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Essential Tips for Market Research in Multiple Languages

Picture 30I recently had the opportunity to serve as a guest speaker for a Vovici webinar titled, “It’s Greek to Me: Multilingual Surveys.” It’s a great topic, and one that researchers gloss over at their own peril.

I’ve done over 600 primary research projects in my career, and at least 30% have been multi-national.  So I have learned a few things.  Sometimes, the hard way.

If you are planning a multi-country survey project, here are a few tips.

  1. Assume at least 5 business days in your project schedule for translation. And that is the bare minimum. It really does take time for proper translation and quality checking of that translation.
  2. Hire a professional translator.  Even if your good friend Alberto speaks fluent Italian, trust me: translation is a unique discipline.  Of course, you can always ask Alberto to check the completed translation for you, as a sanity check.
  3. Keep your questions as short and simple as possible. Because of language differences, a question that seems fine to you in English may translate to be more cumbersome in another language. Also, simple questions pose lower risk of translation heartache.
  4. Plan for translation at the end of the project.  If you plan to have any open-ended responses at all, budget for it.  If you end up with 1,000 open-ended responses to an important question, you’ll want them translated.  And 1,000 responses, even just 8 to 10 words each, adds up fast.
  5. Beware of subjective scales.  Because of different cultures in different countries, even regions within countries, subjective scales can be hard to interpret.

About Those Scales…

This tip about scales is really important.  Let me give you some examples.

“Please rate your satisfaction with our product from 1 to 5, where is Not at All Satisfied and 5 is Very Satisfied.” That’s subjective.  What I mean by “very satisfied” may not be what you mean. And in some cultures, those 5s are almost never given out. In others, they are handed out like candy. So if you are collecting data in 10 countries, and using a very subjective scale, how can you reliably compare results county-to-country?

If you are working with a full-service market research agency that has experience with the population you are researching and the countries you are including, they will be able to give you guidance on how to do those comparisons. But frankly, it’s not perfect.  So I recommend playing it safe; use subjective scales sparingly in multilingual surveys.

In the case of satisfaction research in particular, this is another reason why it is important to collect objective behavioral data as well. Data such as number of repeat purchases in past 6 months (or planned for next 6 months), number of times has recommended your product to a friend/colleague, willingness to be a customer reference, etc.

For some topics, a useful but oft-neglected scale option is constant sum. A constant sum scale is one where respondents are asked to allocate 100 points among a list of (typically) 7 to 10 items—such as desirable product features, needs, values, criteria. This gives a more objective result than listing a set of items and asking each one be rated on a 5 point scale from, for example, “Not at all important to me” to “Very important to me.” That approach typically results in everything being important—not very useful.

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Multilingual surveys take more time to plan, more time to execute, and require very careful question wording and scale selection. If you don’t have direct experience with them, I strongly recommend working with a full-service market research agency, or a market research consultant, with proven experience in the countries your research will cover.

Want more? Check out the webinar, stored here with audio:  LINK.

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Kathryn Korostoff

Kathryn Korostoff is founder and lead instructor at Research Rockstar. Over the past 25 years, she has personally directed more than 600 primary market research projects and published over 100 bylined articles in magazines. She is also a professor at Boston University, where she teaches grad students how to analyze and report quantitative data.

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2 thoughts on “Essential Tips for Market Research in Multiple Languages”

  1. I have been burned in the past by not having enough translation budget planned. This can really add up. Great points. Thanks.

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