Market familiarity is one area where international students are at a disadvantage vs. American students or those who have lived in the U.S. for a number of years.
Professors at American business schools – both graduate and undergraduate – are constantly working to incorporate international brands and retailers into classroom discussions and homework. In my program at NYU, in the last year I have incorporated cases on Revova (a toilet paper brand from Portugal) and Ad-Lider Embalagens (a Brazilian garbage bag company). I will be adding a case of a Chinese company next semester. Students often pick international businesses as the subject of their Term Projects – past topics have included Tencent, Unilever’s attempts to reestablish a successful presence in the ice cream market and a major Japanese retailer’s attempts to execute a successful business in the U.S.
However, no matter how hard we try, those of us who have grown up and spent most of our careers based in the US will tend to discuss US business institutions more than international ones; and students who have spent a considerable amount of time in America will also refer mainly to American brands, companies and retailers in their discussions.
So how can you minimize the disadvantage from the lack of familiarity with the U.S. market? There are several relatively simple things you can do. If you are going to be majoring in marketing, the following are recommended. Try to begin these activities at least 6 months prior to coming to the United States:
- Subscribe to Advertising Age. Advertising Age is a weekly publication that covers what is going on in the Fast Moving Consumer Goods, commercial marketing, advertising, social marketing and promotion world. It is not only informative, but an easy and enjoyable read. If you love marketing, this is a must read and one which will get you up to speed on what is going on in the U.S. marketing world. The website for Advertising Age China is http://adage.com/china.
- Subscribe to the Wall Street Journal. Although this is seen as mainly a financial publication, the WSJ provides a lot of information on businesses around the world and its daily Media and Marketing page is outstanding.
- If possible, access the following websites:
- http://www.prophet.com/blog/aakeronbrands – David Aaker is a professor who founded a brand consulting firm, Prophet. He is among the most respected marketing strategists in the world and has authored over 100 articles and 15 books, incuding one of the most widely used textbooks in MBA programs. His site is full of analysis regarding brands’ and companies’ marketing efforts and insights into the marketing profession.
- http://www.marketingpower.com/aboutama/pages/ama%20publications/marketing%20news/marketingnews.aspx– this is the link to Marketing News, a publication of the U.S. marketing industry, the American Marketing Association. Click on the link for current issue. You may be able to sign up for free to read the entire articles, but if you can’t do this you still get access to summaries of the articles, which provide good knowledge about different businesses and marketing topics.
- http://www.marketingpilgrim.com – this marketing and media blog has built a solid reputation as a marketing news powerhouse. It features up-to-date marketing news and reviews and advertising spots for growing businesses.
Once you come to the U.S. and before you start class, do the following:
- Subscribe to any of the above publications and websites that you could not access from China. Spend some time reading current issues/articles as well as perusing past issues and posts. You need not become expert in every article – just get a feel for businesses, brands and what is going on in the U.S. Market.
- Most importantly, go visit different retail outlets. Go to different drug store chains like Walgreens, CVS, and Rite Aid? What differences do you sense and see? DO they carry the same products? Are the stores laid out the same? Pick out one or two products and record their price – and then compare it to the other drug chains. What is their relative price position? And what about the reliance on own label? What is the name of Walgreen’s private label and do they have offerings in lots of categories? How about the other chains?
Do the same for the two largest mass merchandisers, Walmart and Target. Why is Walmart known as the lowest price retailer? Do you get a different feeling when you walk into Target? Are there more designer brands in Target? Why do Americans, especially younger women, refer to this retailer as Target (indicate French accent)?
Then check out some of the local grocery chains near you. Why are grocery chains in the US struggling? What do you sense regarding product selection and pricing vs. other outlets. Are prepared foods a large portion of the store? These items account for a minority of supermarket sales but a majority of profits.
If you are planning on studying finance when you enter school in the U.S., the best thing you can do while in China is subscribe to The Wall Street Journal, Forbes or Fortune Magazine.
Other good websites to subscribe to include:
- http://www.bloomberg.com – The Bloomberg site features articles on companies, financial markets and world news. Bloomberg also recently acquired a well-known general business publication, Business Week.
- www.ft.com – The Financial Times is a British publication but one of the world’s leading business news and information organizations, recognized for it’s authority, integrity and accuracy. They provide a broad range of essential services to the growing audience of internationally minded business people.
Once you get to the United States, sign up for any of the above websites you were not able to access from China. Then go to some of the leading banks in the area. Speak to them about what products and services they offer. How is the customer service they provide? DO they appear to be more consumer or business focused? In a time of the lowest interest rates on savings accounts in the history of the US, how are they trying to differentiate themselves?
If you are going to school in the New York City area, go take a tour of the Wall Street area. Public tours of the New York Stock exchange are no longer operating (due to security concerns), but a tour of the area is still a great orientation. Although I do not have experience with any of the following, they have good reputations and are conducted by reputable organizations:
- http://gonyc.about.com/od/attractionslandmarks/p/federal_reserve.htm – if you make a reservation, you can tour The Federal Reserve Bank. This institution basically sets monetary policy for the country.
You will do fine in your studies here in the U.S. However, my goal is to provide you with some simple things to insure your transition to the American classroom is easier and smoother. Following the preceding recommendations will accomplish this.
For readers of IntroAmerica, there is a special $2,000 discount for the August graduate program. Enter IABW in the Scholarship Code box if you decide to register for the program.
Alan Kerzner is an adjunct professor at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania and New York University’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies. Professor Kerzner worked for a number of companies, including Hartz Mountain Corporation, Rexall, Johnson & Johnson and Proctor & Gamble. Mr. Kerzner graduated from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania with an MBA in Marketing. He is also the CEO of the Institute for Global Student Success where he offers an in-depth one year program to help students learn how to be successful in American colleges and the business environment. More information can be found at https://globalstudentsuccess.com/