It is easier than ever to share your digital products and services with people across the globe. But wherever you go, people are different, and despite our increasingly interconnected world, there are cultural nuances you have to recognize if you want to meet people’s needs. Do you know how your customers in other countries are reacting to your digital products? These days, building a great digital experience for all of your users often means including international populations in your research.
At AnswerLab, we’ve conducted research in more than a dozen languages in over 20 countries on five continents. Our researchers come from diverse backgrounds with expertise in everything from ethnographies to remote usability to contextual research. When conducting international research, we include moderators and translators fluent in English and the local language to ensure flexibility, communication, and the ability to troubleshoot. Having a network of trusted international partners is critical to ensure your research operations run smoothly and you get the best possible user insights.
International research projects are both exciting and fascinating. Talking to people whose experiences are unlike your own helps you to discover differences in culture and find surprising insights you could not have predicted. As the research deepens and in cases where projects span multiple markets, these insights become even more noteworthy. However, as exciting and intriguing as the research is, it also presents some risks, including the potential for brand and reputation damage, if a misstep occurs. Conducting research to understand the needs, preferences, and cultural differences of local consumers can help you avoid this when entering a new market.
Start with these 6 cultural considerations as you begin to plan your international research project to ensure you're taking user needs into account:
Pay incentives in locally accepted methods.
In the United States, checks are a commonly accepted form of payment, but that’s not so in some other countries. In Germany, for example, bank transfers are the most common form of payment for any business transaction. As a result, Germans don’t think twice about providing their bank information for an electronic transfer – but many won’t know what to do if you hand them a check. In fact, many European countries stopped issuing checks years ago.
Purchase gift cards locally.
You may think that you can avoid the payment method conundrum by paying incentives with gift cards, but this may not be so simple either. Gift cards are often country-specific because of the currency in which they are issued or have rules as to what regions the balance can transfer to. When conducting in-person research, you might consider using cash, as it’s often less cumbersome for many depending on the country and socioeconomic group you’re talking with.
Be careful when asking about ethnicity.
Most U.S. research studies include questions about ethnicity because we as researchers want to ensure that we have the most representative sample of a population. Americans are used to answering survey questions about their ethnicity and usually know which box to check for themselves. In other countries, however, this can be a more sensitive topic. Much of continental Europe does not ask about ethnicity on their censuses, and you may even offend your participant by asking them to state their ethnicity in some places. Before including such questions, ask yourself how knowing the answer will impact your findings. If they have no impact, consider not asking the question.
Particularly in some Latin American and Asian cultures, social formalities are important. When conducting a study in these countries, take some time to build rapport early in the session. Focus on getting participants eased into talking with you, for example, by asking some basic questions about themselves, such as the size of their family, where they live, or if they have any pets. This will help get them comfortable with sharing details about themselves and their opinions throughout the session.
Understand what topics are sensitive and avoid them when possible.
Participants from other cultures may not be as comfortable talking about personal or financial information as those in the U.S. In Latin America, for example, income and purchase behavior questions can be considered very sensitive and may make a participant uncomfortable. Similarly, participants from Spain can be protective of their personal information and may not want to share those details with you. Be mindful of the questions you ask, and again, if they're not necessary, don’t ask questions that may be considered sensitive.
Rephrase questions if participants are reluctant to give negative feedback.
In some cultures, particularly in Asian countries, participants may be hesitant to criticize or give negative opinions of your product. If this is preventing you from getting new ideas on how the product can improve, consider rephrasing your questions. Instead of asking “What did you dislike?”, you might ask, “How could this better meet your needs?”
Even with these tips, the biggest challenge with international research is that every country has different cultural norms and expectations. And, these six considerations are only a taste of how many variables are truly at play when conducting research internationally. We’ve found it’s critical to involve local partners at every step of the process to ensure you’re taking the right approach every time.
Interested in conducting international research with us? Let’s talk!