The culture of the region being researched will have an impact on how marketers conduct the research, what is asked, and the length or form of the information received. The willingness and ability of respondents to spend time on the process and provide a free-form response are influenced by factors that include culture and education, the market conditions, and the segments being studied. Cultural and individual preferences, which vary from country to country, also have an impact on research techniques. While U.S. businesses often like to generate research that gathers numbers they can sort and manipulate, companies in other nations might use other approaches. In Japan, for example, researchers might gather hard data about details such as shipments, inventory levels, and retail sales and combine them with soft data from interviews, conversations, and personal experience that come from site visits.
Traditional qualitative data tools – interviews, focus groups, and observation – are used in international research but researchers might need to use or evaluate the results differently. Interviews work best when the company needs in-depth answers to specific, narrow questions. Focus groups are effective at helping researchers learn more about attitudes, perceptions, and opinions. Technology also makes it possible for focus groups in different regions to interact with each other. When using focus groups internationally, though, it helps to understand that some cultures are uncomfortable with the frank and open discussions that might happen freely elsewhere. In addition, some cultures believe that disagreeing with another – a hallmark of focus group discussions – is rude, while others consider certain topics to be taboo.
Observation is especially useful for those who are completely unfamiliar with a region because this method provides a firsthand opportunity to watch and learn. Trade missions to other nations are excellent opportunities for experiential information through observation in new markets. Observation can also help with the details of product refinements for specific regions. Knowing this, Toyota once dispatched a team of engineers and designers to the U.S., where they discreetly observed as women got into and operated their cars. Key observations – such as how women with long fingernails had trouble opening doors – led to subtle design changes. Be aware of regional regulations regarding observation, too. In Europe, researchers and marketers must schedule retail store checks with store managers in advance.
Surveys, which are quantitative tools, are typically conducted with questionnaires that might be administered in person, by mail, or over the telephone. While they can generate useful information, their level of insight depends on a number of factors in a global market – such as availability of telephones or even telephone numbers, cell phones versus landlines, the quality of the postal system, and whether or not the targeted demographic can even be reached (for example, in some regions, women are inaccessible). All of these factors can vary from region to region so understand the options before investing in this method in a given market.
Cultural Sensitivity in Questions
When generating survey questions, it is important to be sensitive to cultural differences that can have an impact on what is acceptable and what is not. Questions about age or income will be accepted differently in different countries. In regions such as Asia and the Middle East, it is considered bad form to ask questions about employees, performance, standards, and financing. Sometimes, the solution is just to reframe the question in a less sensitive format. Rather than ask, “How old are you?” ask, “In what year were you born?”
Pay careful attention to the translation of questions. For example, a researcher once used the phrase “group discussion” in a questionnaire for Russian executives only to learn that it translated to “political indoctrination session.” It helps to use a translation-retranslation approach, when the researcher writes the question, has it translated, and then has a second translator return the question to the original language. This technique helps identify potential missteps.
Another recommended safeguard is using alternative wording. This lets the researcher use questions that address the same issue but are worded differently and that resurface at various points in the questionnaire in order to check for consistency in how respondents interpret the question.