08 Sep 2016

By Danyo Dimitrov

It is a story many of us know well..

The “Multicountry” Challenge
Clear the Clouds on the Horizon

Important client with a huge project that has to cover several countries, sometimes dozens. Of course timings are always tight, the budget is just enough, with a bit set aside as a back-up. Naturally the client expects the best and we have already done quite a lot of convincing that the new technique we have in mind is what they need and it will bring them that extra bit of insights they are looking for, that competitive edge. They have given the highly anticipated “go ahead” and now it is time to go, not a second can be wasted, all hands on deck. You guessed correctly, I am referring to the multi-country research project, the large one, the one we know we can handle … if only there weren’t so many ifs, ands, or buts about it.Relax, you are not alone, many of us have been, are and will be there, facing the “multicountry challenge”.Having a good grasp on how such complex projects go in reality, regardless how much effort went into planning and forecasting at the bidding stage, one can always expect the unexpected. This is why I allowed myself to put together few key steps to ensure smooth sail in the high seas of international market research.

Initial set-up

The most crucial question at the initial phase is considering which tasks will be handled in-house and for which partners might be needed. This is a question that is most commonly answered at bidding stage, but still there are always some fine adjustments to be made. Picking the best partner/provider to work with sounds like common sense, but how do you weed out the poor performers and get the star players, especially if you need to run fieldwork in a country you have little experience with. Do you go with global panel providers or only seek the local experts? I’d say trust your instincts. Do they respond in detail or beat about the bush, do they adapt to your needs and requirements or try to fit your project in their own box? On one hand, they need to know the specifics about the markets they offer, in this respect maybe you’d like to go to local experts, especially in relatively smaller markets. On the other hand, with so many markets in your project, communicating with multiple providers can be a bit of a hassle. Probably the best compromise is to go regional, where you can still find local expertise and run several markets together with the same provider.

In terms of timings, it is always a good idea to have few days between each of the stages, as there will be some delays arising from various aspects of the job, be client-related like pending confirmations, in-house back-and-forth or supplier-produced. Usually fieldwork is the point at which time frame is pushed at the most. There is a clear relation between the quota set complexity and fieldwork duration, the larger the number of quotas and the more cells required, the longer it will take you to close them all. It goes without saying that you need to deliver the best detail depth possible to your client. However, it is worth the effort to discuss this aspect with your client ahead of time and agree how much time and resources you are willing to sacrifice for that much additional depth. In other words, make sure you are not missing the forest for the tree when defining your quotas. Sometimes less is more.

Actual research work

After setting-up the whole process, which is more of a project management activity, it is time to jump in the deep waters of research and figure out the actual questionnaire. It is clear that its general framework does exist at bidding stage, but fine-tuning the questionnaire is the key to the promised land of insights. You probably have the client brief and all the meeting notes and memos engraved in your consciousness already, however, this is where the “multicountry challenge” may hit you hard and unexpected. When dealing with multiple countries it is easy to forget that each market carries cultural specifics which may distort your results if they are not accounted for in the questionnaire. In this respect, preparing a single questionnaire and then directly translating it to each of the languages required is hardly the winning formula. The common specifics to look for are income ranges, nationally representative quotas, market-adapted brand lists. That’s about it, right … not really. Very often specifics go much deeper, e.g. is the survey topic in line with the local legislation, can some of the questions be considered too personally invasive and many more. Most of the FMCG products are considered “safe to research” in Europe, most of Asia and the Americas, but you may need to double-check. The best people to consult with are the partners you have commissioned to handle a certain market. They should be able to advise on whether the topic and the wording are appropriate and unbiased for the country in question.

Once you have the questionnaires sorted out, comes the time to translate them. Unless you have in-house resources, namely, research professionals in full command of the given language, it is better to rely on specialized translation agency or again on the supplier you have commissioned for the given market, as some of them do offer this service professionally. The one thing that is likely to bring you headaches is relying on a non-professional native or a translation agency with little or no research experience. In both cases, even though the language command may not be a problem in this case, the crucial research terms or nuances may evade these non-specialized translators or they may use a synonym that changes the meaning in a direction you don’t want. The last thing you’d need is your questionnaire to be understood differently in the different fieldwork countries.


There’s a lot to be said about fieldwork, but the common thing is that every research manager addresses it differently. Hm, thanks, captain Obvious. In my experience, the best way to avoid problems is having a sample plan, namely which quota cells are the hardest and have to be given more time, hence pushed harder from the very beginning. One may also like to dodge the bullet of the quota bottlenecks by spotting the problematic overlapping of demographics before it is too late. Say, you do a project on mobile apps, what you don’t want is to end up looking for older people who are heavy mobile app users. Such quota bottlenecks will bring down your incidence rate and increase the costs of the fieldwork. They can easily be avoided if a thorough sample plan is put together ahead of time and clearly communicated with the sample provider.

Putting it all together

You now have all your interviews, a good time to congratulate yourself, you have evaded or overcome the most of what we here call ”the multicountry challenge”. But wait, it is still early to pop-up the champagne. You need to have your data processed, your open-ends coded. As far as data processing goes, having solved all the adjustment matters during the questionnaire design phase, you should be good to proceed with crunching the numbers. As for open-end coding, once again, you need to overcome the language barrier. You have the same options, as with the questionnaire translation, either go with a specialized translation agency and then do the coding in-house or rely on your regional/local supplier. Here, you have both a budget and a timing question to address in order to decide which path you’d like to take. However, I believe, it is safe to assume that you have that answer ready from the time you were putting the project together.

Now all is in place and it’s time to unleash your research ingenuity and produce these valuable insights your client is expecting from you. All your work thus far will only add more to this creative process, remember, you are now well aware on the cultural specifics of the given markets, combine that with the findings you accumulated and you see your ideas blossom. I personally find this part of the process the most rewarding one – translating raw data into actionable insights.

…pst, remember those champagne glasses you put away, it’s probably time to put them to good use!

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