The Modern Researcher's Guide to Conducting Research to a Global Market

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Market research in general is a crucial task for organizations or businesses trying to find out what consumers want and need. As technology breaks down geographic and communication barriers in the global marketplace, no business can be considered too small for international opportunities. Organizations of all sizes find themselves dealing with complex factors in growing their operations from local to global.

The growth of various industries on a global scale presents endless opportunities for brands and services. In order to create and garner value from the global market, delving into global or international market research helps organizations understand the workings of current and potential markets locally and abroad. Instead of focusing solely on locally aligned strategies, organizations need the global know-how obtained through global market research in order to stay on top of cultural and political factors plus legal requirements necessary to be effective with a much larger scope on the world stage.

While larger companies typically have the resources to compete internationally, global market research can be difficult for companies that do not have large budgets for research or marketing. It can be challenging to stretch resources to conduct large scale research internationally. Fortunately, businesses today have the option to outsource these tasks from market research to firms that have global expertise in market research services. These market research providers have the necessary tools and techniques to successfully conduct global market research and produce results that would support the global decision making process of a business. The systematic collection and interpretation of data empowers businesses to make complex and competitive decisions that would benefit them in expanding into foreign markets.

This in-depth guide will discuss the issues, opportunities, and tools involved in successfully conducting global market research. We will tackle the following aspects:

Market Research on a Global Scale

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A business should be adaptive and flexible in order to gain value from marketing strategies in the global arena. The international environment is very diverse and dynamic - the global market is ever changing and these developments necessitate undertaking international market research in order for marketing strategies to be effective and to ultimately make sure that the business remains competitive on the world stage.

There are a lot of factors that drive companies into conducting market research internationally. These can include the need for careful positioning of products in various countries, ensuring compliance with country regulations, the application of appropriate translation methods for varying regions, and many more.1

Before implementing any kind of market research in the field, it is very important for an organization to identify its objectives within the foreign market it’s trying to penetrate. With this information at hand, the market researcher can then design the structure of the research around filling the gaps of data specific to that foreign market. Missing this crucial step in international market research may lead to miscalculations and misunderstandings that may snowball into very expensive mistakes.

Challenges of Conducting Global Market Research

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Conducting market research on a global scale is different from domestic market research. Techniques and methods used in domestic market research may also be applied in global market research. However, consumer preferences are not so easily determinable. Comparability across markets is made more complex because of the diversity of social, cultural, and economic differences in consumption. Factors that affect different consumption behaviors in cultures include:2

  • Cultural norms (individualistic/collectivistic cultures, patriarchal/matriarchal cultures, tradition-based consumption patterns, etc.). An example might be Japan, where agreement is obtained more through group consensus and where individuals are sometimes reluctant to be firm on a free-standing opinion. In such a situation, a web-enabled focus group is likely to get better results than a series of web-enabled interviews with the same number of people.
  • Race (biological differences among races such as skin types, hair types, or propensity toward specific medical conditions). An example might be a Pharma company desiring to sell a skin care solution designed for Caucasians but which needs reformation for a different genetic profile to gain market share in Kenya.
  • Climate (meteorological conditions varying by location). An example might be a U.K. based company where there is a prevalence of humidity selling makeup products and in the Middle East, where there is little moisture in the air and the skin becomes dry.
  • Economy (indicators of economic progress and development of a market such as purchasing power). An example would be the need to conduct the research solely through mobile phones in India where there is a much higher propensity toward mobile phone ownership than computer ownership.
  • Religion (restrictions and guidelines based on the religious beliefs of a market). An example would be avoiding Friday interviews in a Muslim country which is considered an important holy day.
  • History (historical events or progress of countries over time have effects on consumer behavior and beliefs). An example would be research on the travel preferences of the LGBT community, which traditionally was not segmented as a group to market to by the mainstream media, but which has gained widespread acceptance in many countries through significant changes in perception in the last ten to twenty years.
  • Language (some countries may speak the same language but various regions may have words or phrases with different connotations). An example would be Canada, where if interviewing in the province of Quebec, it would be necessary to offer the option for interviews to be conducted in either French or English, or the Catalonia region of Spain, where interviews would need to be offered with the option of Catalan or Spanish.
  • Geographical constraints (some countries are vast and may have a more challenging population to sample compared to smaller, easily accessible populations). An example would be the U.S., where perceptions in central ‘Heartland’ states can be widely different from portions of Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, and the Northeast Corridor from Boston to Washington D.C.
  • Infrastructure (transportation to facilities where research is conducted; internet strength to participate in a web-enabled research study). An example would be Malaysia, where the interviewing of respondents outside of Kuala Lumpur, the capital, is seriously constrained by both transportation and limited internet.
  • Laws and regulations (that affect what is allowed when dealing with research participant information). An example would be the European Union, where individuals must clearly opt in to a request that they share their personally identifiable information (PII), as opposed to the researcher assuming that permission has been granted by a mere verbal ‘ok.’

