Overcoming the challenges of international market research
Global research is important for the survival and growth of many businesses, whether it be to gain insight into new markets or to measure their customer experience internationally. However, one methodology may not be appropriate for every country in a global study, and it may not be appropriate to make direct comparisons between countries. Researching global markets requires businesses to make several considerations surrounding methodology, language, and culture, to avoid issues of bias and validity:
It’s only got easier to achieve global insight with the development of online methodologies. Surveying far-flung places from the UK, such as Burundi, Congo, Ecuador or Nepal, used to be an expensive task. Online methodologies have opened up realms of previously hard-to-reach populations, and reduced the cost and effort involved. Respondents can now complete surveys in their own time zone whenever is convenient to them, and there is no need for native speakers to conduct interviews. And for qualitative research, where you will still need native speakers to moderate, online technology will save on travel costs.
Whilst online research has made access to other cultures easier, it’s essential for researchers to consider the appropriateness of different methodologies. For example, online surveys are appropriate for most cultures, but in China email research is not so common. For Japan it is the inverse: people tend to not co-operate with telephone surveys as it is deemed impolite to call people you don’t know beforehand, so online research naturally works better.
With some methodologies, such as online focus groups or bulletin boards, attention also needs to be given to time differences, which can make combining people from different geographic locations more challenging.
Translations can be costly and often businesses will try to avoid this, expecting respondents to speak English. However, researchers must acknowledge that while approximately 20% of the population speak English, only 5% speak it as their first language, so we can’t expect everyone to express themselves fully in an English-speaking study. We recommend conducting research in native languages in order to collect richer feedback for your global insight, particularly when conducting qualitative research.
An aspect often overlooked is back translations. It can become very costly when verbatim or transcripts need to be translated back into English for analysis purposes. One solution is to use machine translation like Google Translate, which is constantly advancing and works well when you only need to get the gist of what has been said. But for some languages it can be problematic – it doesn’t understand nuances or sensitivity, nor recognise typos. For example, issues can occur because European languages such as German have a very different grammatical structure to English, or because Asian languages such as Japanese are often more pictorial in nature. Generally, unless translating very short phrases, it is best to combine Google Translate with human translation.
When conducting international research, you need to keep in mind the inevitable differences in culture and levels of digital exposure when making comparisons between countries. For example, when looking at customer satisfaction data, you can see results in Asia tend to be more positive than in Europe. This may be because they receive better service, but it can also be that their culture is more polite and less inclined to criticise.
Within Europe, you can also see differences. German people tend to be more outspoken for example, while Portuguese tend to be more positive in their feedback. Residents of countries that have been under a communist regime, where citizens would have been monitored by secret police, are often more superficial and positive in their responses (e.g. Romania).
All in all, we would recommend being very careful when making comparisons between countries when gaining global insight. Keep checking why differences occur and use previous data for each country as the main benchmark.
At Beehive, we have expertise and extensive experience of working with global brands (read one of our case studies of a global consumer research panel here!). Get in touch to find out how we can help provide you global insight to transform your business.