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Marketing in emerging countries: evidence from a liberalized economy.

Following a review of the current economic trends in emerging nations, discusses the importance of marketing within the macro and micro contexts of business environments in a typical liberalized economy. Provides a background to changes taking place within the market environments of emerging nations which have instituted policies to liberalize their economies, with a focus on Ghana, which has been hailed as a successful bright star of the developing world. In the context of developing countries, highlights the relevance of marketing and follows this by identifying a number of areas in which effective marketing strategies are gaining increased importance in Ghana's evolving marketplace, and in this context, discusses case studies of three companies which have achieved superior performance as a result of improved marketing practices. Addresses the implications of the changing environment for business and marketing managers of both foreign and domestic firms.

Introduction

As a result of the liberalization and restructuring of many Third World economies and increased interdependence of the world's markets, the past decade has witnessed a growing interest in the role of marketing in developing countries (Cavusgil and Yavas, 1984; Okoroafo and Torkonoo, 1995; Sheth, 1992). The role of marketing within organizations is becoming increasingly important for the survival and sustained growth of modern day businesses, primarily due to increased competition in the marketplace. Given the importance of, and interest in, the marketing concept in developing countries, the aim of this article is to examine the impact of economic restructuring in the Third World on the marketing function and its relevance in a typical emerging nation.

During the last decade, many developing countries were beneficiaries of a Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) set up under the auspices of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The SAP comprises reforms in fiscal, monetary, exchange rate policies, trade liberalization, privatization, rationalization and restructuring of public enterprises. The recipient countries, including Ghana, Gambia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Zambia in Africa, as well as Chile, Argentina, Mexico and Venezuela in Central and South America, subscribed to the structural adjustment facility of the IMF in return for instituting specific economic policies devised to liberalize their economies. These programmes were facilitated by borrowing funds from the IMF in order to embark on radical economic reforms. The reform policies have significantly transformed the business environments of the majority of adopting countries.

In spite of the fierce criticism by sceptics of the SAP, there is evidence (Humphreys and Yaeger, 1990) to suggest that countries which subscribed to the SAP have realized enhanced performance at the macroeconomic level (e.g. fund flows, export proceeds). However, there is limited evidence of the effects of such reforms on business practices at the micro or firm level. This article focuses on Ghana, which has been hailed as one of the greatest beneficiaries of the IMF's SAP.

Background to the study

Ghana, which has a population of 15.6m, a GDP of $5,906m and a GNP of $7,117m (1993), has been cited by the World Bank and IMF (IMF Survey, 1989) as a role model of success in the Third World (West Africa Magazine, 1995). This is due to the growth rates that have been realized by pursuing the SAP and the consequent fostering of a free market economy. Like many other developing countries undergoing transformation, Ghana has sought to improve its economy through an Economic Recovery Programme (ERP). This process commenced in 1983 and consisted of policy reforms aimed at expanding private business initiatives, particularly from the export oriented sector. The reforms which have had the greatest effect on the marketplace are highlighted in the following section.

First, reforms in foreign exchange policies were instituted to reflect the real value of the currency (cedi) and make the availability of foreign currencies more widespread. Second, investment reforms were introduced to boost investments. A wide range of incentives was instituted to attract foreign investors into the country. Third, trade policies were reformed to liberalize trade and promote exports. There are now minimal restrictions on the requirement for import licences, while bans have been lifted on the freedom to export many goods.

Importance of marketing in a developing economy

In spite of the continued use and application of marketing in the Third World, there is an ongoing debate concerning the applicability of marketing to developing countries. Associated with this debate are two schools of thought. One perspective is that the marketing concept is not applicable in developing countries because the principles and techniques are based on the tenets of buyers' markets (markets where supply of goods and services is much greater than demand), whereas the vast majority of developing countries are characterized by sellers' economies (markets where supply of goods and services is far less than demand). It has been argued that the marketing concept has been essentially a tool of developed countries, a means by which the products of buyers' market economies are marketed, a discipline of domestic marketing theory that has been extended minimally to foreign situations. It is not a discipline of globally accepted principles that may be applied to a subset of national economies (Bartels, 1983) and also, while the basic marketing concept is based on the premiss that managers have full control over the components of the marketing mix, such a premiss does not hold in developing economies.

