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9 key steps to conduct international market research

Global markets are incredibly nuanced, so if you’re heading for worldwide domination, winging it isn’t really an option. Understanding the different territories that you’re planning to expand into will make you far more likely to succeed (as well as saving you from any reputation-damaging mistakes that can come when a breakthrough brand doesn’t fully understand the culture it’s edging into). Plus, you’ll enrich your understanding of your audience: the people behind the data points – and get the full human experience story.

In this blog, we’ll give you the ins and outs of international market research – from what it is and why your business ought to embrace it, to the different types of international market research, and how to execute your global research for maximum effect.

What is international market research?

International market research is a type of market research that collates data from countries outside of your current region(s) of operation. It can encompass competitive analysis and an exploration into what customers from different countries need and want, but it can also help you to avoid any legal snags – whilst giving you critical insight into political, cultural, and logistical considerations.

If you’re hoping to expand your business, you’ll need a thorough understanding of your new target market; that way, you’ll know how to position your product in a way that resonates with consumers from your country of choice.

Some companies choose to carry out international market research to test their brand name, their brand positioning, the look and feel of their brand, and the product or service itself – ready to make changes if any of those things don’t land. And while it may feel like a great deal of effort, the pay-off really does make it worthwhile.

Why should your business conduct international market research?

Market research is critical when launching any new product or service, but it becomes even more so when you’re going global. You might understand your current customers inside-out and back-to-front, but operating in new geographies comes with its own complications.

You don’t want to make a detrimental faux pas with a brand name that means something else in a different language; nor do you want to offend potential customers by marketing your product or service in an inappropriate way.

International market research is great for giving you an insight into the opportunities (and risks) that lie in wait in your chosen territories; it can also save you a great deal of time and money. Launching your products in a new global locale – without carrying out international market research before going all-guns-blazing – could lead to some very costly mistakes.

You need to know that there’s a market for what you’re selling, and you need to understand how consumers want to be sold to. The right research tools will leave you in no doubt.

Of course, one of the most invaluable payoffs of carrying out international market research is having the knowledge you need to minimize risk. Without doing your due diligence, you could find yourself pushing out a product or service into an overly saturated marketplace, or one where there’s little to no demand for what you’re offering in the first place.

As well as guarding your business, this type of research allows you to get to know your new customers a whole lot better – and as well as making them easier to market to, this level of understanding also allows you to connect with consumers on a more personal level. (AKA understanding the full human experience.) This is important for strengthening your brand identity and creating rapport with your customers throughout their buying journey.

Types of international market research

Right then, what sort of research should you be carrying out?

If you really want to get to know the international marketplace that’s going to take your business to dizzying new heights, it’s essential to cover all bases – and that means a thorough mix of both primary and secondary data. And before you ask, yes, you technically could carry out just one type, but you really need to combine the two if you want to feel the full benefits.

Primary international market research

Your primary international market research is a more direct approach, and great for really homing in on the market you’re looking to expand into. It encompasses research that’s taken directly from consumers or potential customers – such as online surveys, interviews, focus groups, or questionnaires. This type of research lets you get up close and personal with the people who matter, while giving you some invaluable insights with which to approach local suppliers.

Secondary international market research

Your secondary international market research is less direct, but still highly effective. This relates to research that you haven’t directly carried out – such as qualitative research or data that can be accessed online to give you a foundational understanding of the market you’re interested in; this could include trade data, or trade statistics for a specific product, service, or region. Secondary international market research tends to be faster and cheaper to get hold of than primary, but because the information you’ll access is more generic, it’s no replacement for a combination of efforts.

Considerations before getting started

Before you begin your international marketing research, it’s important to make sure your approach is well considered, thoroughly thought-out, and planned to the letter.

Of course, any form of market research deserves this level of care and attention, but when you’re venturing into brand new territories (brand, get it?), you need to have your wits about you if you want to avoid disaster and ensure success.

So, what should you keep in mind before carrying out any international market research?

