International Qual Research: Top Tips for Success

If you are about to embark on international qualitative research, or you are about to commission a project, here are some important tips to consider, from some clued-up quallies who have experience researching all over the world. We’re part of the Research Alliance at MSU, a group of international agencies, which we know and trust to run research for us and produce good quality work.


1.       Build relationships with ‘like-minded’ local agencies

The international agencies are an extension of your team, so it’s important to build strong relationships with those that you trust to deliver the output you need. Being an independent British agency, we’re in a lucky position to choose the best and most experienced agency partner, depending on the project in hand.

2.       Account for cultural nuances

We may be stating the obvious here, but cultural differences will impact on the effectiveness of the methodology you choose. The ‘conventional’ British set up for focus groups does not suit all cultures, and some tasks may be less effective depending on who you’re talking to. For instance, Taiwanese respondents do not work well with written exercises, as it feels to much like ‘test’ conditions. Also, Japanese respondents have a tendency for deferential behaviour, so it’s likely they will just agree with whatever the moderator says.

International brands2

3.       Use your agencies as local experts

Local market and agency help is priceless. Wherever possible, get their expert advice on the context of the market, the suitability of the proposed research to the culture and insight on the people you’re talking to. Use them beyond project only work – they can be invaluable for thought pieces and proposals too.

4.       Get a local moderator to run the groups

However gifted a linguist on your team may be, we would always recommend a local moderator. There is a danger that non-native moderators will not understand all slang or cultural references, and could alienate respondents. For instance, a researcher on our team who is fluent in Russian would still not moderate Russian research; as he would miss references of e.g. the Soviet times (specific secret slang that was invented at the time, film/song references that people often use to bring to life their point of view, etc.).

5.       Wherever possible, attend the research

Attending the research is critical to ensuring that the objectives are met, the research runs smoothly, and there is consistency across the markets. In this case, it’s essential that you hire a simultaneous translator, and can personally communicate with the moderator, to deal with any issues that arise as the research is in full swing.

6.       Start the research in the most appropriate country (often the UK)

The first part of the research is the most crucial, and acts as a pilot. It is important that you have full understanding of everything going on in the first group, to iron out any issues early on, to build on before rolling out to the other markets. For example, there may be issues with discussion guide set up, or misunderstanding of stimulus.

7.       Check out the category in the local context

Go and see the products you are researching in-store, to see for yourself any consistencies or differences at fixture, in the real environment. For example, in Brazil, Ferrero Rocher is sold with the super-premium chocolate brands, whereas in Australia, they’re seen as mass market, cheaper products.

8.       Keep it an iterative process

Share outcomes and knowledge of the story so far with your team (even if they’re spread throughout other countries), through regular FaceTime or Skype updates – in this way, any changes or amendments can be made iteratively. Create a report and analysis template for the team, for immediate post-group reporting in each market. This will guarantee consistency across the markets and speed up your analysis time if each local market takes the same format. The template can be used as a basis for the FaceTime/Skype progress meetings.

9.       Make full use of the collective knowledge and insight you’ve gathered

Getting together for an analysis session with all the local moderators in a conference Skype / call is hugely beneficial for getting a global point of view while being sensitive to local nuances. This isn’t always possible due to time differences, but at the very least, get a regional point of view on the findings.

10.   And finally, travelling with stimulus

Wherever possible, get the local agency or company to arrange any stimulus for you. Think about the countries you are travelling to, and the safety risks of sending stimulus abroad. As the saying goes, don’t put all your eggs in one basket… something we learnt the hard way, when our luggage got lost mid-transit. Additionally, bear customs in mind when transporting goods between countries, as items can easily get held up with airport customs & security.

Abi Olingschlaeger is a member of the Qualitative team at Marketing Sciences Unlimited.

Image source: 28 Brands that go by different names in different countries 

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Abi Olingschlaeger
01962 842211
Article date - 19/04/2016
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