The alternative view is that, the concepts and techniques of marketing are applicable in developing countries but lack of adequate marketing knowledge and shortage of marketing expertise are perceived as barriers to the applicability of the discipline (Kaynak and Hudanah, 1987). In fact, several academics and practitioners of development have purported that the one main problem in economic development of Third World countries is that little attention has, so far, been placed on the shortcomings and opportunities of marketing (Mittendorf, 1982). Clearly, marketing as carried out in developed countries, with an emphasis on inducing new needs and wants, may not be of prime concern in the poorer developing economies (Keegan, 1984). The marketing concept is more than a quest for new needs and wants, it is basically a framework of analyses, tools and skills which provides executives with the ability to match organizational resources and competences to the needs of society (Maholtra, 1986). Thus, the marketing discipline can be effectively employed in an effort to meet the needs of the Third World.

In the light of the above debate, various researchers have investigated the extent of utilization of marketing tools in developing countries. Evidence from Akaah and Riordan's (1988) study indicates that the degree of incidence and regularity of implementation of marketing principles is on the increase, and hence, they assert that the marketing concept is applicable in the Third World. However, the authors note that the applicability of marketing concepts and techniques might be dependent on country and corporate specific factors.

Marketing practices in a typical developing country

Several variables have been identified as factors which hinder the implementation of marketing practices in most Third World countries. These include problems associated with the socio-cultural, governmental, legal, political and economic environments. Generally, factors such as poor growth and high inflation rates, rigid trade barriers, political instability and frequent changes in business laws, inadequate communications, sub-standard infrastructure and high political risk serve as barriers to development. Furthermore, the market environment reflects sellers' market economies. In government circles, the view held by policy makers and planners is that a shortage of goods and services is the major problem of Third World countries and that the solution lies in increased production. In such an environment the implementation of marketing practices is considerably hindered. This is due to the fact that goods are manufactured and sold regardless of their suitability to buyer needs, while prices are fixed on the basis of government regulations. Generally, promotion and market research activities are difficult to carry out in many Third World nations since all disclosure of information to the public is rigidly monitored (Sadri and Williamson, 1989). In organizations, manufacturing and production are usually given more prominence than marketing. The marketing discipline is perceived as a quasi-parasitic activity which is not beneficial in the overall economic development programme of a Third World country. The economy of scarcity conditions which characterize the market environment requires and fosters increased emphasis on manufacturing and production.

To make matters worse, marketing education receives little attention in academic circles. A focus on the traditional professions and conventional social science courses has produced business managers who have little appreciation of the significance of marketing's role within the firm. As such, sales activities are regarded as peripheral functions of debatable value, whereas manufacturing and engineering have attracted a higher profile among the public (Yavas and Rowntree, 1980). Furthermore, less-developed countries usually exhibit a dual economy -- a situation where a few cities are characterized by a style of living that is considerably different from the rest of the population. Another distinct feature is the highly skewed income distribution, on either a personal or geographic basis. These peculiar characteristics in the business environments of developing countries pose challenges to organizations in their efforts to pursue nationwide distribution strategies. This is because the overall market comprises many segments and this calls for different marketing approaches at considerably different levels of sophistication (Ross and McTavish, 1985).

