certain product attributes (for example, accessing a rotational view of a car without being at a showroom) and providing ways of experiencing products virtually without direct inspection (e.g. software).


Global Marketing Management: One world, one voice? (part 6)

In Management, Marketing on March 24, 2013 at 5:35 pm

External conditions required for standardised advertising

country life

Integration of consumer habits

It seems as though we are far from living in a global village: nations retain individual economic and cultural norms. Computer-mediated and networked communications specialists, Van Alstyne and Brynjolfsson propose ‘Balkanisation’ as an alternative effect of the globalising technologies which have connected 25% of the world to the internet (2005). ‘Cyber-Balkanisation’ describes the groups which form through the internet, based on interest rather than geography. Balkanisation is a useful concept for advertisers seeking an international audience bound by consumer behaviour. Standardised advertising has been successfully used to appeal to wealthy elites and cosmopolitans of all nationalities.

Elites’ interaction with global fashion, food and entertainment can be explained as status positioning (Domzal and Kernan, 1993). The wealthiest members of a geographic community seek membership of a global ‘club’ through ownership of Cartier jewellery, Vuitton luggage and Hermes suits. This segment is being nurtured in developing economies. Efforts to encourage Asian middle classes to embrace LVMH’s European sophistication have taken off in recent years. In 2011, they accounted for 27% of total sales (Economist, 2011).

Additionally, a younger generation is maturing within a relatively globalised world, familiar with the postmodern dissolution of cultural values and indigenous ‘truths’. ‘Digital natives’ can freely explore and be influenced by global trends (BBC, 2009).


Adverts which successfully translated across cultures to appeal to postmodern shoppers are more reliant on fantasy and lifestyle formats than cultural references, used the evocation of emotion rather than precise messages and used concrete representations of the product rather than metaphor (Domzal and Kernan, 1993). John Lyndon’s TV spot for Country Life is constructed from English stereotypes and requires knowledge of his Sex Pistols past. Alternately, the Lego advert requires no translation.


Standardising advertising across cultures reduces costs and has the potential to add value if multinationals are willing to adapt strategically and structurally. However, neither standardised advertising nor neat definitions of local taste can be universally applied.

While regional trade has grouped national economies providing opportunities for ads to ‘travel’, cultural barriers remain. Successful advertising targets audiences capable of appropriately decoding communications: different histories, associations and values interfere with this. However, market segments can be defined by qualities apart from nationally-specific traits. Elite and postmodern audiences engage with global trends.

The world is not a global village. It is divided by stages of economic development, cultural notions, local tastes and consumer behaviours. However, people simultaneously occupy several cultures and though national norms might close one ear, cosmopolitanism may open the other. With careful targeting, advertising may be standardised across cultures.

Global Marketing Management: One world, one voice? (part 5)

In Management, Marketing on March 24, 2013 at 5:32 pm

External conditions required for standardised advertising


Figure 5 French McDonald’s ad

Cultural integration

There are fears that globalisation will cause a homogenous world standard by ‘cultural imperialism’. Yet, we are protective of the ‘imagined communities’ we live in and can be resistant to change (Benedict Anderson, 1991). James Cantalupo, President of MacDonald’s International undermines the concept of cultural influence as a zero-sum game:

You don’t have two thousand stores in Japan by being seen as an American company. Look, McDonald’s serves meat, bread and potatoes. They eat meat, bread and potatoes in most areas of the world. It’s how you package it and the experience you offer that counts. [3]

With this ethos, McDonalds balances standardisation and local adaption. The below advertisement illustrates the brand associating itself with the ‘café culture’ in France.

Differences in moral and religious beliefs and even colour associations can make for wildly divergent interpretations of ads. For instance, the French associate red with danger, passion and revolution, while the Chinese think of good fortune and prosperity. Some transnational companies borrow national associations to increase the cultural capital of their brands (see figure 5). Language is a major barrier to standardised advertising. In a study of 400 agencies, only 11% of brands use the same language in all international markets (Duncan and Ramaprasad, 1995).

cafe rougechinese

Figure 6 Red in corporate websites

A study of more than 70,000 ads across cultures found few ‘travelled well’ and that the cost savings of standardisation were offset by a lack of local resonance (Millward Brown, 2007). Cluster analyses of countries, considering factors including media availability and economic development, support these conclusions leading Siriam and Gopalakrishna to argue:

[Advertisers] should view standardisation not as the transferability of an entire campaign across countries, but as a strategy that makes unified themes, images and even brand names, possible. (1999, p.146)

Standardised ads often draw on ‘universal values’, such as the desire to live long and comfortable lives or nurture the next generation. Johnnie Walker whiskey has capitalised on the theme of personal progress. Diageo’s ‘Keep on Walking’ campaign, which spread this message using local landscapes, increased sales by 48% in eight years (Hollis, 2007).

 jhonny walker

Figure 7 Johnnie Walker: Same theme, different location

As standardisation establishes products as global, multinationals leave themselves vulnerable to ‘out-localisation’. Greater expertise enables local firms to target underrepresented consumer segments. India’s Tata Motors developed its financial services to support rural Indians who had no access to loans and support.

This is not to say that products tied to a local culture cannot move between countries. Americans enjoy a dazzling array of cultural imports including Vietnamese restaurants, Reggae music, Egyptian novels, Chinese films, Indian clothes and Afghan jewellery. Yet, some product categories are easier to export, e.g. technology over local delicacies. Further, even countries with radically different cultures may have similar consumer segments which possess the same needs. Tata has leveraged its expertise in marketing to Africa and ASEAN countries with consumers closely resembling those within the firm’s home nation.

The emergence of consumer segments which can be found in all the principal regions of the world is explored in the penultimate section of this essay.