International Research Pitfalls

Avoiding the pitfalls of international qualitative research

Avoiding the pitfalls of international qualitative research

So you’ve decided you would like to do some international research. Whether the research is about understanding how consumers use or could use your product in Europe, what your brand is about in Bulgaria, who the competition is in South Africa or what new product innovation you could offer to the Brazilian market, or anything else, you’re likely to encounter similar doubts and obstacles to most businesses conducting qualitative research in a foreign market.

You may or may not have run international projects before, but you are probably very much aware of the potential disasters: Poor reporting, delays and cancellations to fieldwork and analysis, lack of strategic insight, inexperienced moderators, logistical nightmares, objectives lost in translation, and the dreaded ‘the research has not been a success and it’s all my fault for commissioning it!’

So before you begin, take a deep breath and ask yourself:

1. Are you planning to use known partners or agencies that have been recommended to you by somebody you trust? Do you know their setup, as well as the experience of the researchers committed to the project and how they work? In some markets moderators have nothing at all to do with final reports and therefore no overall responsibility. In others, one person will manage the whole project for you.

2. Are you sending a UK researcher out into field to ensure that all runs smoothly? Sending somebody out from the primary market may seem like an added expense, but think again! It ensures not only that things run to plan and that objectives are fully understood, but also that you have ‘backup’ if something goes wrong later on i.e., cars hijacked and local researcher laptops stolen (it happens…!) In some markets, such as China for example, the standard and quality of work produced is much better when there is a strong degree of emotional involvement with the commissioning market.


3. Does the UK researcher/do you know about the local culture and language? This makes a difference! You need to encourage familiarisation on every level – knowing about local brands, supermarket shelves, media events, trends, etc. all makes a difference to the level of insight in the final report. This may mean allowing an extra day or two to gauge differences in the local market aside from the fieldwork and templates should always allow for researchers to provide detail about local nuances.

4. Are you ensuring that the local team is excited about the project and involved way before the fieldwork starts? What about staying involved once results are ready to be delivered? Do they feel they are allowed an opinion? Many researchers in other markets do not feel involved in international projects as a whole, meaning again that they sign out of responsibility for the end result. Involving all teams together from the beginning and encouraging exchange of opinions on methodology is invaluable.

5. Do you know about recruitment related nuances in the other market? How is social class defined? How are groups generally separated out and when is it not okay to put people together? Would you get the most benefit from running groups, depths or online research? What is standard in one market may not be in another.

6. Are you giving information from your side on a timely basis and being clear about your deadlines and logistical requirements? It is good to know in advance what you need in terms of video clips, quotes, remote viewing, client attendance, audio recording, saving of self-completion forms and any homework/images so that all of these can be included in the initial quote and setup plan.


7. When product samples are involved, have you been super clear about the labelling and ensuring that both the UK and local team are in the know about what is in the box?! Taking a photograph of the product before it leaves your office and sending this in advance to the researchers can save endless time and confusion when unexpected products arrive. Part of this may be about internal communication amongst your different departments.

8. Whoever is in charge of your project from the research side should be able to answer all of the above questions as well as being involved in drawing up the methodology, discussion guide, coordinating local researchers and reporting/presenting the outcome. This should be the same person from beginning to end because when this changes halfway through or when too many people are involved, then issues communicated right at the outset can be lost in the chain and key objectives disappear.

If you are interested in conducting international qualitative research for the first time, or if you would like to explore the above questions with an experienced international researcher, contact us with your query.

Rotting on the Inside?

What Good is Being Rotten on the Inside?


I saw a play at the Galway Theatre Festival this week ‘What Good Is Looking Well When You’re Rotten On The Inside?’ by Emma O’Grady.   It was a play ‘in development’ put together by the theatre maker herself and based on the writings and recordings of her late grandfather Paddy O’Grady. 

Paddy O’Grady was an interesting man – full of character, full of words.  He wrote four plays during his long life.  He also recorded 14 cassette tapes of stories about his life, one month before he passed away.  Nothing was ever released for public consumption.

The aim of the play was twofold:  Firstly, it was a tribute from a granddaughter who seemed to have much loved and admired her grandfather, his way with words and his ability to tell a story.  Secondly, it was a warning to anybody in the process of putting talent to waste – as she witnessed her grandfather had done.

There’s a scene in the play where Emma shouts something like ‘why should I be the one doing this work?  What were you doing your whole life?  You HAD TIME!  Why am I being the midwife to your words, getting my hands bloody and dirty, to bring them to life?  Why didn’t you do what you were supposed to do?’


The play made one think.  Sometimes, we make excuses.  Excuses for not doing what we know we are meant to be doing in life.  We say we’re too busy.  We’re scared of failure.  We don’t advance as souls, as ‘whole’ people.  We think it won’t work out so we don’t bother trying.  The years pass by, and opportunities befall us.  One day we realise, we never lived the life we were meant to live.  Our chance has passed – just like Emma’s grandfather.

Interesting.  But how does this relate to my business?

Brands and organisations are like people too.  They have their own fears, their own shoulds, shouldn’ts, coulds and mustn’ts.    Sometimes, businesses, organisations, groups, councils and governing bodies of all types fail to take the leaps that are indicated for them.  They do not move forwards, because they are not sure that moving forwards will work. 

Sometimes, when organisations consider investing in research to determine how to move forwards, the investment can seem too risky.  There is no way of seeing what the research will bring.  What if there’s no return?  What if the research does not reveal anything new?  What if the feedback is negative?  What if it says we shouldn’t be in business at all?!!

Magic Wands


As people, we have no magic wand for ourselves.  Some people are never sure what it is they want to do with their lives.  They don’t know what they were ‘born to do.’  Some end up seeking psychics and tarot card readers to give them a helping hand.  At the end of the day, as a human being, it’s only you who cares if you’re living your purpose.  

Businesses are different.  There are many people involved in the success of a business.  There are many people who care. 

And there IS a magic wand.

Establishing what needs to blossom, develop and grow within an organisation is the job of its members – and the magic wand that enables this is research.

Why invest in a magic wand?

A thorough qualitative research design will always tell you something new.   Thinking around and defining your objectives in a clear way will ensure that you have the right questions.  Having the right questions means that you will get answers that will be actionable and constructive.

Qualitative Research can tell you where you can win, and where you may lose.  It can tell you more about your actual and/or potential customer base – not from the results of yes/no answers to questions asked through robotic-sounding surveys made on Google, but by interpreting real emotional responses from the people who matter. 

Ready to blossom from the inside?


If you would like to discuss a research brief – whether that’s to think around the most constructive research questions, to know the best methodology to use, or to analyse something you have already discovered and make it actionable, please do get in touch.   I would love to hear from you.