Understanding cultural differences in global research

Any global market research company, accustomed to delivering research findings collected from a myriad of customers around the world knows the importance of understanding individual country differences. If you assume that all humans are the same and you then make a decision to enter another country based on your previous knowledge and assumptions, you will very quickly realise you have made a big mistake. Differences might be cultural, behavioural or attitudinal, but a researcher needs to know what lies behind a given score, action or opinion before making informed recommendations for action.

Cultural differences are often the basis for international marketing communications as well as global brand management strategies, as they have a marked influence on purchasing decisions (remember, people don't leave their emotions, values and beliefs at home when they go to work). Take advertising for example; the success of the advertising depends on the culture of the people being marketed to. Therefore, being aware of cultural norms can help your company narrow down the target audience and make marketing more cost-effective.

Market research methodology has to be sound in a cross-cultural setting. Researchers face complex methodological issues and failure to address these adequately will severely limit the usefulness of the marketing research project. From a data collection viewpoint, variable response styles across different geographies represent a major threat to the correct interpretation of market research findings. This threat is further increased due to samples of respondents from different cultural backgrounds. Unfamiliarity with the cultures and environmental factors of the countries where the research is being conducted can greatly increase the difficulty of attaining comparability.

In conclusion, different country cultures do impact on responses and response rates and so this needs to be taken into account when designing any research study. However, that is just one part of the equation and when the data has been gathered, a researcher needs to use their knowledge and judgment as to whether a response is based on different levels of product and service delivery or simply because of a result of cultural difference.

Nick is speaking on Global market; Local thinking at the IDM B2B Marketing Conference on 24 May 2012 and you can join a live Twitter Comms Chat on the topic on Mon 30 April at 8pm. Just log in and follow the #CommsChat tag.

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