Domestic versus international marketing research

Key challenges of conducting international marketing research

So what are the main challenges of conducting marketing research in international markets?

In terms of market research tools and techniques, the approaches are generally similar, with the same intention of gathering and analyzing information for input into key marketing decisions. However, there are a number of additional challenges to consider when undertaking research in international markets, including:

  • There are language issues and associated accuracy of translations,
  • Even with accurate language translation, there are subtle differences in “everyday” terms and their meanings – for example, the word “loyalty” in an Asian market may have far greater significant than in a Western market,
  • The levels of literacy may vary across and within countries – this will reduce the effectiveness of any written research instruments, particularly printed and online questionnaires,
  • There is a risk – due to potential limited understanding of the host market – that the research problem is poorly defined. This generally occurs due to an ethnocentric orientation, where the home country managers perceive the problem from their own perspective,
  • Culturally, in may be unacceptable for females to be interviewed or observed – which would have the impact of not being able to gain access to a key decision maker, for some products, in the family,
  • Also in other cultures, consumers can be quite respectful and prefer not to provide negative opinion – therefore, when researching why a product is under-performing, these consumers will be hesitate to highlight any concerns that they have with the product or brand,
  • Some cultures are also less likely to willingly share information, as there is a general mistrust of authority and record collection – this might be the situation in some countries with a strong military or police background,
  • The infrastructure may not be in place to actually undertake the research fieldwork – such as limited phone penetration (for phone surveys), limited internet access (for online surveys), limited ability to group consumers for focus groups, and so on.

General guidelines and considerations for conducting international marketing research

When thinking about designing marketing research for international markets, given the above challenges, it will be necessary to:

  1. Clearly understand the research problem from the viewpoint of the host market (and not jump to conclusions),
  2. Consider the market research design relative to the available research infrastructure (that is, the ability to implement and execute surveys, observation and focus groups),
  3. Identify the potential cultural limitations (e.g. limited access to females and less willingness to openly share/provide information) and consider how that can be addressed (e.g. by using surrogate information) or how it will need to be considered in the analysis stage of the research, and
  4. It becomes more important to utilize local market research suppliers and agencies, particularly in host countries that are significantly different to the home country in terms of culture and infrastructure.
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