Conducting Qualitative Research in Emerging Markets: Lessons from the Field Lesson #1: Collaboration Enables Deeper Insight

Filed Under: Qualitative Research


Emerging markets contain a large number of untapped consumers who are seeking novel products and they offer potentially lucrative opportunities for multi-national companies to grow their customer bases. Traditional qualitative market research — focus groups, in-home and in-store interviews, and in-home usage tests — can reveal valuable insights into what these consumers want, how they behave and interact with products, and how to best reach them. However, such research, while common in developed countries, poses many new and interesting challenges when exported to emerging markets.

Given our vast experience with conducting qualitative research around the world, we’ve decided to share our knowledge through a series of blogs. With this blog series, we hope to dispel any myths and share best practices from our researchers for conducting on-the-ground, often multi-method, qualitative research in emerging markets.

We select and collaborate with an in-country partner we trust and involve them throughout the entire research process. This helps us gain deeper and more nuanced insights to help guide marketing strategies. Involving these local partners (recruiters, moderators, translators) from study design to fieldwork to final report is paramount for us.

We know when we design our studies that local partners will know which methods work best, as well as how to properly phrase and structure screeners, discussion guides, and other research documents to meet the country’s cultural norms. Logistically, they can alert us to anything that impacts recruitment or fieldwork, such as upcoming holidays, political events, or even cultural differences in what constitutes a weekend versus a workday (for example, in the Middle East, a weekend is Friday/Saturday, not Saturday/Sunday.)

Also, beyond simple linguistic fieldwork support, in-country partners can point out differing research customs. In Brazil, for example, focus group participants may be served multi-course meals during the groups, which increases both the time needed to complete the research and costs. More generally in Latin America, focus groups that would take 90 minutes in the US would probably take two hours, as participants often talk more and use more words (and time) to make a point. Plus, starting and ending after the scheduled fieldwork times is acceptable.

Oftentimes More People, Less Space

Stores and homes in emerging markets may be smaller than in the US. In India, for example, the average home size for lower SEC consumers is 100 square feet. These smaller spaces often must accommodate a larger research team than a US-based in-home interview due to the addition of language translator.

Other good rules are:

  • Keep the number of observers to just those who are pertinent to the research.
  • Possibly create research teams to conduct fieldwork simultaneously.
  • Consider the need for drivers and (perhaps) security (could further increase the number of people involved in the research).

Tips for Successful Collaboration:

If the research study spans multiple countries, we found that it’s helpful to involve our local partners in the full analysis, not just their individual country debriefing. Bringing everyone together synthesizes all the findings and serves as a check of our understanding of each country’s insights and allows us to continue leveraging their knowledge to compare market differences. We’ve often found that insights that seem insignificant in individual country reports become stronger when all parties come together to discuss the findings.

  • We choose local moderators who are bilingual with advanced English skills, as this makes briefings and debriefings easier.
  • We schedule multiple briefings with local partners to build rapport and ensure seamless execution. While phone and web-based meetings are viable options leading up to the research, if feasible, in-person is even better.
  • Having the US team travel to the country is powerful for synthesizing and providing an additional layer of analysis, as they generally understand the clients’ needs and have a greater understanding of the intricacies of the research questions.

In Lesson #2 we’ll focus on translating the culture of the emerging market.

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