Having conducted automotive studies on 5 continents, we at SIS International Research have compiled a few considerations in conducting automotive research globally. These aim to address opportunities and challenges in the fieldwork process, achieve research objectives and add value through actionable insight.
Know your client’s strategic research focus
Research is conducted to address a strategic question and internal needs. For research agencies conducting automotive research, it is important to understand the department that is commissioning the research and how the research will be used. As automotive clients can come from different departments such as engineering, marketing, supply chain planning or strategic planning focuses, so too can a project’s research questions and project scope.
Cross-functional client product teams or international project scopes can add further complexity to research assignments. Understanding your client’s key motivation and purpose behind the research can help the fieldwork and data collection agency team understand the motivation behind conducting a project. They can better align the questionnaire or discussion guide to reflect the clients’ strategic research objectives.
Understand respondents’ cultural and “on-the-ground” logistical considerations
In multicounty studies, intercultural and logistical differences can be significant. Clients may come from different countries and are faced with cultural and logistics differences. With strict quotas and on-the-ground logistics impacting, pressures can mount.
Culture can indeed impact the fieldwork process. For example, attitudes on promptness, respondent participation and even definitions about socioeconomic levels can differ dramatically country-to-country. Research agencies can provide value in helping clients to understand the intercultural context, values, customs and behavioral insights.
Also on-the-ground logistical issues such as traffic patterns in major cities such as Sao Paolo, Los Angeles and Beijing can have significant impact on the execution of studies. Other issues such as shipping testing stimuli and other study-related materials internationally and dealing with local customs can raise challenges during a study’s execution. Designing projects to be flexible to these considerations while being responsive to the clients’ research needs can help provide value.
Managing and Motivating Respondents
Automotive studies tend to have in-depth respondent screenings, strict quotas, vehicle/phase rotations, working with simulators and extended interview lengths. These studies also tend to have more sophisticated testing requirements, such as fieldwork inside vehicles, proof of ownership and heavy equipment & methodological requirements.
Keeping respondents engaged and interested in studies may help enhance “show rates” and enhance the research outcome. Motivating respondents in addition to financial incentives by emphasizing to respondents’ how meaningful their responses are may help further encourage participation.
In addition, respondents tend to participate in fieldwork at different paces. Helping clients understand how to keep respondents engaged during the fieldwork can help the research outcome. Helping the client design and amend their questionnaires can also be helpful. As human behavior is dynamic and subject to change, it is important to manage the screening and data collection process as flexibly as possible.
Researchers can help provide clients context into how respondents may respond to certain questions.
Defining processes, expectations, procedures and project scope upfront
As car clinics can be multifaceted with multiple methodologies, quotas, rotations, and other variables, having robust procedures and processes is essential. Having a workplan designed with intuitive diagrams, graphics and detailed information can help project teams brainstorm and visualize any challenges and opportunities that could emerge.
Prior to the fieldwork process, bringing together the fieldwork teams and seasoned research executives to brainstorm potential challenges, delays, etc. that could impact project implementation.
Managing the project scope is important to reducing risk. At SIS, we aim to enforce processes and procedures with robust project management systems. These pre-project sessions aim to brainstorm and predict any issues that could emerge prior to the fieldwork and data collection. These sessions help to identify any “blind spots” or potential challenges. Contingency planning and flexibility can help fieldwork teams responsively address issues in the field if they emerge.
Managing of Equipment & Audio Visual Requirements
Car clinics and automotive studies can often involve procurement and provisioning of vehicles, audio visuals, stimuli, and secure facilities. Important in these processes is attention to detail. In our experience, we have even encountered requests such as adjusting tire pressure!
Providing an in-depth checklist to clients regarding their needs may help to identify equipment, audio/visual needs or any other “blind spots” that the research team may not have foreseen.
Rigorous Monitoring of Budget, Scope and Milestones
Seemingly small changes during the fieldwork phase can turn into big challenges. For example, adding only a few more minutes to a survey could have large implications, particularly when time is limited. Operating vehicle technology or explaining new concepts can take longer in reality, even after planning and testing.
Robust project management platforms and controls can help alert to changes, and keep project managers on track of small changes and managing their impact in the data collection process. Strong planning and controls can help reduce variations. Providing time buffers, internal checks and controls can help act as a buffer against variability. Back-up planning and contingencies can help project teams rapidly adapt to changes in the field.
Also, project management systems and project management best practices can help manage project complexity. Increasingly, new project management technologies and survey software have the potential to help managers and quality control professionals manage complexity.
Timing, Recruitment & Quota Management
Fieldwork in automotive studies can often include extended interviews, multimodal methodologies in one interview, group interviews and vehicle “rotations” which are dependent on each other. This is because of variability in human behavior.
Project managers need to monitor interview length, interviewer productivity, “bottlenecks” and respondent quotas. While human behavior can be harder to control, project managers can plan ahead and convey expectations and incentives for participating appropriately in studies to avoid delays.
Take the example of airline travel. Where many variables are dependent on each other and time is limited, one delay has the potential to influence larger delays later in a day. Just as a small delay in air travel can lead to many longer delays that can impact an entire system, so too can it occur in project management. If, for example, multiple survey respondents are dependent on each other to show up at the same time for an interview with some component in which they must all be together (e.g. a follow up focus groups, or follow up Triad interviews), then when one respondent is late, the process can cause delays. Even if impacting only one interview group, this could have the potential to delay interviews throughout an entire day.
The Automotive research is a very detailed discipline of research.
As the sector evolves, new questions about innovation, product development, sustainability and technological development, there are new opportunities and challenges in generating insights. Through best practices, strong planning, internal controls and technologies, researchers can add value to the research outcome.
About SIS International Research
SIS International Research is a leading global market research firm with over 35 years providing solutions in Consumer, B2B, Automotive, Industrial and Healthcare sectors.
Our key solutions in the automotive sector include: Qualitative fieldwork, Quantitative data collection, Static and Dynamic Car Clinics, Usability studies, Test driving, Trend Insights, Market Entry & Opportunity and Strategic Market Intelligence.