Going Global: Backing International Communications Strategies with Testing and Insights

Going Global: Backing International Communications Strategies with Testing and Insights

When I was in grad school, I had the lucky opportunity to visit corporations in multiple European and Asian countries to learn about international business practices. As an American, it was a deeply enriching experience, and it’s hard to put into words how immersing oneself in another culture changes your perspective and understanding of it.

As communicators with many projects on our plates, we don’t have always (or ever!) have the luxury of immersing ourselves in the various cultures in which our companies do business. But we do have the important job of ensuring that the branding and messaging strategies we develop resonate across audiences, including those outside of our home country.

Conveying messages across borders poses some unique challenges, and testing the resonance of branding and messaging strategies on an international scale is critical to ensuring the success of global campaigns.

Luckily, our insights team has experience in testing and validating messages for global audiences. Here are a few tips:

Don’t go in blind. In any major research project, the first step in designing a study is to gain a solid understanding of the business and market context. International campaigns magnify the importance of this prep work, as business models, supply chains, regulations, economic conditions and cultural influences vary, and not always in ways that are intuitive.

Before testing messages or brand perceptions in a foreign market, it’s important to first gain a firm understanding of these influences. Often, this knowledge already exists somewhere in the organization, and it’s a matter of talking to regional employees who know the market nuances best.

For example, in one recent international study developed to inform a rebranding project, our team first conducted exploratory research with internal stakeholders and key distribution partners and then used those insights to tailor surveys of end-users in each country. Combining those new insights with findings from past research gave our research team a strong foundation from which to develop a more strategic research plan.

Establish trusted relationships. International research and testing requires at least some local support, whether it’s in the form of recruitment partners, translation services or colleagues at local business units. Take advantage of these trusted partners to better understand the landscape, double-check translations and confirm that questionnaires resonate within the market and business context.

For some international projects, G&S collaborates with global partners from our PROI network, enabling our teams to extend their capabilities with on-the-ground support from local agencies in other markets. Our partners help us navigate cultural nuances not easily perceived from our New York headquarters.

Adjust approaches as needed. Marketing research approaches, like marketing and communications tactics, are most impactful when tailored to each region or country. Cultural considerations matter in everything from research design to execution to analysis.

For example, when writing questionnaires, we consider attributes like tone, length and question structure. While a question with a 5-point likelihood scale might range from “not at all likely” to “extremely likely” in the United States, there is no equivalent to “extremely likely” in Germany. The scale has to be modified to resonate with German respondents.

In analyzing data and drawing comparisons, too, researchers must be equally aware of varying interpretations and responses to scales. For example, Japanese respondents tend to answer scale questions with more neutral responses compared to respondents in other countries. These differences need to be taken into account in the analysis.

Consider audience nuances. The best methods for executing research may also vary by country or region. For example, many audiences in the U.S. can be reached via online surveys, but infrastructure challenges in other countries could make personal interviewing methods more impactful abroad.

Considering the timing of local holidays and vacation periods can help ensure strong response rates as well. Few people in Italy will want to spend their August holiday answering questions about their business needs. Other regions may follow different customs and traditions when it comes to long weekends and business holidays.

 

In short, international research requires some extra effort. Even if we don’t have the time or budget to completely immerse ourselves in other cultures, taking the time to understand the market context, build relationships in local markets and adapt methods goes a long way to making sure findings are sound and actionable – and that communications campaigns resonate with every audience.

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Emily Bunce is Director of Insights and has a specialty in finding the hidden nuggets, connections and trends that inspire creative, on-target strategy. In her role advising account teams as Director of Insights, Emily conducts and analyzes secondary, primary and social research to help clients align communications strategies with business strategies. She is experienced in analyzing trends, identifying growth opportunities, developing actionable insights to craft campaigns and measuring impact on key stakeholders. Prior to G&S, Emily worked in consumer insights at Macy’s, analyzing customer behavior and identifying new product and marketing opportunities. She also spent several years as a market researcher for ORC International, studying consumer trends and conducting research projects. Emily earned her M.B.A. from Temple University and École Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées (Paris) and holds a B.S. in Marketing and a B.A. in History from the University of Delaware. She is also certified as a Net Promoter Score® Associate. A travel and outdoor enthusiast, Emily has hiked along the Great Wall of China and climbed to the top of Mt. Fuji in Japan.

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