There has been a significant increase in scholarly research focusing on marketing capabilities as an important aspect of marketing theory–based explanations of firm performance. This growing research interest in marketing capabilities has also been reflected in the international marketing literature. However, it is unclear whether and how thinking and research about international marketing capabilities differs from that of marketing capabilities in a domestic market context. To explore this question, the authors conduct a review of studies of marketing capabilities in the most influential journals publishing research in international marketing. They supplement this with insights from interviews with executives in firms engaged to varying degrees in international marketing. The study suggests that there remain numerous important unanswered questions in conceptualizing and empirically researching international marketing capabilities.
The concept of capabilities in the marketing literature is not new. Drawing on theory and empirical work in strategic management, researchers have generally viewed capabilities as complex bundles of skills and knowledge embedded in the organizational processes by which a firm’s available resources are transformed into valuable outputs (Day 1994). As capabilities are developed over time and become embedded in organizational processes and routines, they are difficult for rivals to observe and imitate, thereby enabling firms that possess them to enjoy sustainable competitive advantage (Grant 1996; Grewal and Slotegraaf 2007; Peteraf 1993). Marketing researchers have conceptualized marketing capabilities in terms of a firm’s ability to use available resources to perform marketing tasks in ways that achieve desired marketing outcomes (Morgan, Katsikeas, and Vorhies 2012). The literature suggests that marketing capabilities are especially valuable (Dutta, Narasimhan, and Rajiv 1999), inimitable (Morgan, Vorhies, and Mason 2009), and nonsubstitutable in creating sustainable competitive advantage and superior firm performance (Krasnikov and Jayachandran 2008; Moorman and Rust 1999). In international markets, marketing capabilities have also been shown to improve firm performance by enhancing the level and sustainability of realized positional advantages (for a review, see, e.g., Tan and Sousa 2015).
Over the past 18 years, marketing scholars have intensified their focus on conceptualizing marketing capabilities and empirically examining their role in explaining firm performance. This growth in research attention has been mirrored in the international marketing literature. However, the extent to which conceptual and empirical approaches to studying marketing capabilities in the international context differ—and should differ—from those in domestic market contexts remains unclear. This is an important gap in existing knowledge in both theoretical and practical terms. Neil A. Morgan From a theory perspective, it is difficult for researchers to accurately conceptualize and measure marketing capabilities without knowing whether and how they may be different in international (vs. purely domestic) market contexts. In addition, without an understanding of whether and how the mechanisms linking marketing capabilities with performance outcomes may (or may not) differ in international marketing contexts, it is difficult for researchers to know what types of mediators and moderators to study.
From a managerial perspective, managers want to know both what types of marketing capabilities may be appropriate for their firms and how to build, maintain, and leverage them—and the answers to these questions may vary based on the degree to which they operate in international markets and how they are organized to do so. Without understanding whether and how these international-related contingencies may matter, it is impossible for international marketing researchers to provide appropriate guidance to managers.
We address this important gap in knowledge, in an effort to clarify thinking and provide guidance for future research in this theoretically interesting and managerially important area. As a starting point, we examine published research to identify and explore key differences between international and domestic marketing capabilities regarding their conceptualization, types, measurements, development, and relationships.We then further explore a number of important research questions arising from this analysis: (1)What are the drivers of marketing capability development in international markets? (2) Can marketing capabilities help improve firm performance in the international markets, and if so, how? (3) What conditions may enhance or weaken the marketing capability–firm performance relationship in international markets?
To accomplish this, we first review the literature to examine how marketing capabilities have been studied in international marketing contexts. Second, given important gaps identified in literature-based knowledge, we supplement this literaturebased analysis with insights from practice generated through in-depth interviews with executives in firms with varying degrees of internationalization. These inputs are then used to synthesize existing knowledge regarding marketing capabilities in international marketing, identify key knowledge gaps, and develop an agenda for future research in this important domain.
