How to Optimize and Adapt Your Survey to Field in Other Countries

As a market researcher, you may find that your company or agency has a need to conduct research in countries outside of your home country. This may take the form of foreign research, multinational research, or cross-cultural research – but all are considered international research. To complete a successful international research project, it is helpful for you to first familiarize yourself with the environment of the country(s) where you plan to field your survey.

Every country has a uniquely varied environment that will influence how you conduct your market research. Understanding the commonalities and differences in the marketing, government, legal, economic, technological, and sociocultural environments provides a great foundation for your questionnaire design and refinement. Once you are knowledgeable about your target country, it is critical to optimize your survey for equivalence before finalizing and fielding. This includes construct, measurement, and linguistic equivalences. Optimizing for equivalence is a key step to ensuring your survey is adapted for the country’s target market and is respondent- and analysis-friendly.

Construct Equivalence

Construct equivalence tackles the question of whether the survey’s marketing constructs – i.e., measurable abstract concepts like product comprehension, attitudes, satisfaction, and brand familiarity – have the same meaning and significance across different countries. Within this framework, conceptual equivalence addresses the interpretation of brands, products, consumer behavior, and the marketing effort – such as promotion. In the U.S., promotional sales are a key component of marketing; however, in countries with shortage economies, promotions can be regarded by consumers as a means for selling off poor quality items – a very different interpretation from U.S. consumers. Functional equivalence looks at specific concepts or behaviors and their role across countries. Consider an example of bicycling: it is a popular recreation in the U.S. but serves as a main mode of transportation in many other countries. As a researcher, you’ll need to decide if the motivations, attitudes, and behaviors associated with bike riding varies across your target countries. Another component of construct equivalence is category equivalence. This examines in which something groups category products, brands, and behaviors. For example, the “head of household” category varies across countries: in the U.S. it may be a male or female who does most of the shopping, but in other countries it may be defined by the domestic servant.

Measurement Equivalence

Measurement equivalence looks at the comparability of consumer responses across countries. Specifically, surveys should have metric equivalence, meaning that you are measuring the same constructs (attitudes, behavior, etc.) using the same or equivalent units of measurement. Commonly used rating scales, like purchase intent, may be interpreted and answered differently by respondents in different countries. Scalar data is particularly difficult to compare across cultures due to positive response biases that exist for cultural reasons. It’s important to note that Hispanics rate the most positive, followed by African Americans, and then the general market. Using paired comparison questions can help avoid bias, as well as looking at Top Box scores instead of Top 2 Box (where more variation tends to be present). Also, relative comparisons across populations work best (i.e., indexing against each group’s average).

Linguistic Equivalence

For online surveys, this refers to the written language used. Not only should questions, scales, and any other written stimuli (like that found on concept images) be translated so they can be understood by respondents, but as a researcher or project manager, you should utilize back or parallel translations when possible. This is especially helpful when the translator is not fluent in both the original and translated language or familiar with both cultures. In back translations, after the original survey is translated by a bilingual who is native to the language the survey is being translated to, it is then translated back into the original language by a different bilingual whose native language is that of the original survey. For example, an English survey is translated by a bilingual native Spanish speaker into Spanish. The Spanish survey is then translated back into English by a bilingual native English speaker. During this process, which may require several back-and-forth translations until equivalence is achieved, errors can be readily identified. Alternatively, parallel translation involves a committee of translators who discuss the questionnaire to be translated and make modifications until all are in agreement. Take careful note of countries that utilize several dialects of a language to ensure you are not isolating any respondents from clearly understanding the survey.

Regardless of how the survey is translated, it is beneficial to involve all project stakeholders in the questionnaire design process from the very beginning, especially if it is a large multi-country project. Having the team’s buy-in up front while the English survey is being developed and the constructs and scales are being chosen, for example, will ensure a smoother translation process since each country’s representative already agreed upon the other forms of equivalence. It can be challenging if specific nuances are not recognized prior to the translation phase, as it may require re-writing parts of the survey to ensure it is applicable across cultures.

Even if you are optimizing a U.S. English survey to be fielded in England, Australia, and Canada, for example, where English is the native language, local considerations must be made for variations in aspects including household income, ethnicity/race, brands, merchants/retailers, and even the spelling of certain words (e.g., checks vs. cheques).

The Takeaway

As companies seek expansion overseas outside of the U.S., new opportunities are created for market researchers to contribute to the development of international strategies. International research requires a high level of due diligence from marketers to be knowledgeable about the varying environments of the target countries they wish to do research in. Ensuring equivalence between surveys is critical to respondent clarity, as well as your data analysis. Three areas of equivalence to be familiar with when adapting your survey include construct, measurement, and lin

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Stacey Penczak
With an insatiable appetite for literature, Stacey can often be found curled up with her cats, swooning over her latest fantasy or historical fiction obsession. When she’s not managing research projects for AYTM, this yoga enthusiast and NJ native delights in baking (& eating!) desserts, finger painting with oils, practicing archery in her backyard, and exploring the nearby riverbanks year-round.