The problems of collecting primary data in foreign countries are different only in degree from those encountered in the United States. Assuming the research problem is well defined and the objectives are properly formulated, the success of primary research hinges on the ability of the researcher to get correct and truthful information that addresses the research objectives. Most problems in collecting primary data in international marketing research stem from cultural differences among countries and range from the inability of respondents to communicate their opinions to inadequacies in questionnaire translation.
Ability to communicate opinions:
The ability to express attitudes and opinions about a product or concept depends on the respondent’s ability to recognize the usefulness and value of such a product or concept. It is difficult for a person to formulate needs, attitudes, and opinions about goods whose use may not be understood, that are not in common use within the community, or that have never been available. For example, someone who has never had the benefits of an office computer will be unable to express accurate feelings or provide any reasonable information about purchase intention, likes or dislikes concerning a new computer software package. The more complex the concept, the more difficult it is to design research that will help the respondent communicate meaningful opinions and reactions. Under these circumstances, the creative capabilities of the international marketing researcher are challenged.
No company has had more experience in trying to understand consumers with communication limitations than Gerber. Babies may be their business, but babies often can’t talk much less fill out questionnaire. Over the years Gerber has found that talking to and observing both infants ad their mothers are important in marketing research. In one study Gerber found that breast-fed babies adapted to solid food more quickly than bottle fed babies because breast milk changes flavor depending on what the mother has eaten. For example infants were found to suck longer and harder if their mother had recently eaten garlic. In another study, weaning practices were studied around the world. Indian babies were lentils served on a finger.
Willingness to Respond:
Cultural differences offer the best explanation for the unwillingness or the inability of many to respond to research surveys. The role of the male, the suitability of personal gender based inquiries and other gender related issues can affect willingness to respond.
In some countries the husband not only earns the money but also dictates exactly how it is to be spent. Because the husband controls the spending, it is he, not the wife who should be questioned to determine preferences and demand for many consumer goods. In some countries, women would never consent to be interviewed by a male or a stranger. A French Canadian woman does not like to be questioned and is likely to be reticent in her responses. In some societies, a man would certainly consider it beneath his dignity to discuss shaving habits or brand preference in personal clothing with anyone – most emphatically not a female interviewer.
Anyone asking questions about any topic from which tax assessment could be inferred is immediately suspected of being tax agent. Citizens of many countries do not feel the same legal and moral obligations to pay their taxes as do US citizens. Tax evasion is thus an accepted practice for many and a source of pride for the more adept. Where such an attitude exists, taxes are often seemingly arbitrarily assessed by the government, which results in much incomplete or misleading information being reported. One of the problems revealed by the government of India in a recent population census is the underreporting of tenants by landlords trying to hide the actual number of people living in houses and flats. The landlords had been subletting accommodations illegally and were concealing their activities from the tax department.