It is not unusual nowadays to design a market research campaign covering many countries. This isn’t unreasonable as most corporates service global markets and must understand their different needs. However, international studies bring with them a number of research implications.
Before committing to carrying out research in a dozen countries, it is worth considering why it is necessary to cover such a large number. The immediate answer may well be “because we sell in all these countries and they are all important to us for different reasons”. However, it is unlikely that all the countries will be of equal importance. Indeed, it is more than likely that just two or three countries will dominate. The question therefore should be, “which countries are crucial to the objectives of this survey and which are of peripheral interest?” It may be that a question of this kind can narrow the countries down and in so doing, will simplify the task.
When designing a multi-country study, consideration has to be given to 5 important factors:
Data collection methods. From a practical point of view, what methods of data collection can be used in the different countries? It has now become virtually impossible to carry out telephone interviews with large companies in the US if the researchers do not have access to a direct telephone number and a contact name. Even then, the use of voicemail makes telephone interviewing difficult and expensive. This has led to the domination of online panel interviews in the US. However, online panels of business-to-business respondents are often few and far between or of low quality in many countries outside the US and the more developed countries of Europe. Therefore, telephone interviews may be the most obvious and practical option. This being said, getting hold of people by telephone in certain countries, such as Japan and South Korea, is not easy because in those countries it is not normal protocol to divulge even quite ordinary insights to an unknown person at the other end of a phone line. Multi-country studies may well require different data collection methods and the different methods could require different approaches to questioning. Melding the results is something to think about before the study commences.
Questionnaire translations. Almost certainly a study involving a number of different countries will require a mix of different languages. If the questionnaire starts in English (and usually it does) then the questions must be simple and straightforward so that as little meaning as possible is lost in translation. It should not be assumed that anyone with a command of a language can act as a translator. Interviewers carrying out the foreign language questionnaires are not usually the best translators. Translations are best left to translation agencies and there are a number that specialize in market research questionnaires.
Extended timelines. Arranging the translations and having the translations checked inevitably burns up valuable time. A study planned in a single language that would take eight weeks to carry out could well require 12 weeks if it is to be conducted in multiple languages. Checking the translations and managing the quality checks on the different country studies is a painstaking process which should not be scrimped.
Inter-country comparisons. Bringing together the results from a multi-country study presents different challenges. To what extent can you compile data from different countries into one result? Equally, how comparable are the different country results? We know that certain cultures, particularly in developing countries, can be more generous in their responses than others. Normalizing data from different countries isn’t easy and it is often best to look at each country within its own country norms.
Budgets. Finally, all this comes with a cost. In the enthusiasm to carry out a multi-country study, budgets can be forgotten until the proposals roll in. The shock wave of finding out that there is a $200,000 price-tag may jolt the study back to reality and instead of research across a dozen countries, it steps back to a study of the three or four countries that really matter.