  • Markets are more than a single snapshot: When you’re looking at a market for the first time, you want to glean every piece of information it’s possible to get – but this isn’t a one-and-done activity. Markets change all the time, so while you’ll have a static picture from your first round of research, it’s important that you stay current with the market conditions and changing trends of the territory you’re expanding into.
  • You need to speak to the relevant people: Before surveying a single consumer, it’s crucial to scope out who your target customers will be in your new operating country. Your current audience could be very different from the customers who would be interested in your product or service in another part of the world – so don’t waste your efforts on the wrong demographic.
  • Don’t sit on the findings: There’s nothing worse than investing time, effort, and resources into an in-depth piece of market research, only to ignore all the feedback. Even if you don’t like what’s being said, the only way you’re going to succeed internationally is by acting on the feedback and findings the research throws up.

How to conduct international research

  1. Look at what’s already out there

    As a starting point, you can try to tap into research that’s already been done by other organizations in the country you’re planning to move into. This is an example of secondary research: you’d be using data collected by a business either in your field, or your country of focus.

    While this can be a valuable, fast, and efficient way to gather key insights into markets, legalities, cultures and trends, this type of research isn’t exhaustive. You’ll have your own questions you need to ask that are relevant to your brand and your product or service.
  2. Access government data

    When you’re spreading your wings overseas, the government of whichever territory you’re targeting can be a goldmine of information. Most governments tend to hold a treasure trove of demographic data on their people, and the businesses that already operate within their borders. This can be incredibly helpful when it comes to mapping out your marketing and deciding on where to sell.

    You’ll also find useful information on the international rules and regulations to be mindful of and compliant with if trading in their country.
  3. Draw on info from charities

    If your plans for expansion include less developed countries, you might find that the government data available isn’t completely up to date, as they may lack the infrastructure to stay on top of it. In these instances, non-government organizations – such as charities – can sometimes prove more accurate, and therefore of greater use than government data.
  4. Talk to your target market

    There’s nothing quite like getting out there and hearing it straight from the horse’s mouth. Conducting interviews and facilitating focus groups really is the best way to learn about your target audience. What do they want? What challenge do they need you to solve? What would they pay for what you’re offering? How do you shape up against the competition? Just remember to think about language barriers, as you might need an interpreter.
  5. Get around the language barrier

    If you’re after a straightforward method of international market research, attitude scales are your friend. Posing a question and asking your target audience to rate their opinion (for example: ‘strongly agree’ or ‘strongly disagree’) is a simple way to test the market. Questions can also be easily translated, negating the need for an interpreter. However, you won’t be able to get the depth of insights that come with face-to-face interviews or detailed questionnaires.
  6. Talk to local experts

    Even after you’ve carried out interviews and accessed government info, you can still feel like you’re floundering in the dark. International markets can be tricky to navigate, and one of the most effective ways to truly understand a market is to talk to local experts – from manufacturers and suppliers to business journalists and economic pros.
  7. Tap into texts

    Did you know that you can quickly carry out text (SMS) surveys? It’s a fast, cost-effective, and low-effort way to reach a good portion of people. While this type of international market research isn’t going to give you reams of detailed responses, it does allow you to take a quick temperature check of your target market.
  8. Head online

    Where would we be without the internet? No, we don’t know either. When it comes to carrying out international market research, online surveys are invaluable. They’re cheap and easy, you can send them to any location you’re interested in, and you don’t have to worry about taking on extra staff to help you manage the testing. They’re also simple to translate into multiple languages.
  9. Face-to-face, but make it virtual

    Okay, so while face-to-face market research is the Holy Grail for interpreting your customer base, virtual communication is the next best thing. Focus groups and interviews can be carried out via Zoom or Microsoft Teams – negating any need to send your employees abroad. The success of virtual research does however depend on decent access to the right technology.

How can Forsta help?

Forsta’s market research survey software has been designed to transform your approach to international market research. We’ll get you deeper, more detailed data to make the unknown, known – allowing you to venture into new territories with confidence.

We understand the nuances of global markets, and with the technology to reveal the insights you need, our market research experts will help you to investigate new regions, new audiences, and new opportunities.

When you’re moving into a new part of the world, you need the lay of the land before you start digging for gold. And that’s what Forsta delivers: a complete understanding of your target territory. Because we believe expansion should be fun – not daunting. But it’s hard to get there without a little help.

To find out how Forsta’s Market Research Survey Software can help you to unmask new markets, request a free demo today.

Ready to go global?

There’s no denying that scoping out a new country can be a lot of hard work. When you’ve got an idea, you just want to run with it – but carrying out top-notch international market research is an essential step in your rollout plans that can ultimately save you time in the long run.

Trust us, we’ve done this thing a time or two.  

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