Marketing strategies in Ghana's changing environment

Before the introduction of reform policies, marketing decisions were made in an environment where competition was virtually non-existent. Government bodies had the monopoly of making decisions in a seller's market. The Ghana market was still characterized by the production or product era where goods were manufactured for customers who had no choice but to buy them due to lack of alternatives. Similar to most developing countries, the marketing concept might have been accepted in theory, but hardly put into practice (Mitchell and Agenmonmen, 1984). However, the current reforms in the marketplace are bound to transform Ghana's once centralized economy into a free market, where several producers strive for the custom of prospective purchasers. With the new shift towards a fiercely competitive business environment, this decade is witnessing a different approach to the marketing concept, with the customer as the focus of marketing activities. Consequently, it has become imperative for firms to adopt different marketing practices because as customer needs and expectations evolve and grow over time, it will be the responsibility of the marketer to deliver consistently high quality, value for money products and services. There is evidence to suggest that the new environment has resulted in increased performance of marketing activities in Ghana (Dadzie et al., 1988).

Product/service quality, modification of existing products and new product success will be vital in developing a competitive advantage. Modified and new products/services are important for realizing long-term viability, while the successful execution of a quality management strategy and the provision of better services to customers are critical to performance enhancement (Jacobson and Aaker, 1987). Moreover, the improved manufacturing processes should assist firms to enhance performance. Pricing techniques will play a crucial role in boosting performance and though the choice of strategy will depend on organizational objectives, it is vital for products to be priced competitively. Costs need to be streamlined for firms to remain competitive. Hence, it is not surprising to experience cutbacks in terms of employees and subsidiaries, as organizations seek to become more competitive. The implementation of effective customer focused promotions is also important, and thus, promotional tools need to utilize strategies relating to product offerings, pricing, consumer behaviour and distribution. Thus, it is not surprising to note that currently promotional efforts are very much on the increase in Ghana. Furthermore, there is a need to investigate alternative means of delivering products to customers more efficiently. This might call for joint efforts with distributors and suppliers as well as efficient administration of logistical functions such as sourcing, inventory and transport (Okoroafo and Russow, 1993). Other issues which require attention include effective marketing research and appropriate strategic choices (Austin, 1990). This is due to the fact that as the environment becomes increasingly turbulent, organizations place more emphasis on decentralization and their strategic marketing planning efforts tend to assume higher levels of sophistication and long-term orientation. The expectation is that such an approach to planning will result in enhanced organizational performance (Welge and Kenter, 1988).

Firms tend to diversify their activities (Johnson and Thomas, 1987), or alternatively, attempt to gain control of their marketplace in order to be able to handle the uncertainty. In their efforts to assume control within the marketplace, two important areas where organizations tend to focus are their relationships with suppliers and distributors (Porter, 1985). Furthermore, new overseas markets will be explored in an attempt to widen their options and broaden their customer base. The utilization of arm's-length transfer pricing is allowed while reduced taxation rates are offered as an incentive. In a competitive marketplace, companies will have to undertake extensive research to acquire information required to facilitate strategic marketing decision making. In turbulent environments, it is important that the essential information is at the disposal of key decision makers at the time and place of the decision-making process.

Case studies

This section contains case studies of three organizations in Ghana whose strategic responses to the new environment through improved marketing plans and programmes, have assisted in the achievement of superior performance in their respective sectors. The figures on financial performance were obtained from Databank Research Limited, Ghana (1996).

Standard Chartered Bank (SCB)

SCB was the first commercial bank to be established in Ghana. Its target sectors include commercial and manufacturing, large-scale agriculture, trade finance and personal banking (middle and upper income class). The bank has branches in the ten regional capitals and a few select districts. SCB holds the largest share (18 per cent) of total advances for the banking sector but in terms of total deposits, assets and after tax profits, it ranks third with 14 per cent, 12 per cent and 14 per cent shares respectively.

SCB's mission is to be a full-service bank with an effective network of branches, providing quality service, placing the customer at the centre of activities and creating value for customers, employees and shareholders. The mission was conceived to re-position the bank as a preferred provider of banking services in its chosen markets in recognition of the intensifying competition in the banking industry, and rapidly changing product delivery channels based on new information technologies. In order to achieve their mission, SCB constantly makes an effort to stretch its targets, core capabilities and organizational skills.