Methodically speaking, global market research requires more time and attention in terms of execution. Research design, data gathering, and overall coordination in various countries are just some of the issues that need to be carefully addressed before international market research can be done. While market research is clearly not confined by borders, the international market researcher would have to be knowledgeable of the respective local customs and settings in order to successfully carry out the research. It is imperative that researchers be aware of the circumstances in which they will be conducting their research as well as the appropriate method for that particular population. For example, some cultures may be sensitive to a particular topic and the researcher must know the proper approach in carefully and respectfully drawing out responses and insights.

The Impact of Technology in Global Market Research

Technology has greatly improved methods and tools for marketing and research but it has also opened up regulations and compliance issues in various territories. Market researchers of today now face the task of planning accordingly when they handle respondent data across borders, as many countries have their respective requirements in terms of respondent privacy and data security compliance. Nowhere is this more prominent than the EU, where the newly-effective GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) has taken effect as of May 25, 2018.

Another factor to consider is the continued technological developments in media and mass communication. Due to this, populations worldwide grow more familiar with a common set of preferences and even interests4. Additionally, worldwide expansions of brands may contribute to preferences of certain populations that may not be wholly aligned with their traditions or cultures, therefore changing the consumer landscape of those markets. Shifts like these imply that the global market in transition requires better research design that is adaptive to the advanced market and that modern in-depth international market research methods are needed for results that would guide international business decision-making.

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In summary, before conducting global marketing research, it is important to:

  • Know the major motives and objectives of the company trying to penetrate the international market.
  • Design the research framework and method accordingly and in consideration of the existing infrastructures within the territories involved in the research.
  • Find a market research service with global expertise or coordinate with local market research providers who are well-versed in the nuances of the target market.
  • Thoroughly research territorial limitations such as language barriers, levels of literacy, infrastructure - and how to address them.

 

Global Market Research Methods and Tools

Modes of International Marketing Research

International Marketing Research can be categorized into two modes: single-country research and multi-country research.2

Single-country Market Research

Single-country Research

Single-country research is research targeted to only one foreign country. This is when organizations try to figure out if their domestic-based strategies would be applicable in only one particular country’s market. This mode of research is useful in identifying the characteristics unique to a particular foreign market and requires the business conducting the research to adapt their service or product in order to meet the needs of their target foreign demographic.

An example of single-country research outside of a brand’s host country is consumer packaged goods (CPGs) in the food and beverage verticals. Let’s say you are marketing a wheat-based flake breakfast cereal - something akin to the ‘Wheaties’ brand available in the U.S. A brand like this would typically sell the product by using important and recognizable sports figures on the packaging. These might be people known for their sports achievements, like an Olympic medal, or their commitment to health. But an Olympic winner from the U.S. or a prominent American football player would be potentially insulting to many cultures who have their own Olympic winners and sports legends in soccer (football) or basketball. Nor can a brand automatically assume that because a figure in a local country is prominent, that the figure is widely regarded favorably. The goal here is to sell the product by attracting identification with it. Therefore market research which tests the viability of various brand spokespersons in a target country is essential.

