Product adaptation in foreign markets (with examples)

Illustration of person standing in front of world map with pins in different countries

There are a few basics in marketing when it comes to growth. You can try and sell more products to the same people or sell the same products to more people. Selling to more people often requires locating new markets, and in an ever-shrinking world, that opens up global options in specific or numerous new countries.

Welcome to globalisation.

If you think breaking into new international markets would be too expensive or too complicated for your operation, we’d ask you to think again. By carefully researching your hopeful markets, moving into an international marketplace allows most businesses to save money in production, acquiring larger quantities of resources at cheaper rates. In addition, new, sizeable international orders boost profits, aiding suppliers to cover transport and delivery costs while ensuring their required profit growth.

Today’s article asks the questions: what does it take to adapt a product for a global or local international market, and how can you make it work for your business?

What is product adaptation?

Product adaptation requires a brand to explore the essentials its product must comply with to meet regional markets’ regulations and cultural differences.

Through various research procedures, suppliers observe what’s needed to become an ideal fit in a new foreign market. That means considering cultural factors, customer behaviours, preferences and practices, purchasing power, costs, restrictions, climate, and quality and safety standards.

There are two main ways a producer can create global products: the first is adaptation, and the second is standardisation.

Product adaptation or product standardisation – which is your best option?

Adaptation delivers a modified version of the product that considers local requirements, culturally and legally.

Adaptation allows manufacturers to create different versions of their products for each market. By incorporating local trends, sizes, packaging styles, and features, their product will harmonise with buyers’ expectations, appealing to tastes and requirements.

Standardisation delivers a single unified product that sits comfortably in all markets.

Standardisation allows manufacturers to keep costs down using one set of manufacturing tools and the same packaging, creating a truly global product in the process.

Production is more straightforward with only one set of options, as opposed to multiple versions of the same product creating considerable additional costs; conversely, waste is also kept to a minimum.

Compared to alternative versions that appeal directly to local users, standardised products have a mass-market appeal, ideal for travellers who can immediately appreciate what they’re getting wherever they acquire it.

Types of product adaptation: tangible, intangible, promotional, and price adaptation

Tangible adaptation requires physical changes to a product (for example, alternative menu items in restaurants) or packaging. Colour psychology and imagery can send contrasting messages in different marketplaces, appealing to local trends, familiarity, and retail standards.

Intangible adaptation requires changes to non-physical attributes. This includes producing suitable alternatives to inappropriate translations, slogans, or brand positioning. Also, a brand may adapt its status and standing, moving towards a favourable market and appealing to more significant numbers.

Promotional adaptation requires changes to marketing and advertising methods, where local culture has a greater coverage using specific platforms, imagery, or product representation that isn’t typically utilised in other locations.

Price adaptation caters to pricing a product according to its new market. Manufacturers may have to amend the product size, packaging or quantities to meet acceptable price points for international consumers.

UX research and product adaptation strategies

Selling to foreign markets requires understanding the differences between your existing and new markets, which means conducting relevant research.

As well as performing the market research required to establish the need for your product, UX and customer research paves the way in ensuring you align with local values, satisfying consumer practices and values while avoiding geographic pitfalls.

  • Addressing cultural needs, trends, holidays, religions, and preferences
  • Complying with local laws and regulations
  • Ensuring the product remains competitive across markets
  • Removing detrimental elements from products, packaging, and promotion

Examples of product adaptation in foreign markets

As mentioned, restaurants and fast food suppliers have had to adapt their products for local markets:

MacDonalds adapts its menu for many global markets, retaining the same branding throughout yet bolstering the phrase ‘glocal’ through regional changes. So you can enjoy Chicken McArabia in the Middle East, McSpaghetti in the Philippines, and Macarons in France.

Similarly, Domino’s pizza changed its toppings preferentially for local diners. They played to the popular diets of seafood and fish in Asia and curries in India.

Another famous food outlet, Dunkin’ Donuts amends its menus to cater for each of the 36 countries where it operates. You might not instantly warm to the idea of a dry pork and seaweed donut, but they’re all the rage in China.

P&G Diapers completely remodelled its product when moving into alternative local markets. Their research into local markets found that many features weren’t considered necessary in poorer countries, and the price seemed to be the critical factor. So by amending packaging and product materials, they managed to match the price point (to the same as a single egg) without damaging the brand.

Another complete change in design was the re-innovation of ECG machines in India. Recognising that Indians living in rural areas would never likely visit hospitals for ECG scans, GE Healthcare had to change its strategy altogether. Too many of the country’s hospitals couldn’t afford their £10k fixed-location machines, even if their patients could travel to them. Their solution was to produce a portable £500 device that fits in a rucksack. This new option was ideal for ambulances and mobile units, easy to operate, and with a battery that delivers 500 ECGs on a single charge. So it not only catered to a problem in the country it was designed for but introduced a new option with benefits to its existing markets in the US and throughout the western world.

Examples of product standardisation in foreign markets

When it comes to keeping a global brand standardised, not many do it as well as Red Bull. Despite its Austrian roots, its typically European style remains almost untouched across its international markets. It retains the same packaging, product size, and branding throughout to stay so instantly recognisable. And with its prime marketing tactic supporting every type of extreme, high-energy sports, it’s market-appropriate across the masses too.

Another drinks supplier, but this time in a more health-conscious lifestyle market, Innocent smoothies retains a standardised product and brand across the 15 European countries it sells to. It’s created its uniform delivery by sticking to an incredibly consistent brand voice across all its markets and marketing materials.

Sporting manufacturers, such as Nike and Adidas, retain a global standardisation across global markets with strict branding, marketing and product themes remaining the same throughout. However, the sports and teams they sponsor and supply locally in each region are culturally considered to match the brand’s values and the product’s sales potential.

And finally, possibly the biggest corporation in the world, Coca-Cola retains an incredibly standardised product while working alongside projects, programs, and small-scale charities in rural areas that need their support.

Even the biggest brands fail at product adaptation

Diversely, there are bad examples of product adaptation in foreign markets, just as there are successes.

While trying to find a way to engage a mid-priced car market in India, the Ford Motor Company stripped out all kinds of features to reduce their selling price by 25%—from $20k to $15k. What they’d failed to address in their research was that the kind of buyer who had $15k to spend on a car would still be considered very rich and would more than likely employ a chauffeur than drive a car themselves. They’d also be happy to pay for the features that Ford had stripped out.

In a different transport arena altogether, Uber failed to carry out the necessary local UX research while trying to break the market in Japan and ended up delivering a very confusing app interface with many of its form fields the wrong way around. With Japanese naming and writing conventions significantly different from the Western language, it was a huge faux pas and a hotchpotch operation for users. Another of its failures was that all addresses in Japan are unique to a postcode; it’s typical to use an automatic form field completion. Their poorly translated US version failed to provide the same efficiency, with so many other points they should have avoided with a little more care and proper research.


With a desire to grow into new overseas markets, manufacturers must consider all the factors likely to affect their product and if product adaptation or standardisation are suitable routes to market.

While practising diligence, market and UX research are essential practices that ensure the best possible introductions and operational outcomes in countries with different behaviours, cultures, and approaches to those at home.

If you are struggling to develop and optimise your products and services for foreign markets email us at

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