Editor’s note: Jay Zaltzman is the president of Bureau West Market Research and Marketing Strategy, Los Angeles.
Recently, a client asked for a proposal for international qualitative research. We were discussing her needs and I mentioned that I always solicit input from the local researcher in each country regarding the field dates and respondent recruiting, as well as the methodology and the discussion guide. My client hadn’t thought of doing that, and it increased her comfort level with the prospect of conducting research overseas. Clients are frequently concerned before embarking on international research. I recommend following the six steps below when conducting international research, to ensure a successful outcome.
Step 1: Find a local researcher in each country
It’s important to find a reputable local researcher you can trust in each of the countries where you want to conduct research. This ensures that you can benefit from the expertise of someone who truly understands the local market and avoid many of the pitfalls of international research. I’m lucky enough to be part of an international alliance of qualitative researchers, ThinkGlobal Qualitative, and when I need to find a researcher in a country where the alliance doesn’t yet have a presence, I’ll ask for a personal recommendation, either from a ThinkGlobal Qualitative member, or from a fellow Qualitative Research Consultants Association member.
Step 2: Consider the methodology
Clients naturally assume we should utilize the same methodological approach in each country in order to make valid comparisons between countries. That might not always be the case. My colleagues Piyul Mukherjee and Pia Mollback-Verbic from Quipper Research in India were asked to conduct in-home interviews with women about how they go about doing laundry. When conducting this type of research in the U.S., the researcher attempts to be a fly on the wall and asks the respondent to simply go about her tasks as she normally would. In India, that isn’t possible. A visiting researcher would be treated like an honored guest and the whole family would expect to take part in the interview. And the husband would give his opinion first, even if he has no knowledge about doing laundry! Mukherjee and Mollback-Verbic came up with a creative solution: They provided video cameras in advance and asked that the husband record and interview his wife while doing the laundry. That way, the husband could still feel that he was in control of the situation while letting the researchers obtain the wife’s opinions. As an added bonus, Muslim women could conduct the interview without a face covering. This is a great example of how changing the research approach for different countries actually resulted in more accurate and more comparable results.
Step 3: Make sure the dates work
Sometimes, figuring out when to conduct the research in each of the countries can be like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. One important piece to consider: holidays. Just as you wouldn’t conduct research on the Friday before Labor Day weekend in the U.S., you want to make sure to avoid dates around Golden Week in China or Bastille Day in France, for example. Just ask the local researcher and they’ll tell you not just the dates of holidays but also which ones involve days before or after when people are less likely to participate in research. They will also be able to tell you if your respondents would me more willing to participate on a weekday or a weekend. By considering all of this information and putting it into action with each country you are conducting research, you will be able to determine the best timetable for your project.
Step 4: Recruit the right people
When it comes to recruiting, we typically want to speak to similar respondents in each of the countries. But how to recruit those people is another matter. Just translating the screener isn’t always enough – in some cases questions need to be asked in a different way, to make sure we recruit the right people. Here’s an example: a German company hired me to conduct research in the U.S. They were looking for people who used various digital devices; one of the devices listed was a “handy.” The recruiters assumed that was some device they have in Europe but not in the U.S. but I remembered “handy” was slang for cell phone in German. Since it sounds like an English word, when the Germans translated the screener, they assumed we use that term, too. We would have missed many qualified respondents if we hadn’t caught that one!
Step 5: Examine the discussion guide
Clients tend to assume the discussion guide should be the same in each of the countries, to make sure we’re comparing apples to apples. But in many cases, we actually need to edit the discussion guide to obtain the same information. For example, my colleague Véronique Gaboriau (Polykali, France) points out that French focus group participants require more warm-up time and don’t feel comfortable diving directly into specific marketing questions. Ilka Kuhagen (IKM, Germany) notes that we need to spend more time reassuring German participants about privacy issues than we do with U.S. participants.
Step 6: Decide whether to attend in person
It’s possible to view the research remotely, watching via videostreaming and listening to the simultaneous translator. In between focus groups or interviews, you can talk to the moderator and ask questions and make any modifications needed to the discussion guide. I’ve utilized this approach successfully (though it was strange waking up at 2 a.m. to attend Korean groups remotely!). However, whenever possible, I recommend attending in-person. You’ll get a better feel for the discussions and be able to better interact with the local moderator. Just understand that jet lag is part of the package.
Follow my advice and you’ll be able to focus on enjoying the local cuisine in each country, rather than dealing with research problems!