Global Research: Local Knowledge

Working with your client to prep for a focus group is even more important when dealing with cross-cultural issues and time constraints.

I got the call that morning. My team and I had to do a focus group that same night. A quick turnaround was one thing; been there, done that.

However, this was a whole different animal. I’d be moderating a focus group for a Chinese shoe manufacturer – a huge firm that had already been to 12 countries to learn as much as they could about shoe buyers throughout the world. When I picked up the phone, they’d just landed in Los Angeles. My agency had been recommended to help them learn about American consumer thinking and behavior. I knew that pulling this off would be a nice feather in my cap.

Three terms – “been there, done that”; “whole different animal”; and “feather in my cap” – would surely stop my Chinese client: They’d put “one’s thoughts in a whirl.”

And what does “one’s thought in a whirl” mean, anyway? That’s a Chinese term for “upset.” It can also mean, “confused.”

Confused yet?

When clients from a vastly different culture need consumer feedback from the U.S. market, they don’t run to the nearest English dictionary. Rather, they seek out someone from the U.S., an expert firmly rooted in the local culture and language who is adept at “translating” foreign focus group questions in a way that can be understood by American consumers. Otherwise, the client would take home feedback that would put “one’s thoughts in a whirl.”

Long-term relationships with my clients are always preferred. As we get to know each other, I come to understand their goals, and my sense of their organizational culture guides the fieldwork I do for them.

However, a multicultural challenge, particularly one that involves a lightning turnaround, requires an entirely different process. It’s something I call “Parachute Marketing.”

If you’ve ever been a focus group moderator, you’ve likely had that challenge yourself. Whether it involves a client halfway around the world or halfway around the block, you’ll have a couple of debrief calls, receive an email copy of the client’s focus group discussion guide (to be provided by the client for focus group members) and then meet the client hours before the group starts. It’s a “blind date” approach to qualitative research.

It can also be a quick process: The clients arrive, does their focus groups and take off for another country the next day.

Like any first date, your client’s first impressions mean a great deal. You may only have about five minutes to let them form a positive impression and see that you’ll garner the most important insights from your research.

What are the most effective ways to capture that positive first impression and ensure that your fieldwork goes smoothly? Here are some useful tips:

Prepare ahead of time: Do as much research as you can on the topic and the client’s brand before you even open their discussion guide. Read every word on the brand’s website, visit a retailer that carries the product (if it’s a consumer good), and talk with people who might use the type of product or service you are testing. Get the context that you need for the given category.

Thoroughly Consume the Guide: Study an advanced copy of the discussion guide before you go over it with your client. When you read through it, suggest activities for the group that you’d like to use to personalize the guide and tailor it to your style. This is particularly useful if your guide is written for a multi-country study. Language differences, like those noted above, must be checked and fixed in order to be relevant to your own audience.

Be Mindful of Timing: If the guide has been translated into English from another language, the timing of the questions and each discussion section might need to be reformatted for English. Don’t be afraid to suggest changes based on the content’s timing to make sure you’re able to cover everything in the guide.

Reporting Expectations: Make sure you are aligned with your client regarding the turnaround time for your report. In scenarios such as these, quick-turn reporting is usually expected. Potentially vague terms such as “top line” and “full report” must be clearly defined, especially when working with international clients who might define these differently than U.S-based moderators.

If you are conducting a global study and seeking a U.S. partner for moderating, please contact Ready to Launch Research. We conduct research in all 50 states and enjoy hosting research partners from abroad.

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