In conjunction with the economic recovery programme, the bank has implemented a restructuring programme which includes closure of some branches and agencies, reduction in staffing levels and systems re-engineering. The rationale for this re-organization is to sharply focus on their selected markets and provide the best services to customers in those markets and at the same time continue to manage costs well, and further improve risk management. SCB pioneered the computerization of banking operations in Ghana. Their continued efforts to make banking facilities easier and more convenient to the customer led to the introduction of various innovative products and repackaging of existing ones. These changes and the increased business activity in the economy, have paved the way for improved efficiency in its operations and hence profitability. The bank's operating costs are near inflation levels, asset quality has improved substantially, debt recovery has been encouraging, whilst its reputation in the chosen markets remains high with a constant rise in share value on the stock market. To maintain its leadership position in trade banking together with associates in the African countries, SCB organized a visit by a trade delegation from Africa to the Far Eastern countries in 1995, culminating in a very successful roadshow.

Details of areas in which SCB achieved improved performance between 1994 and 1995 are as follows:

* Creating shareholder value: net profit after tax grew to $15,700m (from $9,700m). The growth was due, first, to a 50 per cent increase in deposits which enabled SCB to increase its advances to customers and investments in treasury bills, and second, 60 per cent growth in fee income due to increasing volumes of business resulting from improved sales capabilities. Total assets grew by 54 per cent which was induced principally by an increase in customer deposits. Loans and advances grew by 129 per cent mainly as a result of new businesses. Cash and short-term investments grew by 37 per cent, again induced by deposit growth. Deposits grew by 54 per cent from the retail and corporate sectors.

* Efficient management of capital: the bank's capital adequacy ratio remained high at 8.2 per cent above the Central Bank's requirement of 6 per cent. Average return on assets was 8.15 per cent (1994 -- 7.8 per cent) and return on shareholders' equity was 83.2 per cent (1994 -- 66.4 per cent).

* Maintaining a competitive advantage: net revenue grew by 69 per cent in a very competitive market. Progress in increased market share was achieved through an emphasis on generating value-added services for customers and effective selling of SCB's products. Delivery systems were introduced to better match customers' needs in personal banking, and corporate/institutional banking. Automatic teller machines were installed in bank branches while back office systems were considerably enhanced, making significant contributions towards providing efficient services to their customers at the least possible cost.

SCB's prospects

In the next few years, the bank intends to focus on: strengthening its front and back office technologies; strengthening its management capabilities; and modernizing its branch premises.

The changing environment and increasing competition emphasizes the importance of SCB's efforts to streamline its operations, focus on core business, perform support functions in the most cost-effective manner and gain the support of all staff in projecting a good image.

Guinness Ghana Limited (GGL)

GGL was incorporated as a private company in 1960. Its main line of business at the time was purely the sale and distribution of Guinness Foreign Stout. In 1970, the company embarked on the construction of a new brewery and bottling plant for the production, sale and marketing of Guinness Stout. GGL has also since diversified from its single product of Foreign Extra Stout (FES) with the addition of a non-alcoholic beverage known as Malta Guinness. The late 1980s and early 1990s were tough times for GGL. Having found its fortunes in small niche markets, GGL experienced several major setbacks which took a toll on the company's levels of productivity and profitability. In 1990, there was an overall reduction in the beer market resulting from the general decline in the country's economy. However, by 1993 strong demand for Guinness brands had placed the company under considerable stress. Thus, GGL embarked on an expansion programme to enable it to cope with the escalating demand.

GGL is a market leader in the beverage market and enjoys the benefits of an international brand which eclipses other domestic stout drinks in scope, image and taste. After enjoying a virtual monopoly over the stout market, GGL now faces increased competition as a result of the growing population and economic growth fuelling demand in the brewery industry. The main products in the brewery industry are stout and larger. Despite the rapid growth in the beer market, Ghana is still regarded as one of the lowest beer consuming countries in the world and thus, there is significant growth potential in the market. As the economy expands and personal incomes increase in tandem, it is expected that total beer consumption in the country will reflect the rising incomes and consumption patterns in other African countries. Marketing activities will therefore be intensified and will continue to be a major determinant of sales volume. The brewery industry has the potential for more product differentiation through increased innovation by the brewers in their strive to attain market leadership. Unfortunately, the small size of the market has resulted in an imbalance in the market in terms of production and capacity. The under-utilization of capacity has led brewery companies to aggressive advertising, promotions and productivity improvements in order to attract additional business.

