Guidelines for conducting international market research

International market research

Martin Hollis has extensive market research experience and is founder of international market research specialist Research Insight. Here he shares some guiding principles when conducting the different types of market research around the world.

How do you do market research?

A vast subject! Suffice it to say that the key to successful international market research is to maximise consistency to enable comparison of results across countries.

Types of market research – international surveys

There are several pitfalls to surveys as a method of market research, some of which are shown below:

  • Sloppy translation of questionnaire (including poor back-translation)
  • Some phrases simply cannot be translated in the way they are written in English
  • Different interviewer briefings (and interviewer professionalism), leading to different interpretations, in each country
  • Cultural differences across countries
  • Telephone in developed countries vs in-person where telephone penetration is low
  • “Scalar response bias” where some nationalities tend to give higher scores to questions with (for instance) a 5-point scale (Eg Italians score higher than Germans)
  • Client offices in each country having different agendas that are different from the client’s international/global team

A substantial amount of effort is required to ensure that the project and interviewing teams in each country has a clear understanding of why the survey is being conducted, what each question is designed to address, and what deliverables (data, summary report, etc) are required. Detailed written briefing documents, and consistent verbal briefings are essential.

The Project Co-ordinator needs to be willing to work at whatever time is necessary to support the local interviewing team. For instance, this often involves early morning starts when the survey is being conducted in Asia, and evening co-ordination work when the survey covers the Americas.

Types of market research – mystery shopping surveys

It is often difficult to conduct a survey without directly affecting or compromising the issue one wishes to explore. Incognito “Mystery Shopping” interviews are useful market research method for overcoming this problem. The service and responsiveness provided in a supermarket, petrol station, or by telephone call centres (customer service, complaints, technical support etc), are examples of when mystery shopping is used.

Results from mystery shopping surveys are often used as part of a quality improvement programme, and usually identify a series of (often low cost) initiatives that customers/callers would find desirable and that can be fairly easily implemented.

To ensure they are measuring valid “real life” experiences, interviewers must not announce their real purpose and must be entirely unknown to the team/staff they contact.

Market Intelligence

As customers become more informed and pressures of increased competition cause long term relationships with customers more difficult to maintain, it is more important now to know all you can about the market you work in than it has ever been.

Often utilising a combination of Desk and Primary research, and sometime mystery shopping, Market Intelligence now forms a critical part of a businesses decision making process.

Information on market size, share and growth, as well as information on possible technology, environmental and socioeconomic changes and how they are going to affect the marketplace are now the norm when facing a strategic decision.

Market Intelligence can be viewed at differing levels, with an overview looking at the industry from a “birds eye” giving a snapshot of the key players and the overall shape of the industry. This then allows you to highlighting a particular segment, sector or component of the marketplace to focus in on and establish a comprehensive understanding on how it works now as well as how those in the industry feel it will change in the future.

This is by far one of the more difficult topics to cover as it is very easy to become confused with a wash of different methodologies and information types. Combining perceptions, opinions and factual data can do more harm than good and stop you from reaching the objectives you set out to see. Likewise it is possible to enter the never ending loop of information gathering that never actually reaches a conclusion, only raises further questions.

Best done by the professionals this area of research requires significant levels of planning and discipline and really needs to be done by an impartial third party. Done well the Strategic advantage Market Intelligence can offer a company can make stronger than the rest and remove the reliance on “trial and error”. The secret as in all strategic areas, get in there first and make the others follow, always be in front.

Research methods for exporting

Export research helps to maximise sales in export markets, whether the need is to assess market feasibility (prior to market entry) or to better understand one or more export markets. Through carefully designed desk research, supplemented by well-targeted telephone depth interviews and, sometimes, by modelling, the aim of export research is to assess the potential for almost any product or service, internationally.

A typical report will provide detailed insight on the following:

  • Target geographies
  • Market size/trends
  • Existing competitors
  • Distribution strategies
  • Possible channel partner
  • SWOT analysis
  • Regulatory environment and
  • political/geographical issues
  • Logistic/transport considerations
  • Robust action-focused recommendations

In considering what you might want to assess in your export research, check out our other Open to Export articles, including articles about assessing the demand for your product, the five things to research before selecting a market, and our guide to getting started with market research.

Topics: Market Research
Export Action Plan