Cross-Culture Approach
Thomas Pohne explores why international research is sometimes exhausting for our clients and why we do it the way we do it.

By Thomas Pohne

"I see something you don't see" - Why we do international research the way we do it

How often have we asked ourselves: Why do we bother to send our researchers to all four corners of the world, put them through the ordeals of jetlag and long-haul flights, have them sit for days behind one-way mirrors with headphones on, listening to interpreters chattering away at lightning speed, make them travel to countries they do not know, with languages they do not speak, unable to even read a street sign…

In the age of electronic communication, we could certainly make it easier on ourselves: Hire a research agency in another country, e-mail them the interviewer guide, give them a telephone briefing and have them send back a written report two weeks later, and bingo! you can explore a foreign market faster and more convenient than ever.

So, why do we travel? And, last but not least, why do we expect our clients to pay for all this? Because there are secrets to profound intercultural research. One is the double angle. We call it the rheingold Cross-Culture Approach.

If you team up with local researchers in any country, they will notice countless little details you would not even see. If they are good, they will be able to explain to you all the ramifications of the local culture, the peculiarities of the national market and its retail structure, the heritage of brands, the influence of history, politics, economy, religion - in other words, everything that has or could have an influence on consumers’ perceptions and decisions. They will tell you all that… but only if you ask them. And usually you have to be there to know what to ask.

At the same time, you will notice many things you do not understand, things that strike you as funny, fascinating, or foreign. Your local partners may not see them at all. To them, they are completely normal and matter-of-course. To you, they are entirely different from what you know and that is how you begin to understand that other culture.

Ask a Japanese woman in her living room about her household duties. Ask a lumberjack in the Rocky Mountains why he bought this particular brand of chainsaw. Ask a dog owner in Italy how she raises and feeds her little furry friend. Ask them what they do, why they do it, how they do it. Your consumers are out there. All you need to do is to meet them and ask the right questions. (And, yes, you need a professional to do that.)

For more than 100 years, anthropologists have learned that watching people is only one part of the picture. Another part is asking them questions and helping them to verbalise, encouraging them to talk.

And yet another BIG part is understanding their personal and cultural backgrounds. And again, it takes experts to do all that – people who talk to consumers and understand their backgrounds, day in, day out.

We are experts, but only because we work with experts. We carefully choose the researchers we use, in every country, to make sure that they have a sound approach, a good methodology and profound knowledge of the culture they live in. Beyond the consumer, the local partners are our most important informants. And if a researcher is good, he will find more informants. He will talk to the translator, the taxi driver, the local marketing manager… anyone. He’ll keep his ears and eyes wide open and come home with so many things he does not understand.

That’s why the last and most important part of the work is the analysis. You can gather tons of information, books full of notes, hours upon hours of video footage. But what to do with it? How to turn all this into insights that make sense? Needless to say, it takes experts to do that, too. And it takes some time.

A clever man once said: “There is nothing more practical than a good theory.” By the way, we also have a good theory. That’s how we turn all that footage into findings, the findings into structure, and the structure into results and recommendations. Because we all use the same theory at rheingold, we can always compare results from every single country. No matter how many countries, and no matter how particular they are, we will be able to point out the commons and the differences and put them into the big picture.

It may take a little longer. And it may cost a little more. But it’s worth it. Because we see something they don’t see. And, in the end, you will, too.

© 2015 rheingold