Product adaptation vs standardization: which approach is right for your business?

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Any business with international ambitions needs to consider the needs of foreign markets before launching a product or service there. While your offerings may be immensely popular in the UK, selling the exact same thing in a different country may not be as effective, be it for cultural, regulatory, or economic reasons. When companies tweak their products for foreign audiences, this process is known as product adaptation, which describes the process of making a product or service more amenable to a new country.

Of course, this approach is not always the best one. Business history is littered with examples where this has gone wrong, with often hilarious results. There was the case of the retail giant Best Buy attempting to adapt to the Chinese market, a failed attempt that was marred from the outset by poor translations that led to Best Buy's China slogans consisting of phrases like "please think a thousand times before you buy here".

Beyond cultural misunderstandings, some products work best when they are consistent. Not only does it often make better economic sense to keep your offerings the same across the world, but it can also be better for your brand. It's the reason why, despite a few menu additions, McDonald's food tastes the same anywhere you go, and why you can always get a Big Mac from a McDonald's outlet, whether it's in Colchester or Caracas. This is known as product standardization.

But how do you decide which approach is right for you? It often depends on the product or service you're offering, and how well it translates across borders. Let's take a look at both and weigh up the pros, based on successful examples of each within the entertainment industry.

Product Standardization: The Betway Approach

For exploring the standardization approach, we'll take a look at the booming online casino industry to show how keeping your products consistent across borders can be a winning strategy. One classic example of this approach in action can be seen with the multinational online casino Betway, which offers hundreds of different slots, table games, and live casino games in dozens of countries.

A look at the slots available at Betway will reveal the same offerings no matter what country you're in. A player in Finland will be able to play a few rounds of Immortal Romance or Book of Oz the same way that a player in the UK can. Part of what makes this business approach so successful is the nature of the online casino gaming sector.

Across the world, the most popular slot titles are often based purely on factors such as RTP (return-to-player) and the bonuses available. In addition, while the online casino market may be subject to different regulations in different countries, these do not affect the content of the games themselves, meaning there is little reason to change them.

Perhaps most importantly, a company such as Betway has a strong reputation within the global market for quality and consistency, something that could be negatively affected if they were to begin tinkering with their slot games for different audiences. As the old saying goes, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Product Adaptation: The Marvel Approach

Of course, different sectors of the entertainment industry must respond to different global challenges. A good example of the product adaptation approach within this industry can be seen in the entertainment giant Marvel, which has gone to huge lengths to adapt their offerings for the Chinese audience, with the result being that China is now one of its most profitable markets.

In Marvel films, extra scenes are often added featuring popular Chinese actors or cultural references. For example, the recent Iron Man 3 film featured 4 minutes of added footage in China, starring the local superstar Fan Bingbing. In addition, the Marvel comic books have featured a raft of new characters that have Chinese names and strong associations with Chinese traditional culture, such as the female superhero Aero (气旋 in Mandarin) and the 'Sword Master' Lin Lie (三皇斗战士).

All of Marvel's products are scrutinised by the China team before their release in the country, to ensure that they have as broad an appeal as possible to their loyal local audience. The result is that Marvel has made billions of dollars in China over the past few years.


As you can see, there are benefits to both approaches. It all depends on the countries you plan to operate in and the type of business involved. Make sure to consider these points before taking your business overseas.