Why Going Global on Market Research Often Fails, While Succeeding

July 31, 2013

in convo, ethnography, focusgroups, research

At Convo we often see two different types of research projects. One is the “global” perspective, and the other is “local”. What’s the difference?

Global: A typical global project involves a company that wants insights across 4 or 5 countries. Example US, Germany, India, China, Brazil. I’ve seen these cover all sorts of research areas: new product development, brand equity, brand positioning, packaging, segmentation etc.  Convo is often the cog in a larger wheel on these projects. Which typically means the countries are all working into a template (examples: focus groups with this guide, pre-tasks or recruitment criteria and screeners). There’s usually one research team that represents the Client and we’re effectively the on-the-ground local agency.

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Local: These are the projects which are focused on the local context. Although no country really has a “local” definition it does mean we are the “key” researchers on the project. That means we may have a real design input into the program. Typically we are also going to be hands-on with the client or effectively partnered with another research firm. Either works. What it does mean is the local understanding and nuances can be built in before the project starts.

So, why do I say Global Projects often fail while succeeding.

1. Good research is about taking a story back. It is an interpretation. No matter what happened this is what we learned from doing 30 groups across 5 different countries etc. That’s potentially success.

2. Most global research isn’t trying to or prepared to bring in new variables. It is often about making a decision between one or two choices or directions. For some companies the qualitative input may proceed a more detailed quantitative study.

3. It begins to fail when the “guide” is all anyone wants. I’ve seen major product and positioning blunders because the program was “rigid” and the authors of the original guide are inadequately prepared for cultural nuances and meaning. Or they aren’t willing to see with new eyes. I’ve also seen this where “segmentation” exercises are force fit where they literally won’t fit.

Not all “global” projects are a fail and as a researcher some can be really exciting particularly when learning is shared across different countries. The danger is when, success is defined more by a project well-managed and completed across locations, and less by the story or interpretation that is brought back to the table. In such cases, your decisions around your products, brands and services can miss the woods for the trees!


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