This is where the opportunity for web-enabled market research comes into play. When dealing with a country thousands of miles away, it is both expensive and time-consuming to try to do this type of research in person. What’s more, with markets moving at lightning pace today, a brand needs to test options for brand spokespersons as quickly as possible and get the packaging completed and the updated product branding onto the shelves.

Here is where the best two options are either web-enabled IDIs or the use of an MROC to conduct the research. With web-enabled interviews, the researcher can show various packaging options to the respondent and get immediate feedback. Any number of target interviews can be set. The respondents can also be drawn from various parts of the target country, further broadening the scope of what can be included.

Alternatively the researcher can use an MROC, an online community platform or a bulletin board to conduct the research. A great activity in this case would be a ‘sort & rank’ exercise. With sort & rank activities, the respondent is presented online with a visual set of boxes that each contain an image. In this example, there would be various options of potential packaging for the cereal. The respondent would then sort & rank the boxes by preference. In the end, the researcher would take the preferences of all the respondents in the study and aggregate them, with comments, and present recommendations to the brand based on the preferences expressed.

Multi-country Market Research

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Multi-country research, on the other hand, is determining the adaptability of marketing strategies to more than one country market. Multi-country research can be further categorized into three:2

  1. Independent multi-country research occurs when a company’s subsidiaries conduct research on the same products in various countries independently. While this may seem like a focused method of researching, its disadvantages include duplication of effort and difficulty in terms of comparability of data sets from different countries. This is really an old-fashioned method and has been surpassed by the flexibility of using web-enabled research technology to gather this kind of data simultaneously from a central point.
  2. Sequential multi-country research is usually implemented for targeting a launch of a service or a product in succession in multiple countries. This can be useful in researching multiple foreign markets since insights from the first one or two markets can be applied in adapting to the foreign markets that will be researched next. Web-enabled technology also facilitates a sequential country study, as visual examples and findings from the first one or two markets can be used inside a web room to show collected examples to the potential new country markets and obtain reactions.
  3. Simultaneous multi-country research is conducting market research in multiple countries at the same time. This type has traditionally been very challenging to the organization or researcher in terms of coordination and maintaining the integrity and comparability of the research. However, today it is possible to conduct multi-country research simultaneously and very quickly through web-based research solutions such as web-enabled IDIs, web focus groups, and online communities or MROCs.

Let’s say for example that you have an international company that wants to market a new line of organic juices made entirely from fresh fruit ingredients. Perhaps this brand has been wildly successful in its host country, such as Australia. In this case, we will say the brand uses, as its core ingredient, the kiwi fruit that is widely available in Australia and an inherent part of Australian culture. The brand might not have thoroughly processed the concept that some cultures are unfamiliar with the kiwi fruit and might not purchase a beverage with such a prominent unfamiliar ingredient. Therefore market research in all of the target countries is essential.

With the massive changes in the amount of information people are exposed to in today’s world and with the tendency of people to change opinions rapidly, the need to conduct market research quickly is essential. In the case of the kiwi-based beverage and countless other examples, this can be accomplished with great speed by way of web-enabled research in each country, using web-based in-depth interviews (IDIs) or web-enabled focus groups which can be conducted in any language. A good choice for this research would also be an online bulletin board, which can be segmented by country with each segment in its own language.

Essential Tools for Global Market Research

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Businesses have progressed greatly alongside technology. In order to maximize the potential of today’s global market, international marketing researchers should know how to incorporate adaptive, culturally responsible approaches as well as adapt to the available technologies capable of enabling the facilitation of market research in a variety of foreign markets.

Successfully navigating market research projects on a worldwide scale would require a market research provider experienced in global communications. Additionally, researchers can minimize cost by opting for web-enabled or internet-based market research solutions with multi-language capabilities that would enable them to conduct market research globally wherever they are in the world. Global market research solutions include:

  • Translation services

It is an absolute necessity to have translation capabilities especially if the target countries for market research are unfamiliar territories. Coupled with multi-language transcriptions, translation services for market research are extremely helpful in gathering accurate insights in both the local and global context. Market research materials such as discussion guides, screeners, and stimuli can be translated into more language-appropriate materials that should better resonate with respondents.

