Navigating Cultural Nuances in Global Market Research.

Image of the post author Geetika Chhatwal

In this insightful video, our Head of Strategy and Client Services, from the U.K. office Bianca Abulafia, delves into the complex interplay between cultural elements and market research methodologies when engaging global audiences. She hints at intriguing challenges faced by researchers, from navigating strict data privacy in Germany to addressing unique legal constraints in France that forbid certain types of personal questions.

Abulafia teases an interesting anecdote from her work in the Middle East, where unexpected adjustments in focus group compositions were essential to uncovering authentic feedback. She also touches upon her experiences in Asian markets, where cultural norms of politeness can often mask genuine opinions, presenting a fascinating puzzle for researchers to solve.

Throughout the video, she emphasizes the critical balance researchers must achieve and hints at various adaptive strategies for market researchers. To uncover these market research secrets and the innovative approaches used in different cultural landscapes, tune in to the full discussion. Bianca Abulafia’s revelations are sure to be an eye-opener for anyone interested in the nuances of global market research.

Here’s a transcript from the video with Bianca Abulafia:

What role do cultural elements play when conducting market research for global audiences? Can you provide situations where you’ve had to shift methodologies based on these differences? 

Bianca Abulafia: There are several different ways in which cultural elements come into play. When you’re thinking about methodologies, there are several different elements that you might want to think about. One of those is data privacy and how people respond and react to the idea of privacy.

So we do a lot of work in Germany. There are very strict age protection rules across Europe, but in particular, if you’re working in East and what used to be Eastern Germany, you have to be particularly conscious of how questions might come across. For example, I always avoid asking very direct questions in research about money and anything that relates to finances or items of high value because that’s culturally perceived to be very direct and culturally inappropriate to ask those kinds of questions. If you’re asking questions about anything that’s high value, like a car or anything financial, and you think quite carefully about what kinds of approaches you might use, something qualitative is always better. One-to-one conversations allow you to adapt to the individual.

Another market that we often work or you have to be very careful, and this actually questions that are illegal to ask. In France, it is illegal to ask about ethnicity and religion. So a classic question you might include in a survey in the UK, may not be something you’re allowed to ask in France for a number of different historical reasons. So, again, one has to think quite carefully about how to screen people in a study. For example, if you’re looking at a particular profile, I will need to think very carefully about how I might do that; there are also cultural elements at play when one thinks about working in the Middle East —another region we work in from the UK. And I conducted a study looking at how people view video content because it’s on the cultural factors playing in the Middle East. We decided to separate men and women within those focus groups. It was important that the women thought they didn’t have to hide who they were. And what their points of view are, some cultural situations in which they might be expected to say one thing. But actually, they might be watching content, for example, but they’re not supposed to be watching. That might be kind of viewed as a bit too Western. So again, it’s just trying to think about some of the cultural elements at play to help people feel relaxed and that they can open up and be honest.

Another thing that we’ve experienced, and you see, in Asian markets, is that sometimes it can be culturally appropriate to respond to a question with the answer that the person thinks you want to give. And so it’s responding to questions in a way that isn’t necessarily how they feel. It’s the polite thing to do. So we want to know what they really think, but the polite thing actually to do in some societies is almost a second, guess what you’re looking for? And so again, that’s why we need to think very carefully about how we’re phrasing questions, the frequency of questions you’re asking to try and pick what’s really going on. But also think about one-to-one qualitative methods and how you can actually really get to exactly what someone really thinks about a situation, and it’s always absolutely fascinating. I think it is about taking a step back and thinking about the different markets we’re looking at. What are the cultural factors that play? What kind of questions are we asking?

Is this methodology going to get us to the output we need at the very end? And so a lot of it’s about balancing out several different elements; thinking about asking the same question in different ways in different markets is also really important, and it’s one of the joys of working in global market research.

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