GGL holds a dominant position in the industry and its long-term growth plan is to increase market share of existing products through effective marketing strategies, investment in plant, training and increased cost-efficiency. Although the company has no plans to introduce new products in the near future, product development remains part of its long-term plans. GGL has the most extensive distribution network in the brewing industry. It is the only brewing company with 100 per cent country-wide coverage and its network is made up of 60 distributors, 130 direct accounts, 300 wholesalers and 6,000 retailers. Distribution depots can be found in all regions of the country. This gives it the opportunity to expand activities in undeveloped markets. Its strategy to gain market share and remain number one is well conceived. The company has achieved a much lower cost structure than its competitors due to reduction in staff levels and machine down time and implementation of strict management controls.

GGL in a competitive environment

The company is undoubtedly the best performer in the market. Guinness' sales grew at an average yearly rate of 40 per cent during the last five years. Net earnings have exceeded 100 per cent growth in the last three years. The company's outstanding performance is mainly attributable to the excellent use of its resources in functional areas such as marketing and high levels of operational efficiency.

GGL's prospects

In order to maintain a firm grip on its leadership position in the beverage market, Guinness should be well placed to meet the growing demands for its brands. The economic conditions and operating environment are becoming more demanding, but expectations are that the brewery industry will continue to be very competitive. GGL will have to increase marketing efforts in order to defend its position. Guinness' strategy of reducing costs coupled with its policy of maximizing customer satisfaction by consistently producing quality brands should keep the company in a strong market position in the coming years.

Unilever (Ghana) Limited (UGL)

UGL is a conglomerate with five divisions namely: Lever Brothers, Tractor and Equipment, Textiles, GB Ollivant and Swanzy Real Estate Division. The core business of UGL includes the manufacture of soaps, detergents, edible oils and personal care products. The objective of management is to build a robust business by growing volumes and market shares and secure long-term profitability through dominance of their chosen markets by manufacturing high quality products. The service provision divisions have made efforts to enhance their quality of service, embarking on customer-led workshops and achieving speedier delivery of both parts and service.

The company is rationalizing its business by pulling out of activities which do not fit with the core product groups and thus it is withdrawing from trading into manufacturing. In this context, UGL is divesting from the technical business and repositioning its textiles business more towards a manufacturing base. Business processes have been subjected to rigorous re-examination with significant cost savings achieved. Given the growing opportunities in the marketplace, strategic planning processes have been sharpened in order to concentrate on activities which offer greater potential for profitable growth. The company's strength is built on a substantial investment in high quality brands.

The major contributor to profit, Lever Brothers Division (LBD), is used to provide examples of sound marketing practices in UGL. Improved customer services with greater focus on customers, territories and specialized businesses as well as the introduction of a key distributorship scheme have made a strong contribution to the division's performance. Moreover, there is an increased investment in the personal product group and an expansion in the toilet soap production base to boost future growth. The following are some of UGL's recent marketing initiatives: investment in market research, innovation and quality to achieve continuous improvements in its products; the observation of annual quality days in the factory to remind all about their role in total quality of the business and to emphasize that quality in the business starts with the employee and ends with their products; launch and re-launch of 20 products on to the Ghanaian market. Some of the new products include Lux Beauty Soap, which was re-launched to bring Lux in line with international standards, Close Up toothpaste, tooth whitener and gel mouthwash, and Claricer hair pomade which was re-launched to introduce lanolin and a new size in response to customers' requests.