REVIEW OF EXISTING RESEARCH
Our literature review focuses on the most influential journals publishing international marketing research since 1999. To ensure the representativeness, completeness, and high quality of studies included in our review, the criteria for journal selection were based on previous ratings of journals in marketing and international business disciplines (Kirca and Yaprak 2010). In the marketing discipline, we chose six out of the ten most influential marketing journals from Baumgartner and Pieters’s (2003) study (i.e., Journal of Marketing, Journal of Marketing Research, Marketing Science, Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, Journal of Retailing, and Industrial Marketing Management). The remaining four journals in that study (i.e., Journal of Consumer Research, Harvard Business Review, Management Science, and Advances in Consumer Research) on average have published only .8% of international marketing–related articles from 1975 to 2004 and are not typical publication outlets for marketing strategy studies (Leonidou et al. 2010). Because all six journals are based in the United States, we further added one international journal, International Journal of Research in Marketing, which is considered a top marketing journal in Europe (Kumar, Sharma, and Gupta 2017; Roberts, Kayande, and Stremersch 2014).
From the international business discipline, we added three of the six top journals from Dubois and Reeb’s (2000) study (i.e., Journal of International Business Studies, Journal of International Marketing, and International Marketing Review). These are the most influential international business journals (Leonidou et al. 2010) focusing on marketing rather than management, whereas the remaining journals (i.e., Management International Review, Journal of World Business, and International Studies of Management and Organization) focus on management.
These considerations led us to select ten journals: Journal of Marketing, Journal of Marketing Research, Marketing Science, Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, Journal of Retailing, Industrial Marketing Management, International Journal of Research in Marketing, Journal of International Business Studies, Journal of International Marketing, and International Marketing Review. Eligible articles were identified by an issue-byissue manual search for qualitative and empirical articles that have “marketing capability(ies),” “marketing competence(s),” “capabilities,” and/or “competences” in their title, abstract, and/or keywords. We performed this search in EBSCO and the journals’ websites.
Following procedures recommended for literature review articles (e.g., Katsikeas et al. 2016; Lipsey and Wilson 2001), when further examination was required, two experienced researchers separately examined the articles to determine inclusion. Five criteria had to be satisfied for a study to be eligible for this review: (1) the focus of the study is on marketing capabilities,1 either as a primary objective or as part of a wider research design; (2) the study examines firms engaged in international business—that is, the firms’ operations and/or markets span multiple countries (e.g., multinational corporations [MNCs]) or the firm has export ventures, international new ventures/international joint ventures (IJVs), or international logistics/outsourcing businesses— or the study examines firms from multiple countries; (3) the unit of analysis is at the international microbusiness level (e.g., export venture, international venture), that is, the international context is a focus of the study rather than only a part of the sampling or a control variable; (4) the study is evidence based (vs. purely conceptual) in nature, such as empirical studies using primary and/or secondary data, or qualitative research such as case studies and meta-analyses; and (5) the researchwas published since 1999 (because very few studies of marketing capabilities were conducted before this period; Vorhies, Harker, and Rao 1999).
A total of 57 articles remained after this filtering process. Average interrater agreement was 93%, and we discussed all remaining discrepancies to reach consensus. Finally, we supplemented the search process by scanning the reference lists of the collected articles to identify any additional relevant articles missed through the keyword searches. This produced an additional 7 articles from top management journals (Strategic Management Journal, Journal of Management, and Decision Sciences), for a total of 64 articles included in this review. For each of these 64 published studies, we then cataloged (1) how they define marketing capabilities and the theories on which the conceptualization draws; (2) the types of marketing capabilities identified and/or examined; (3) the marketing capability operationalization and analysis method used (for empirical studies); and (4) findings reported in the empirical studies with respect to antecedents, consequences, moderators, and mediators connected with marketing capabilities in international marketing. The answers to these four questions are summarized in the various tables and discussed in more detail next.