Understanding the International Research Environment

As economic conditions continue to improve globally, combined with the lowering of trade barriers, many companies seek expansion overseas outside of the U.S. This naturally leads to increased opportunities for market research companies to contribute significantly to the development of the new international marketing strategies needed for said expansion.

“International marketing research” is a broad term that encompasses research for truly international products (international research), research conducted in a country other than the country commissioning the research (foreign research), research conducted in several key countries where the company exists (multinational research), and research conducted across different cultures (cross-cultural research). Regardless of the type of international research being employed, it is imperative to recognize that a survey designed to field in the U.S. will not work in Mexico, Russia, or China without being adapted to each individual market. Understanding the differences in each country’s multifaceted environment will aid a successful international market research survey project.

Marketing Environment

The role of marketing can vary widely from country to country. Some developing countries are focused entirely on production and no marketing. In these cases, demand exceeds supply and there may be little to no competition, so customer satisfaction isn’t a concern. When assessing the marketing environment of a country, consider the assortment of products available, pricing policies, any government control of media and the public’s attitude towards advertising, the efficiency of the distribution systems, and any unsatisfied consumer needs.

Let’s say you’ve designed a survey to field in the U.S. and ask questions focused on product variety. You would not be able to use those same questions in countries characterized by shortage economies where there isn’t an assortment of products to choose from, like Africa. When asking about pricing, you may need to adjust the wording to account for societies that utilize bargaining as a means for exchange. And while TV advertising is key for promoting in the U.S., it may be restricted in countries where TV stations are owned and operated by the government.

Government Environment

The type and role of government affects public policy, regulatory agencies, government incentives and penalties, investment in government enterprises, market controls, infrastructure development, and entrepreneurial acts. Some governments discourage foreign competition and set high tariff barriers to make market research approaches less efficient. Other governments, such as in Germany and Japan, create a common national industry policy that defines tax structures, tariffs, and product safety rules and regulations, in addition to regulations on foreign companies and their marketing practices. Governments can also play a key role in distribution, such as buying essential products on a large scale and selling them to consumers (which may involve rationing of goods). It is important to first research and understand the government of the country you want to field a survey in to determine if the marketing efforts are worthwhile and what restrictions are in place, if any.

Legal Environment

It is also important to familiarize yourself with the laws related to the marketing mix (product, price, distribution, and promotion) when conducting international research. Product laws relate to quality, packaging, warranty and after-sales service, patents, trademarks, and copyright. Pricing laws address price fixing, price discrimination, variable pricing, price controls, and retail price maintenance. Distribution laws focus on exclusive territory arrangements, channel type, and cancellation of distributor or wholesaler agreements. Additionally, there are laws that affect the types of promotional activities that can be used. Some countries strictly enforce marketing-related laws, while others have a looser policy.

Economic and Technological Environments

Characteristics that define a country’s stage of economic development include GDP, the level/source/distribution of income, and growth trends. In turn, these determine the market’s size, modernization, and standardization. The technological environment includes information and communication systems, computerization and the use of the internet and electronic equipment, energy, production technology, science, and invention. As economies develop and technologies advance, consumer, industrial, and commercial markets become more standardized, and consumers’ work, leisure, and lifestyles become more homogenized. Consideration of these important aspects of the country you wish to field a survey in will help tailor your questions to be more representative and appropriate.

Sociocultural Environment

Values, literacy, religion, communication patterns, and family and social institutions make up the sociocultural environment. The research process should be modified as needed so it doesn’t conflict with cultural values. Understanding respondents’ attitudes towards time, achievement, work, authority, wealth, science, risk, innovation, and change, in addition to their ability to articulate responses, all need to be carefully considered when designing survey questions. Additionally, numerous dialects or languages may be spoken in a single country, so localizing the survey several times or focusing on the most widely used dialect for efficiencies may be necessary.

The Takeaway

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.

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.