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A global specialty dog and cat pet food manufacturer, stressing biologically appropriate fresh ingredients, continues to experience growth over a number of years but had not invested in tracking the perceptions and attitudes of customers and prospects. 

Our client felt it was time to initiate research and contracted C+R Research to design a study to meet their immediate needs of establishing benchmark metrics in the US and Canada.

Problem

The research launched successfully and shed light on our client’s brands relative to their competitors’ in the US and Canada.  However, initial findings showed unexpected differences between the two countries.  This led to questions of validity which were immediately refuted given the consistency of the data within the countries– reflecting internal validity.  We observed lower brand scores in Canada compared to the US, which seemed counterintuitive since the brands existed longer in Canada and had greater penetration there. 

So, to learn if there could be cultural biases in the way Canadians and Americans respond in survey research, we decided to dig deeper into this issue and launched our own investigation.

Result

Our literature review and our dataset analysis led us to conclude that there is definitely a cultural response style difference between Canadians and Americans.  While not empirically supported by this analysis, we hypothesize that Canadians are more critical, or more thoughtful than Americans in their brand assessments.

Our recommendation to our global pet food client was to refrain from making cross-country comparisons (which was never a primary objective of the research), and instead observe the trends over-time and interpret the extent to which improvements or declines are occurring for brands within each country.

Solution

We conducted a thorough literature review and revealed numerous academic studies and papers written on the topic of cultural response styles.  We uncovered a good deal of academic research on topics that included…

  • The relation between culture and response style
  • Americans scoring more positively than Europeans
  • Importance of culture in response
  • Scale usage across cultures

We had also conducted other brand research in the US and Canada for a client in the skin care industry.  So, we decided to analyze this dataset also (as it was never used to compare results between countries).

Amidst all the research conducted, there was none that directly compared Canadian and US results.  We learned that Americans tend to have a response bias leading to higher ratings compared to Europeans, but how do they compare to Canadians?  We even contacted a professor in the UK who was an often-cited author on the topic who admitted that she was not aware of “…a single contribution comparing Canadians and Americans.”  However, she did comment: “For what it's worth, though, your client data do confirm what would be my hunch about the differences between the two countries” (Canadians providing lower ratings than Americans).  Signs seemed to point to Americans rating brands higher than Canadians, but we still had no empirical evidence.

Our next step was to analyze the pet food and the skin care datasets from the US and Canada.  Both datasets provided multiple measures on brand assessment providing a broad array of results to analyze.  All measures utilized a 5-point Likert-type scale (except for ‘likelihood to recommend,’ 11-point); examples of measures are liking, importance, satisfaction, purchase interest, likelihood to recommend, among others.

We examined the entire distribution of responses across all brand assessment measures, and Canadians were between 11% - 49% less likely to select the top rating versus Americans. The results were crystal clear!  In both studies and across all measures, it was found that Canadians are far less likely than Americans to choose the highest rating on the scale.