Monday, December 7, 2015

Organizing An International Marketing Research Program
—Part 2

By Daniel J. Colquhoun
Senior Vice President, Customer Research
Frost & Sullivan

In our first installment of this two-part series, we looked in broad terms at the challenges researchers face in mounting a multi-country research project. In this final article we’ll provide an overview of the structure of a global research program.

What To Research First?

It is assumed that your local company or agent will be able to provide a briefing on the basic market structure. So concentrate on the areas that you have the least understanding of and that are most likely to be an obstacle to the strategy.

In many cases, the area of least understanding will be the area of customer needs. A global strategy will need to engineer a brand mix that satisfies those.

Usually, the international marketer at the head office has a native feel for his own country’s customers but is completely in the dark when it comes to those from abroad. Most international brands these days perform well, but their weaknesses arise when they don’t fulfill a need.

Thus, international research program planners should think about a coordinated set of exploratory surveys before buying into larger scale quantitative or market measurement surveys. In this way they are able to get a better understanding of the market before committing large financial and human resources to the collection, reporting and assimilating of large information systems.

Also, an understanding of the customer can help to eliminate a number of possible strategies from the outset, so focusing on the more practical strategies early on is recommended. Furthermore, such an approach allows the marketer to be more focused on what he puts into the quantitative research coverage. It becomes more relevant and less general.

An ideal approach would be:

Stage One    Basic Data From Secondary Sources
                   Prioritize markets due to macro or strategic features (e.g., size,
                   age, profile, income levels, and presence of competitors).

Stage Two    Qualitative Customer Motivation Research
                   Get to know the customers, highlight potential pitfalls,
                   broaden your understanding, and help to focus future
                   quantitative research.

Stage Three  Usage and Attitude Studies, Product Acceptability Tests,
                   Concept and Positioning

                   This will help in the selection of target markets, will expose who 
                   are seen in the customers’ mind as the competition, it will help in
                   media and retail channel selection.

Stage Four   Market Monitoring, Retail or Channel Research, Advertising,
                  Tracking, etc.

These enable strategies to be monitored and fine-tuned.
Throughout this whole process, the major problem that the marketer and his researcher will be up against is getting continuous, accurate, timely, and comparable information from the research suppliers.

If possible, it is usually better to employ one research agency to coordinate your projects across the relevant countries, rather than trying to do it yourself. The benefits of using a central agency are:

  • The regional research specialists in the agency will know what is already available in each country. They can advise on what needs to be collected from primary research and what can be bought off the shelf.
  • They can ensure regional comparability in terms of question wording, analysis and tabulation, report sequence and methods of measurement.
  • They can advise what is feasible in each market.
  • They can handle much of the coordination and follow up that is very time consuming and takes the marketer’s research staff away from the more important area of analysis and reporting internally to the marketing group.
  • If necessary, the agency’s local country staff can service your own in their country.
Global Research Agencies

Most major advertising agencies are prepared to set up and support their key clients in whatever market they enter. Research companies have not followed that trend until recently. There are several reasons.

First, the agency-client relationship is not as close between the research company and its clients as it typically is between clients and their advertising agency. Secondly, clients tend to use a large number of research agencies due to the level of specialization. In most markets, Canada, the US, Europe and Japan, research companies are relatively specialized. There are companies who do retail audits, others who do media research, others who specialize in qualitative or advertising tracking and so on.


Global, international or even regional research programs are extremely complicated to undertake and sustain. There are a great many reasons for this resulting mainly from the diversity of dealing with a large number of countries at different levels of economic and social development, let alone the essential cultural differences that exist inherently.

Furthermore, the ability of most multinational companies to assimilate the sheer amount of data that is generated from a regional, let alone a global study is at present limited in most cases (usually due to lack of staff and resources and sometimes the status of research within the organization).

The advent of powerful computer information management and analysis applications should go some way to resolving this, but in the final analysis it is the caliber of the human resource that will determine the return on the research investment.