Global online research challenges


When chipmaker Intel Research wanted to know how people in countries around the world use technology, it sent anthropologists to find out. Dr. Genevieve Bell visited 100 households in 19 Cities in 7 countries in Asia and the Pacific. She came back to Intel with 20 gigabytes of digital photos, 19 field notebooks, and insights about technology, culture, and design that would challenge company assumptions about digital technology.

It stands to reason that Intel—a global tech powerhouse—would want to know technology is used in its international markets. Yet all companies have a stake in knowing how the rest of the world sees and uses what most Westerners take for granted: Internet technology. With online research becoming the fastest-growing market research tool, marketers with global ambitions need to know which countries are online and why, or why not.

Internet penetration is low in most parts of Asia, Latin America, and Central and Eastern Europe. In Brazil, for example, only 7 percent of the population is online. While most people assume that the low penetration is due to economies that don’t support an expensive technological infrastructure there are other factors involved. There’s climate, for one. In Malaysia, power surges caused by monsoons can fry computer motherboards. Government is also powerful spur or barrier to Internet penetration. While the Chinese economy is zooming ahead, it’s unlikely the authoritarian Chinese government will feel comfortable with market researchers gathering information from its citizens via the Internet. Contrast this with South Korea, where the government has made widespread Internet access a priority, and has provided incentives to PC makers to bring cheaper models to market.

Other significant factors that can keep computers and data ports from crossing the threshold are religion and culture. Dr. Bell found that values of humility and simplicity are deemed incompatible with Internet technology and make it less welcome in some Hindu homes in India or Muslim homes in Malaysia and Indonesia. She also noted that while Americans have private space in the homes for leisure activities, Japan’s tighter quarters afford little privacy. This may explain the huge popularity of text messaging on mobile phone among Japan’s young people.

Dr. Bell’s finding on global responses to technology point up one of the biggest obstacles to conducting international research, whether online or not: a lack of consistency. Nan Martin, global accounts director for Synovate Inc, a market research firm with offices in 46 countries, says: “In global research, we have to adopt culturally as to how, where and with whom we are doing the research … A simple research study conducted globally becomes much more complicated as a result of the cultural nuances and it’s necessary for us to be sensitive to those nuances in data collection and interpretation�. For instance internet penetration is equal in Latin America, where consumers are uncomfortable with the impersonal nature of the Internet, researchers might need to incorporate interactive elements into a survey so participants feel they are talking to a real person. In Asia, focus groups are challenging because of the cultural tendency to conform. Online surveys may bring more honest responses and keep respondents from “losing face�.

And what if a researcher collects data face-to-face in Mexico, but by Internet in the United States? In that case not only are the subjects answering the question differently because of the cultural difference, but the data are being collected by a different method. That can shake the underpinnings of how research scientists feel about collecting data: that every time you change a variable, you’re making interpretation of the results more challenging. It is so challenging in fact, that some say this is an area where global marketers are best served by hiring an expert—an outside research firm with an expertise in acquiring and analyzing international data.

Some corporate company Humor to refresh you:

Top Five Signs the Pressures of the Job are Getting to You

1. You wake up in a panic… in the middle of an important CEO meeting
2. You’re paranoid that the plant-watering members are IRS agents in disguise
3. You get up from your desk to do something, and then forget what it was
4. No one in your office smiles.. . at you.
5. Antacids are included on your expense report.