The Perils of international Market Research

As organisations continue to pursue more ambitious global strategies, the need to be able to understand consumers in faraway places in a timely and cost-effective way is increasing. Here at Marketing Sciences we manage a healthy number of quant and qual multicountry research projects. About a third of our business is international, spanning across more than 50 markets (from Australia up to Nigeria).  These projects mainly involve new product development, Packaging research, Retail/category management, Volume/pricing modelling U&A and Healthcare and require results to be compared across countries to provide our clients with actionable local insights.

I feel that sometimes it’s easy to get taken away by thinking that an international research project can be managed as a domestic one. Right?! After all the research process is the same: setting objectives, designing methodology, collecting data, and reporting findings.

Well not really… but how does domestic market research differ from international market research?

I will discuss below some of the factors that  I think should be taken into consideration  by researchers who engage in global market research studies.

1. Secondary data. National census data, customer data and other forms of secondary data which we often use to scope the research objectives or  as a supplement to primary data might be difficult to get hold of, unreliable or may not exist in developing parts of the world.

2. Research design & data collection method. Selecting these carefully considering  the market and unit of analysis is also very important.  Sometime doing online in markets like Mexico just would not work (you would exclude tout court more than 70% of the population!) or might be the most expensive alternative as desktop computers would have to be set up in a central location. Face to face interviews may not be the best way to collect data on woman grooming habits in more conservative markets such as the Middle East. If the target is the wealthy town middle class then an online survey might be a better option. For international B2B research there are also challenges. Expectations around interview location, format and incentives can be very different.  In the USA incentives in B2B research are illegal while you would not be able to speak with anyone without them in China. Obviously you do not have to know what is acceptable and what isn’t for each culture. You just need to know somebody that does!

3. Project timeline. When planning your project timeline there are also other important factors to keep in mind. Is there any product that needs to be shipped? Did you factor in enough time should there be any delays with customs? Questionnaire translation into local languages is likely to take some time. Ideally this should be done by native speakers and then retranslated back by a third person to double-check that the original meaning has not been distorted. Different holiday calendars and working across different time zones can create further delays in communication. Local capacity can also beef up turnaround time. In some countries town centres are quite small and it might be difficult to do more than 80-120 interviews per location. For larger projects it might be necessary to spread fieldwork across several locations impacting on research cost and time.

Finally are you required to present the research results to the local marketing team? You might want to start to apply for your visa… You can check here for which countries you need one.

At Marketing Sciences we draw upon the local knowledge of our ResearchAlliance  partners to guide us as to what works in their market. This is a group of like-minded medium sized agencies operating across the world. With international research part of everyday life for most execs at Marketing Sciences, we’re constantly talking to our local partners. We know them and, more importantly, they know us and what we expect.

Here are some top tips based on our experience:


For further reading:

Robert B. Young, Rajshekhar G. Javalgi ‘International marketing research: A global project management perspective’, Business
Horizons (2007) 50, 113–122

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Frances Lyon
01962 842211
Article date - 25/01/2013
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