How to Use International Research to Improve Your Product and Brand Strategy

Aug 25, 2020

The world is getting smaller. Technological advancements and a flourishing eCommerce sector are crossing borders and shrinking distances, traversing different cultures, languages, and customs. As the global market condenses and connects more people, more products, and more ideas than ever before, companies have to work harder to stand out and stay competitive.

But there can be enormous pitfalls along the way.

Adjusting your brand strategy is crucial in a flattening world. Product innovations have to be relevant. Target audiences have to be thoroughly understood. Messages have to hit the mark. But any branding and communication mistakes you make on the global stage can quickly draw the wrong kind of attention and seriously damage your reputation. As one expert puts it: “Advertising that appeals to … different cultural and ethnic identities has become a vital part of the corporate marketing arsenal. But ethnicity-oriented marketing can backfire and even turn multicultural consumers against a product or service if the strategy is wrong.”

Everything from the type of humor used in advertising, to misunderstood cultural differences and stereotypes, to offensive translations of product names can cause a product that may be doing well at home to tank overseas. And there are plenty of large global brands that have learned this lesson the hard way.

When it comes to your international strategy, an abundance of caution, respect, and perception is needed. Your product or message has to be on point no matter where it appears and resonate with your target audience’s specific culture and background.

Here’s a guide to how you can approach international research in a straightforward, cost-effective, and culturally sensitive way.

#1 – Do Your Homework

Before launching a product or campaign in an international market, you first need to identify your business objectives and gain an understanding of the current state of the industry you’re in. Then, learn everything you can about the region, country, and/or culture in which you’re entering. During this exploratory phase, also make sure to ask the right questions so you can determine key target audiences, uncover their specific pain points, and identify potential solutions.

#2 – Break Up Research into Manageable Pieces

With a baseline level of knowledge, you can divide up your efforts. This could mean grouping the next phases of your research by product category, consumer segment, big data findings, or something else—whatever is the most logical way to gather and organize information that makes sense for your specific product or campaign goals and fills gaps in data about the particular market.

#3 – Rely on Research Partnerships that Offer Global Diversity & Expertise

This is where the rubber hits the road when it comes to making sure you’re listening and deeply understanding your international target audience. While it may be helpful to draw from existing industry data at this point, remember that this data is often outdated or far too generic to base your entire strategy on, and it may not have the level of cultural sensitivity you need.

For example, you may need to take into consideration some or all of these, and adapt your branding accordingly:

  • Language
  • Cultural norms
  • Race
  • Geography
  • Climate
  • Religion
  • History
  • Infrastructure
  • Laws and regulations

A research partner with global expertise can help you recruit survey participants from all over the world. Having access to a diverse pool of respondents gives you much more specific data about your target audience—down to the language and terms they use, the emotions and feelings they express, their triggers and barriers to purchase, and other behaviors and preferences—all within the right cultural context.

Your research partner should interpret the data and recommend how to adjust product development and branding that’s both appropriate and effective as you expand into international markets.

#4 – Don’t Forget the Value of Speed and Flexibility

Taking a measured approach with international research is necessary, but “measured” doesn’t necessarily have to mean “slow.” There are ways to bring an agile approach to the process without compromising data quality.

For example, conducting surveys online is a fast, effective way to gather detailed, nuanced consumer data. Online surveys can be completed in a matter of days, instead of the weeks or months required for traditional market research, and costs far less than trying to do in-person research in another country. Boosting the speed with which you gain consumer insights not only saves time and money, it also helps increase your speed to market—which gives you a critical competitive edge.

#5 – Engage in Continuous Research

It’s important to realize that international research, like other research, is not a one-time event but an ongoing process. Industry and consumer trends evolve overseas just as often as they do at home, presenting new opportunities for innovation and the need for new products and creative campaigns that resonate and succeed.

Keeping a flexible mindset and consulting with research partners on an ongoing basis will help you anticipate changing needs, meet new market demands, and identify new revenue streams around the world. You’ll also be able to stay competitive without putting your foot in your mouth, irreparably damaging your brand reputation, or worse.

Contact GutCheck to learn how you can leverage the power of agile research insights to build and enhance your international product and brand strategy.

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