Information is the key component in developing successful marketing strategies and avoiding major marketing blunders. Information needs range from the general data required to assess market opportunities to specific market information for decisions about product, promotion, distribution and price. Sometimes the information can be bought from trusted research vendors or supplied by internal marketing research staff. But sometimes even the highest level executives have to get their shoes dirty by putting in the miles and talking to key customers and directly observing the marketplace in action. As an enterprise broadens its scope of operations to include international markets, the need for current accurate information is magnified. Indeed, some researchers maintain that entry into a fast developing, new to the firm foreign market is one of the most daunting and ambiguous strategic decisions an executive can face. A marketer must find the most accurate and reliable data possible within the limits imposed by time, cost, and the present state of art. The measure of a competent researcher is twofold: the ability to utilize the most sophisticated and adequate techniques and methods available within these limits, and the effective communication of insights to the decision makers in the firm. The latter often require involving senior executives directly in the research process itself.
Marketing research is traditionally defined as the systematically gathering recording and analyzing of data to provide information useful in marketing decision making. Although the research process and methods are basically the same whether applied in Columbus, Ohio, or Colombo, Sri Lanka, international marketing research involves two additional complications. First, information must be communicated across cultural boundaries. That is, executives in Chicago must be able to translate their research questions terms that consumers in Guangzhou, China can understand. Then the Chinese answer must be put into terms (i.e. reports and data summaries) that American managers can comprehend. Fortunately there are often internal staff and research agencies that are quite experienced in these kinds of cross cultural communication tasks.
Second, the environments within which the tools applied are often different in foreign markets. Rather than acquire new and exotic methods of research, the international marketing researcher must develop the ability for imaginative and deft application of tried and tested techniques in sometimes totally strange milieus. The mechanical problems of implementing foreign marketing often vary from country to country. Within a foreign environment the frequently differing emphases on the kinds of information needed, the often limited variety of appropriate tools and technique and the difficulty of implementing the research process constitute the challenges facing most international marketing researchers.
This article deals with the operational problems encountered in gathering information in foreign countries for use by international marketers. Emphasis is on these elements of data generation that usually prove especially troublesome in conducting research in an environment other than the own country.
The basic difference between domestic and foreign market research is the broader scope needed foreign research, necessitated by higher levels of uncertainty. Research can be divided into three type based on information needs: (1) general information about country, area, and/or market; (2) information necessary to forecast future marketing requirements by anticipating social, economic, consumers and industry trends within specific markets or countries (3) specific market information used to make product promotion, distribution, and price decisions to develop marketing plans. In domestic operations, most emphasis is placed on the third type gathering specific market information because the other data are often available from secondary sources.