Global Research – Not Just A Numbers Game

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Having had the opportunity and privilege to live and work on four continents and to meet and conduct research with “consumers” and decision-makers from all walks of life, across virtually all categories, we have come to understand that: Data gives us the answers to the questions we ask, but insight comes from understanding the truths behind the responses.

Global Marketing Research

While data alone can and does provide valuable information and answers to specific business questions, true insight often goes beyond the numbers and advanced calculations – it requires a deeper understanding of the respondents’ context, underlying motivations, and “culture” – not to mention knowing how to go about getting the data in the first place.

Sometimes clients turn to us when they are met with unexpected results to a proven business formula. In our role as Consultants using Consumer Insights on the quest for answers to our clients’ business questions, our job is not to just get “answers,” but to ask the RIGHT questions, the RIGHT way, to get the RIGHT answers! While clients may not always feel like they have the time to think things through, we absolutely must convince them to take the requisite time.

In the past, clients might have recycled a questionnaire that was crafted for a specific segment in a specific country – had it translated and fielded elsewhere – but we all (should) know better now. Business/Strategic research and decisions must take into account peoples’ underlying behaviors, realities, and place on the consumption or technological access and adoption “curves.”

A few examples:

  1. When everyone is a winner, how do you choose?
    We vividly remember a range extension concept test in the Health & Beauty category that was conducted in the Middle East, where the lowest top-two box Appeal score for a new concept test was 97% - and the differentiation at the top-box level wasn’t any better. It turns out that the brand was so beloved, iconic, and reminiscent of simpler times - and the respondents so eager to please and delighted to be heard - that we had to abandon the usual metrics to derive and forecast a winner. Thank goodness for the flexible, creative, and patient Ph.D.’s in our Advanced Analytics department!
  2. When business questions/issues arise from not taking mundane realities into account:
    A multi-iteration video game property that had experienced tremendous global success as a traditional game (console/PC) was inexplicably failing in a large, key Latin market. The launch of a new, mobile-centric tie-in that was designed to give gamers even more places and ways to play was failing spectacularly. Other markets were behaving as expected: high awareness drove high adoption, as gamers eagerly embraced the portable option. But not in this market, where downloads were few and well below expectations, and retention rates were abysmal… It turns out that not taking into account the structure of mobile plans where consumers are charged for every megabyte over their plan limit—and where caps were mostly in the “low hundreds”—is a problem, when the initial download of a game, no matter how beloved, is over a gigabyte in size before playing or downloading accessories!
  3. When one fails to recognize that what is “old, reliable, but stale” to you, is “new, refreshing, and liberating” to others – and very hard to reconcile:
    When an established North American brand was looking to select its new Global ambassador to promote global growth, it could not reconcile its iconic, trusted, but “mundane” status in its home and long-established markets, with its edgy, disruptive perception in emerging markets. What message, or who, could embody these contradictory perceptions, leverage the gravitas of trust (without looking stodgy and stifling momentum), and excite and cultivate the new markets? How to stay faithful and engaging to the brand, employees, and consumers who got you “here,” maintaining their loyalty and support—without impeding your evolution or alienating the next generation that was propelling the brand?

These are just a few of numerous examples showing that successfully conducting any kind of business in a multi-“reality,” multicultural world requires careful planning, cultural sensitivity, and an understanding of diverse consumer perspectives.

As the world gets smaller, we can no longer afford to assume that our “culture” is the same as (or better) than others. Where some of us have the luxury of considering a distinct and ever-growing spectrum of “soaps” to better wash ourselves, our clothes, our homes, etc.—others simply aspire to an affordable “bar” for all three, as that is already so much better than what they currently have. If our realities can be so different for something as simple as “soap”—just think how different our needs and wants for other products and services can be—and how different and challenging the conditions under which we ask our questions can be.

