The globalisation of a business is often the key to its success – but, when done badly efforts to globalise can result in embarrassing brand blunders. Take Pepsi for example. When introducing their product into the Chinese market they failed to recognise that their slogan “Come alive with the Pepsi Generation” actually translated as: “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave”. A slight oversell, perhaps.

Blunders like these highlight the importance of thorough and structured International Market Research, with respect for global heterogeneity. This blog post has been designed to enlighten our readers on three pitfalls of International Market Research and provide troubleshooting advice on how these can be avoided.

Lost in translation

The most immediate stumbling block to International Market Research is language and language translation. As the Pepsi example teaches us, it is often true that words do not translate with the same meaning, or simply do not translate at all. Consider the word “thank you” – a nicety in the United Kingdom but a sarcastic and sometimes offensive remark in India. Instead, cultural tradition in India follows that gratitude should be shown with an offer to return the favour.

Our advice:

  • Construct your surveys using simple and unambiguous language
  • Hire native speaking translators
  • Translate not once, not even twice, but multiple times – that is, translate your surveys and have native speakers translate it back. Refine your work until you reach an accurate translation
  • Where possible, rely on visual aids to disambiguate your message

Is your methodology compatible with your target culture?

The compatibility between your chosen methodology and target culture is not to be overlooked. Consider areas of the world like Saudi Arabia, where women must limit their interactions with men to whom they are not related. In a setting of this sort, a male led one-to-one interviewing session would not be appropriate. In addition to cultural differences, there are also global differences in digital technology. For example, Rodrigo Assumpção President of Dataprev reports that 59% of Brazilians have never had access to the internet nor used a computer. With most market research data now collected using digital surveying, this presents a problem while reiterating the need to tailor your methodology to your target culture.

Our advice:

  • During the design process of your International Market Research project, lend some time to study the culture and infrastructure, relevant to your subject pool
  • Develop your project in correspondence with local professionals who, through their life experience, will have invaluable insights to offer

Response bias

Broadly, the world is divided into the individualist West, and the collectivist East. In collectivist cultures there is a greater emphasis on the group and maintaining group harmony. In comparison, the emphasis in individualistic societies is on the self, and the personal goals of the individual. Maarten Lagae, Senior Manager of insights and analytics at Landor says that a collectivist upbringing impacts how people respond in surveys. According to Lagae, respondents with collectivist upbringings show greater susceptibility to the Acquiescence Bias – the tendency to agree or indicate a positive response to an asked question. Inevitably this results in a discrepancy between what these people say, and what they do.

Our advice:

  • Produce balanced surveys, such that for half of the responses, agreement indicates a high level on the subject in question and for the other half, agreement indicates a low level.
  • Alternatively, avoid framing questions that require the respondent to provide their agreement/disagreement
  • Use methods of implicit testing like Eye-Tracking and Face Emotion Analysis
  • Standardise responses from collectivist societies to normalise the distribution and correct for skew. This will reflect that higher ratings are less compelling by collectivist samples, than they are in individualist ones.

Extra tips:

  1. Be aware of local holidays – these will be important to factor into your project schedule/timeline
  2. Consider the country’s currency – currency movements impact the available budget for projects
  3. Literacy is essential to being able to part take in survey research – consider the literacy rate of your target region, and what could be done to involve subjects with poor literacy
  4. It’s not what you know, its who you know – place great importance on building relationships with local professionals.

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