  • Global market research respondent recruitment

Recruiting for foreign market research can be especially challenging. A lot of cultural factors are at play and participation is not so easily determined. International market researchers should perform thorough research in terms of the infrastructural capabilities of a particular market, selecting the right respondents, and determining their willingness to participate in a given context.

Respondent recruiting must take into account such cultural details as no interviews in Muslim countries on Fridays, no interviews in Orthodox Jewish communities on Friday afternoons or Saturdays, an no interviews in strongly Catholic cultures during Holy Week. Such nuances can be lost on inexperienced players and require a recruiter sensitive to cultural differences.

  • Global in-depth interviews and focus group services

Conducting in-depth interviews and focus groups internationally can be done online or by phone. In this case, it is vital to have an audio or web-enabled market research solutions provider with significant experience in connecting respondents to market researchers in different countries, including even hard-to-reach or remote locations. It is essential to have a provider that can offer two-channel audio that can simultaneously accommodate a respondent, a researcher, and a simultaneous translator during the web-enabled interview or web-enabled focus group, thus enabling the interview to be understood as it happens whenever the individual parties might be located.

  • A multi-language online community platform/online bulletin board

A multi-language online community platform would be helpful in gathering insights when it comes to asynchronous international market research studies. It can be customized depending on the native language of the participants, the content that will be shared, and the activities to be customized in cases of cultural or preferential limitations of the target respondent base. Bulletin board segmentation by country and language is very important in a multi-country study as it makes possible to keep all of the data in one bulletin board ‘instance,’ while also allowing data to be processed both by an individual country and in the aggregate.

  • Mobile qualitative tools for global market research

The ubiquity of mobile enables researchers to conduct market research in almost any language in almost any country. Mobile can also be used to run single country or multi-country international market research simultaneously. A mobile market research app should allow for audio recordings to be made in any language then transcribed into the language of choice of the project sponsor. It should also allow for discussion questions to be entered in any language and for respondent answers to be provided back in the language that matches the language of the questions posed.

  • Multi-language transcriptions
Researchers can have their recordings of in-depth interviews or focus groups translated and transcribed in their preferred language. Verbatim transcriptions would also be helpful in getting accurate and reviewable insights. While transcription rates vary, it is critical to choose a quality-driven transcription company and to not base a transcription decision on the lowest price. While cost can be a factor, accurate findings from a study are critical and can make the difference in a product success or failure. The wise researcher ensures that their transcription company of choice is one with a reputation for excellence and not one that promotes themselves on size of their transcription network or on price alone.

Importance of Global Marketing Research

Global Marketing Research may be daunting but it is necessary in trying to successfully navigate and penetrate a foreign market. Successfully navigating international or multi-country projects as well as emerging markets requires a research facilitator experienced in global communication. You need a proven global leader in connecting phone lines and creating audio recordings in virtually every country worldwide, powered by a combination of proprietary audio conferencing technology, online meeting software, web technology tools, superior recording capabilities, and a proprietary transcription system, along with understanding the variations in phone lines and web technology in both developed and emerging markets. This expertise needs to be supported further by international respondent recruiting capability.

Successful, well-conducted international market research minimizes the risk of wasted money, time, and effort from ill-informed marketing and financial decisions. Technological advances, cultural factors, and country-specific regulations should all be factored in to ensure that the research is well-designed and that only appropriate research methods are executed. Only through thorough preparation and execution will market researchers be able to uncover opportunities and insights that would drive businesses towards the right decisions in an international marketing context.

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Sources:

1van Bilgeren, M. & de Beuckelaer, A. (2006). International Marketing Research 
2Kumar, V. (2000). International Marketing Research. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
3Craig, C.S., & Douglas, S.P. (2005). International marketing research (3rd ed.). Chichester, UK: John Wiley and Sons.
4Craig, C. S. & Douglas, S. (1999). Conducting International Marketing Research in the 21st Century. International Marketing Review.

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