Since at heart we’re Consultants utilizing Consumer Insights to solve business problems, we wanted to share a few key, sometimes obvious, considerations to keep in mind when conducting multicultural global research:

  1. Seek cultural awareness and sensitivity.
    It is not always possible to quickly develop a deep understanding of the cultural values, customs, norms, and nuances of the countries where you do research. Engaging with trusted local experts and partners who have experience (and expertise) in specific markets is important. Be aware of potential cultural biases and avoid making assumptions based on your own cultural perspective, especially if it is limited.
  2. Define your objectives clearly.
    While global markets can be similar, they are not identical, and the cultural, geographic, and demographic factors will influence not only the market itself but will also shape consumer behavior. What data is essential for you to make a business decision? What answers to which questions are you seeking? Questions and scenarios should be tailored to each country or market you are studying.
  3. Localize research materials & methods.
    1. Materials: Ensure that your research materials, such as questionnaires, surveys, and interview scripts, are culturally appropriate and accurately translated into the local language. Adapt your research approach to suit the cultural context, taking into account regional differences, dialects, and even communication styles. Even something as simple as Likert scales should be examined—"strongly agree" can be interpreted differently in different markets.
    2. Methods & Devices: Be sure to consider the audience and their access to devices – and the cost of said access when fielding the surveys. In developing countries, it is common to send interviewers on site with tablets to administer surveys (or supply the appropriate access) which require exposure to stimulus (choice tasks, marketing asset or display evaluations, etc.). Further, this allows the respondent, who might not have ready internet access at home or may be paying for data on a per-MB, capped plan, a much easier time in completing the survey.
    3. Experienced translators, local research partners, and native language speakers are essential during this phase—know what you don’t know, and don’t be afraid to ask questions when needed.
  4. Consider data privacy laws.
    Thoroughly review data privacy laws in the markets you would like to study, ensuring compliance with local data protection regulations in each country. For example, while race and ethnicity questions have become ubiquitous in US surveys, many countries in Europe prohibit researchers from collecting this information. Respect participant confidentiality, obtain informed consent, and handle personal data in accordance with legal and ethical guidelines.
  5. Interpret with caution.
    Interpreting multicultural study results requires a thoughtful and nuanced approach. Place the findings within the broader historical, social, and cultural context to avoid drawing hasty conclusions and overgeneralizations. Look for alternative explanations and review similar studies or even relevant academic research. Finally, seek expert opinions from practitioners who specialize in multicultural or global studies. Their expertise can provide valuable insights and help you better interpret the study results.
  6. As mentioned throughout—avoid forcing a single solution (if the findings don’t support it).
    Consider each market individually, before taking a holistic view. If most results align, then focus on the outliers to inform and evaluate deliberate amendments to the global plan. Make certain that the voices of local clients and partners are considered.

TLDR: Business climates (and survey environments) are made up of differing realities: social empowerment and constraints, religious and secular traditions, historical influences, levels of education, and how far removed one is from the most basic of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Though global/multi-national studies and most business questions can seem daunting, often success “simply” depends on approaching them with open-mindedness and a willingness to explore the complexities of cultural and geographic diversities.

Have you ever had a face-palm moment – and was it before or after the data was in?


John Gachelin

John Gachelin

Senior Vice President Global Research

John has more than 20 years of marketing research experience and has worked at Decision Analyst for over a decade. He has a strong background in Global Research and is currently leading the Global Research Team. In addition to having lived and worked in the U.S., Indonesia, and South Africa, has conducted both B2C and B2B research across a myriad of categories around the world. A dual-national (U.S. and France) who grew up in both the United States and Switzerland, John is a native English and French speaker and has a basic command of German.

Katia Delgado

Katia Delgado

Research Director, Global Research Team

Katia has more than 15 years of experience in both quantitative and qualitative fields, including exploratory research, customer satisfaction tracking, brand positioning and impact, new product development, and custom research. She has extensive expertise in creating studies that reflect unique challenges and opportunities organizations face, developing original instruments rather than using “canned” solutions, and telling impactful stories that challenge assumptions.

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