There is greater emphasis today than ever before for companies to offer their products and services in the world marketplace in order to benefit from the sales and profit potential beyond the boundaries of the U.S.
Newcomers to the international sales scene find doing business outside the U.S. different because of import/export regulations, different payment vehicles, intermediaries such as customs brokers and freight forwarders, language difficulties, and dramatically longer lead times in sending or receiving products. In essence, to be successful, anyone who enters the import/export business must be able to think very differently about traditional ways of marketing products or services.
As more companies enter the global market, there is an increasing need for research, both to help assess the demand for items and to identify the optimal way of marketing in foreign countries. As a result, one of the most interesting trends in the research industry in the 1990's is the expanded use of qualitative research (principally focus groups) by U.S. companies overseas.
Frequently the research is intended simply to confirm that the strategic marketing employed in the U.S. will work in other countries. In other cases the research is exploratory, either with regard to new product ideas or potential ways to advertise, promote, or package products or services in foreign countries.
There are some major differences in doing focus groups outside the U.S. and Canada. One cannot simply take the same materials used to conduct focus groups in the U.S. and send them to a research organization in a foreign country and expect to get comparable, or even reliable, results.
The following highlight some of the most significant differences. Naturally there are some significant differences by country, but this information should be useful as a general guideline in planning international research.
In light of these differences, it is important that companies take action to ensure that they get the results needed from foreign research. Have the international research managed by the same people who run the U.S. studies. The alternative is to use a U.S.-based foreign research company that can be a central point of contact and will handle the details abroad. This generally is not the organization that conducted the U.S. groups and therefore is the less desirable choice.
Have the U.S. research organization that generally implements your focus groups manage the project in foreign countries by developing the specifications for groups using U.S. standards and materials such as recruitment questionnaires, discussion guides, external stimuli, etc.; training the foreign moderator; and attending the foreign groups and listening to the proceedings using a translator. The U.S. representative can direct activities by requiring the moderator to check in during the session.
While this approach to foreign research is much more expensive than simply sending some materials to a local office of your company or to a local research company to execute in the market, it does guarantee much higher quality output than you will get from the alternatives. As most companies know so well, bad research is generally worse than no research. So if you are going to conduct qualitative research outside the U.S., spend the extra time and money, and do it right. It will be a small investment over the long term.