Editor's note: Based in Singapore, Ati Sinaga is knowledge specialist on the knowledge management team at SSI. Based in London, Pete Cape is SSI’s director, global knowledge management.

Western researchers have voiced concerns about the quality of the responses coming from Chinese respondents, especially when it comes to noticeable over-claim of specific brand usage or other behaviors. In all other respects the data is “good” and consistent but there remains a nagging doubt about what is being claimed. We need to remember, of course, that China is a rapidly growing economy and, at the same time, a country that most researchers will not be personally familiar with. Stereotypes abound therefore whilst Western consumer goods brands are literally falling over themselves to exploit a market that is, in gross terms, the second largest economy in the world.

Given the Chinese psyche, it was our view that some of the China-related data-quality concerns could be caused by the ways questions are being presented and answer choices being given. We therefore devised experiments that varied the question and answer style. We also thought it possible that the over-claim may be more related to what might be described as “aspirational” categories. Almost as if the respondent is answering what they would like (or expect to get) next, not what they have right now. Our experiments therefore covered a number of different categories.

As all researchers should be aware, many of the problems in international research stem from translation issues. China, being a society only relatively recently open to the rest of the world, has an additional problem over and above the simple translation of words. This is the problem of translating a concept that might be totally alien to the Chinese whilst being known, even if not well, outside of China. We found in the leisure category, for example, that poor translations were responsible f...