5 Watchouts When Planning Global, Qualitative Research

by Jennifer Dilley 

Being part of a custom market research firm with global clients, we are often a go-to partner on international research—both qualitative and quantitative. And while all global market research has some challenges, global qualitative research has some unique ones.

From years of designing consumer research approaches, we’ve identified a list of questions we ask our clients to customize research for their needs. But whether you are researching with SIVO, another supplier, or leading research internally for your own organization; here are 5 watchouts when planning global, qualitative research. These apply for both in-person and virtual approaches. 

Everything takes longer than domestic-only market research.  Most global market research consists of multiple countries and languages.  This requires added time to translate all materials such as recruitment screeners, discussion guides, and transcripts. For example, domestically you may receive a recruiting update every 1-2 days. But with the additional time needed to translate the recruiting progress, your updates may occur every 3 days with non-English speaking countries.  And with transcripts needing translation time too, that delays the analysis and delivery of your final report.

SIVO Tip! When planning your research, build in extra time to account for translation needs on both the front and back ends of your research.  This could easily add an additional 2-weeks to a simple qualitative design such as webcam focus groups. 

Expect cultural differences in business norms.  Corporate cultures differ around the world. When working with partners and consumers in other countries you need to expect, respect, and allow for cultural differences. One basic example of this is with interview start-times. As an example, our Thailand local moderator and consumers were consistently in-place and talking well before the official interview start time (making our client feel like they were late to observe the conversation); whereas in Brazil we had many consumers (and even a local moderator for one interview) who joined late. 

SIVO tip! As a client who may be inviting other co-workers or organizational leaders to attend your research, prepare your team that some behaviors—from professionals and consumers—will be different.  You can even remind your team these differences are likely one of the key reasons why you are conducting global research. Embrace it!

Know in advance if you want to adapt stimulus in real time. Particularly when researching marketing messages or communication, a client may learn from a few consumers and want to adapt the stimulus. This could be as simple as learning a word or phrase translated in your stim might be academically correct but needs to be modified to a more culturally relevant word – or it could be re-writing paragraphs of copy.  In either example, you need a translator readily available to adjust the stimulus before the next interview. 

SIVO Tip! Decide in advance if you will want or need to adjust your stimulus in real time.  And if yes, identify the tactical steps and talent needed to achieve this. 

Transcribe every word of the interview. Sometimes for efficiency (budget and time), a translator may only transcribe parts of the interview directly relevant to the brand, product and / or research objectives. But there is a lot of rich learning in the commentary! For example, consumer references to local politics can provide valuable context to their reactions to your product solution or marketing messages. 

SIVO Tip! Confirm in advance that your translator understands your expectation that all words will be translated. And if efficiency is a concern, you can always limit the translation to only the ‘best’ interviews.  This can condense your timeline and save costs. 

Consider a collective discussion with all moderators and translators. If fielding research in multiple countries and/or markets to inform a global strategy (not a market specific plan); consider scheduling a collective debrief will all moderators and translators.  This allows for discussion on what learning is consistent vs. the differentiated needs by country. 

SIVO Tip! Such a discussion impacts your project timeline and costs and should be included as an expectation at the start of your project.  A good research partner should be able to flex and add this to the close of your project but be aware of the implications to time and budget.


These 5 watchouts when planning global, qualitative research (in conjunction with a qualified and experienced Consumer Insights agency partner) will help ensure that you have a successful project resulting in global consumer insights to inform your business decisions.  

To discuss these tips and any other questions about international or domestic consumer research, please feel free to contact Jennifer Dilley at Jennifer.Dilley@SIVOInsights.com for a consultation call. 

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