LBD attribute their sound performance in recent years to sound marketing strategies with a focus on the customer, the introduction of relevant innovations, an aggressive cost reduction programme and productivity increases. In the last 12 months, turnover grew by 54 per cent compared with the previous year's figure of 35 per cent. Operating profit grew by 6.1 per cent, while profit after tax grew by 16 per cent. In line with the company's view of product development as a critical aspect of its marketing operations, management intends to continue with its policy of introducing innovative products on the Ghanaian market. Given Unilever's strong position in its market segment, the potential for profitable operations is immense, granted that a tight lid is kept on costs while both existing and new products are tailored to meet customer satisfaction.

Implications and conclusions

Evidence from research conducted by Ross and McTavish (1985) suggests that there is a relationship between GNP of developing countries and the performance of marketing activities. Marketing scholars in poorer countries perceive marketing principles as being less applicable than their counterparts in richer economies. The implication is that the richer a country becomes the greater the likelihood of performance of marketing activities by firms.

A recent investigation by Okoroafo and Russow (1993) into the impact of the IMF's structural adjustment programme on firm performance in Nigeria concluded with suggestions which are equally applicable to Ghana. Thus, it would be important to improve product quality with respect to performance, reliability, durability, etc. in order to differentiate a firm from its competitors. Pursuing a strategy of offering better value in the marketplace will enable firms to gain a competitive edge, due to the severity of conditions in Ghana's business environment. For instance, Okoroafo and Kotabe (1993) reported that in an attempt to achieve a reputation for quality, Japanese car manufacturers have improved the durability of car bodies, fitted them with more resistant shock absorbers, and made them more economical to run. Similar to the case of Nigeria, detergent manufacturers such as Lever Brothers (Ghana) Ltd have undertaken a series of marketing research activities in order to improve the effectiveness and durability of their soap. In the short term, research efforts may be geared towards incremental improvements and modifications because in a turbulent marketplace, changing customer needs require major changes in marketing operations if growth in performance is to be achieved. However, many firms may not be able to afford the costs involved in changing marketing operations. Given the likelihood of lagged effects between improved marketing strategies and performance, significant innovation strategies should be planned as a long-term investment, similar to that of capital investment. This may include research efforts and joint programmes with reputable research and development establishments. Promotional strategies will focus on differentiating an organization's offerings from those of the competition, with a message based on informing the customer about benefits such as reliability, performance, longevity or value for money.

In spite of the ongoing changes in the business environment, the market is yet to achieve the full status of a buyer's economy. Thus, like many emerging nations, although the marketing concept has been accepted in principle, there are still difficulties with regard to its implementation and, consequently, customer service is currently in its infant stages. Nevertheless, customer care is likely to assume an important role in the medium to long term, particularly as competition increases as a result of the entry of more firms into the market.

It is interesting to note that Okoroafo and Kotabe's (1993) study on Nigeria identified a positive association between a number of factors and performance. These include growth in sources for mobilizing investment funds, elimination of exchange and profit remittance controls, active foreign exchange market and improved transportation systems. It is argued that in order to promote an emerging nation successfully as a lucrative market for foreign entrepreneurs, policy makers have to sustain the ongoing changes in the financial, communications and transportation sectors. In the same vein, government officials need to maintain the current momentum of marketing the attractiveness of the Ghana's market to potential foreign investors and Ghanaian entrepreneurs living abroad. Furthermore, due to problems caused by fierce competition from imported products, key decision makers need to assist domestic companies by making funds available for the purposes of research and development as well as capital investment.

It has also been postulated that the significance of marketing as an organizational function determines the extent to which marketing principles are practised (Akaah and Riordan, 1988). That is, the greater the perception of the relative importance of the functional role of marketing, the higher the prospects of marketing practices being deemed applicable. Consequently, it is expected that there will be a greater emphasis on market-oriented activities as the perception of the importance of marketing's functional role in an organization is enhanced. Finally, the current growth in Ghana's GNP, together with a continuous shift from a seller's economy to a buyer's market and from an economy of central command to a market economy should result in an increased focus on market-oriented behaviours.

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Author:Appiah-Adu, Kwaku
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Date:Jun 1, 1997
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