Considering expanding into an overseas market? If so, you’ll need to do international market research, and there are many different methods involved.
The difference between good and bad market research can make the difference between the success and failure of your product, and this is even more true when launching in foreign markets.
All the various challenges and obstacles of market entry are compounded when you enter a market with different cultures, customs, languages, laws, and infrastructure to what you’re used to dealing with in your domestic market. Without conducting rigorous research beforehand, you risk being poorly prepared for an already challenging process.
This article will look at some of the most effective methods for international market research, the things you’ll need to consider compared to domestic research, and some tips on how to make each one work.
The three main types of data
Before we explore the methods available to researchers, it’s important to look at the three main types of data you will be aiming to collect:
This refers to data that was not collected specifically for the task at hand (in contrast with primary data). It can involve things like government records, business reports, information from NGOs, and scientific publications.
Secondary data is usually the easiest to collect and makes a good starting point for your international market research. When researching in a foreign market, it’s important to consider linguistic differences and the fact that certain data may be less accessible for political reasons.
This is a blanket term for all the data you gather through speaking to real people in your target market. There are many ways to collect it, including face-to-face surveys and interviews, electronic methods like email surveys, via telephone, and more.
When dealing with an international market, surveys can be extremely effective as they offer a direct connection with your target customers in your new market. However, there are challenges to overcome around language barriers and cultural differences.
Experimental data is gathered through an experiment. In market research, this can take many forms. For example, you could divide customers into groups and offer one a full-price product and the other a discounted product, then measure which has more uptake.
Once again, experimental data is a useful tool when researching an international market, since it yields real-world findings and allows you to draw concrete insights about how your product will be received.
It’s worth noting that primary data simply refers to any information collected solely for the task at hand, so survey data and experimental data can be considered primary or secondary depending on the source.
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9 of the most effective methods in international market research
Now, let’s explore some of the most effective methods available to market researchers when getting started in a new, overseas market.
1. Overseas business research
The research conducted by other businesses can be an extremely useful starting point for your market research. This data may have been collected by businesses in your space, or not. It may have been collected by businesses based in your target market or some other location.
Business research is valuable because it’s an example of another organization that has done some of its work for you. You can learn a lot about the business trends, cultural differences, market, laws, and more from the research of other companies.
However, this is always just a starting point. No business in the world will have exactly the same set of questions, challenges, and needs as yours, and nobody will have the same product and audience for it. For effective market research, you’ll have to do your own work too.
2. Collecting foreign government information
Governments collect a tremendous amount of information about their populations and the business within their borders. This includes demographics, geography, and culture, which can be extremely useful when planning your marketing and choosing where to sell your product.
In addition, government data can provide valuable insights on the legal challenges you might face when entering a new market, and the various regulations you’ll be required to comply with as you market and launch your product. Much of this information is readily available on government websites.
3. Collecting information from NGOs
Non-governmental organizations like charities can be excellent sources of data due to their work in research. NGOs may provide more accurate and up-to-date data than governments in developing regions of the world, which can lack the infrastructure to collect information properly.
4. Face-to-face research
One-to-one interviews and focus groups can both be highly effective market research methods. They afford you a direct insight into what your customers think, what they want, what they worry about, what their pain points are, and how they feel about your competitors, among many other things.
However, doing face-to-face research in an international market comes with a unique set of challenges. The logistical demands are higher — you’ll need to locate and hire venues and work with interviewers on the ground, which may be harder than doing so back home. You’ll also need to consider linguistic differences, which means hiring interpreters or locally-based staff.
Another challenge here is cultural differences. For example, some Middle Eastern cultures treat interviews with suspicion and it may be difficult to gather a meaningful sample group.
5. Attitude scales
Attitude scales — like the Likert scale — allow respondents to give a score on how they feel about a question or statement, usually on a scale of “Strongly Disagree” to “Strongly Agree”.
There are many benefits to using this type of research method in international markets. It tends to transcend language and questions can be easily translated. It’s also easy to distribute and can easily be done either in person or electronically.
However, there are still challenges. Some cultures, such as Japan, may be unwilling to give strong responses, leading to many neutral answers and no meaningful takeaway.
6. Text message (SMS) survey
Text message surveys involve sending out a series of questions to a group of respondents via SMS. It’s quick, easy, cheap, and allows you to reach a large number of people. You won’t get detailed responses from this kind of survey, and it tends to miss out on nuances, but it’s potentially a good way to get lots of feedback with minimal effort.
The drawbacks are that it’s dependent on mobile access. Many countries around the world lack this — Laos, for example, has a mobile phone penetration of just 53.4%. This makes it harder to distribute your surveys to a significant number of people.
7. Online survey
There are many different types of online surveys available to you when conducting international market research. Email, social media, and web forums are just a few examples of places you can connect with respondents and distribute surveys and questionnaires.
Online surveys are one of the cheapest and easiest ways to gather information and can be done from anywhere in the world with no need to hire additional staff or deal with logistics in your target market. You’ll get fast responses, and surveys are also easy to translate into multiple languages.
There are some challenges involved, however. Anything involving the internet is dependent on internet access in your target market, which may be very low in some parts of the world. This method works well in areas like North America and Europe but is poorly suited to countries like Eritrea, where only 14% of the population uses the internet.
8. Mobile web survey
This method involves distributing surveys via smartphones through applications or some of the other online methods mentioned above. In many countries, smartphone ownership exceeds computer ownership, making this a valid alternative.
In other countries, however, very few people own smartphones. Pakistan is one example — smartphone penetration here is just 18.4%. However, if your target market has a high smartphone penetration, this can be a very reliable research channel.
9. Remote Face-to-Face
In recent years, we’ve all seen an explosion in the use of video chat software like Zoom and Microsoft Teams. Today, this is used regularly to communicate with friends and family, attend work meetings, and even see your doctor. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated this trend and forced us to rely on remote communication for almost all of our social interactions.
This technology applies to market research and is ideally suited to researching foreign markets. Now, face-to-face interviews and focus groups can take place entirely digitally, removing the need to send team members abroad or hire people in your target market.
There are still limitations, of course — it relies on your audience having access to electronic devices which can lead to skewed results (for example, you end up interviewing only younger and more affluent people). It should be combined with other methods for best results.
Market research is an essential but often challenging process, and it becomes harder when you try to do it in a completely new market far from home. Fortunately, market researchers today have access to a wealth of methods and tools, many of which did not exist even in the recent past.
Get in touch to learn how Kadence can help you conduct international market research as effectively as possible, allowing you to mount a confident and informed market entry.