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Adaptation vs Standardization: The Eternal Dilemma

Updated: May 6, 2018

Some companies opt for selling standard products, others prefer to face the challenge of adapting their products. Denisse Baqué reports...

Selling a swedish image as IKEA could be the “right” strategy to enter a new market; wherever IKEA goes, the company tries to remain itself, without adapting its products. IKEA executives know they do not have to make a real adaptation because this standard Swedish image is the decisive factor to attract and gain customers, it is what it sells.

The results of IKEA strategy? Take for example the Chinese Market, consumers in China fell in love with the famous Swedish meatballs, Kötbullar (swedish for meatballs)  and with the traditional Christmas ginger cookies Pepparkakor. Whether they were fancy or simply exotic it did not really matter, what it did matter was Chinese consumers were tasting a piece of Sweden without even travel away from home and IKEA was accumulating incredibly profits by doing that.

Following the same example above, adapting a product could also be the “right” strategy to persuade consumers, just as the Spanish group Nutrexpa did in China too, the famous traditional spanish brand Cola Cao expanded in flavors and shapes to get into this particular market. Cola Cao represents vanilla, banana and strawberry for Chinese and the brand turn out to even open a new line of products under the same name of Cola Cao, offering little cakes for them; unlike in Spain, where ColaCao represents chocolate powder only.

Some companies opt for selling standard products, others prefer to face the challenge of adapting their products. However, Multinationals, global brands, big empires, they all have arranged and dealt with incomparable international strategies in order to succeed in this new adventure, which believe it or not, it  is not just a challenge but a game in which there is no “right” strategy or certain path to follow.

Getting deeper into Terms.

In terms of Marketing and according to the website “Business Case Study” differentiation is the first step for Adaptation. It is the process of altering the marketing mix elements, in such a way the marketing mix will appeal to different markets.

Meanwhile on the other hand, Standardization refers to apply those marketing mix elements in a standard way no real alteration needed, the same product you sell in your home country, the same product is going to be sold in China and Ecuador, for example.

But what if there is no single perfect marketing mix? Indeed there is no strict marketing mix because it does not exist a “right” strategy which could fit 100% a market. There are better mixes than others, absolutely, but this is where companies should work on.

The dilemma of standardization - adaptation really depends on the point of view of the company and on the level of commitment to meet customer’s wants.

However it is relevant to notice that:

  1. In some markets many barriers will exist for both processes: standardization or adaptation, language, brand policies among other aspects.

  2. It is already process to think and plan the standard marketing mix for a product. But this can be helpful at the moment to adapt.

  3. It is also a challenge researching and planning on how this standard marketing mix may fit a different market.


Baqué, Denisse. (2013) Marketing in China: Food Product Adaptation Process. Bachelor Thesis for the University of Deusto. Bilbao, Spain.

Armstrong, G. and Kotler, P. (2003). Marketing: an Introduction. Upper Saddle River, Published by N.J.: Prentice Hall.

Business Case Study. (2016). Marketing Theory: International Marketing. Available at:

Approaching the “perfect” marketing mix for a determined market should be the goal of every Marketing Team. Infinite amount of combinations can be made by using the standard mix though, the ‘same’ product can have extremely different mixes for different markets around the world.

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