There are a number of differences in the way international project management and fieldwork should be handled in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the United States of America. One can expect to encounter different assumptions on project start dates, overall approaches, deadlines, methodologies, analytical tools and forms of communication.

As the world becomes more globalized and new markets emerge, these factors will increasingly impact and influence the course of research projects.

Cultural differences require nuanced and flexible approaches. For example, flexibility and practicality may be required approaches for projects in one region, while formal processes might better serve the priorities of another. In some cultures a hierarchical project structure may be seen as best, while in another, a “flat” project structure might best serve the project.

With the rise of emerging markets, these differences may become even more pronounced and may well affect the way market research should be conducted. For instance, research results and methodological applications can vary greatly from country to country. In some parts of the world, close proximity does not guarantee cultural similarity.

Case Study: Alcoholic Beverages Research Across the Globe

SIS conducted a project in the final quarter of 2013 that illustrated how to effectively approach the social and cultural differences between geographical areas. We conducted a qualitative multi-country marketing research study on behalf of an African-based spirits manufacturer.

The client chose to work with SIS due to our 30 years of experience conducting market research in over 120 countries. We have extensive experience in conducting qualitative research, primarily through in-depth interviews, focus groups and ethnographic studies. SIS also maintains regional offices which are strategically positioned around the globe with project managers that are able to speak at least two foreign languages and are able to efficiently manage multi-country projects.

The main objective of the study was to have a better understanding of the cultural and behavioral differences in terms of alcoholic consumption in five countries across three continents:

  • Asia

    China & Taiwan – We’re always aware that Asia includes many different countries, cultures, and economies. For example, Respondents from China, Japan, Korea, and the Philippines are all likely to be different from one another. In Asia, it is important all the details of a given project are attended to before any actions are taken. Dealing with Asian clients and suppliers successfully involves establishing and maintaining a long-term, highly valued partnership based on mutual respect.

  • Europe – Poland & Russia

    Europe is an interesting mix of unique countries and cultures, from established western nations to newer nations in the east; from the traditional southern countries to the modern Nordic modern nations. Market research projects in Europe start on time. There is clear and thorough communication between SIS team members and our clients through phone calls, email, and face-to-face meetings, to ensure clarity of purpose, correctly implemented project methodologies, and ultimate success.
    The organization and execution of projects are typically more formal than in the U.S., but the European people are personable and cooperative as a rule.

  • North America – USA

    When initially bidding on a project, U.S.-based clients prefer a quick approach, where assumptions are made and little detail is required to formulate a quote. Clients from the U.S. are not as concerned with phone calls or meeting in-person at the beginning of a project. Meeting the objective of a study is the most important factor, therefore a straight forward approach is preferred.

Concerning the Alcoholic Beverage study for the African beverage manufacturer, another important objective was to understand and evaluate the personal perceptions and general product awareness of people from various markets and cultures. The client requested that print ads and TV ads should be shown to respondents and that taste tests were a necessary component of the study. To that end, it was decided that the most relevant methodology would be to organize focus groups.

We had to have strong consideration for various local differences and preferences, but we also needed to find a way to “standardize” our testing procedures, so we approached this multi-country project with three key actions:

  1. We had one general manager develop the standardized procedures, supported by local managers whose task was to implement the procedures uniformly and effectively.
  2. We developed an workable timeline which took into account the countries being researched and the cultural differences that would likely be encountered.
  3. We prepared full outlines and a detailed briefing on the project.

In the end, all fieldwork was successfully completed in the various countries and our clients were completely satisfied with the findings from the Focus Groups. Along the way we discovered some interesting cultural differences while talking to respondents from the different geographical areas. In Russia, the price of a bottle of Vodka does not guarantee a good quality product, however, the brand name and its history/tradition do. In China, the place of origin is very important for top-shelf, premium alcoholic beverages. For example, cognac (as opposed to brandy) should preferably be made in France. Vodka has to be made in Russia or Poland. In Taiwan, respondents associated Africa with nature and they associated spirits originating from that continent with a more genuine and less artificial taste and image, as opposed to spirits coming from other regions of the world.

During this study, cultural considerations proved to be of great importance. This included more than just individual responses and feedback given during focus groups. For instance, different recruitment methods were employed from one test location to another. In the USA, China and Taiwan we were required to recruit 10 participants. In Russia and Poland it was necessary to over-recruit. Sometimes participants would arrive and patiently wait until the groups began, particularly when the groups took place late in the evening. In most countries, respondents sat outside and were fed snacks and drinks. In Asian countries participants would be asked to arrive an hour before the groups were scheduled to begin and they would be served dinner.

While conducting this project, a few challenges were presented. With fieldwork taking place simultaneously in many countries, accuracy and coordination were absolutely crucial to make the study succeed. Three SIS offices (NYC – London – Shanghai) worked in tandem to set the project up in their respective geographical areas. There was a strict timeline which had to be adhered to in order to satisfy the client. The focus group dates overlapped from one country to the other; therefore a steady flow of communication between offices was vital. Shipping the alcoholic bottles needed for taste-testing proved to be difficult in some countries. Bottles were held in customs in China and Taiwan. SIS representatives were dispatched to deal with customs officials in order to retrieve the sample bottles.


As project directors and experts in Market Research, it is our job at SIS International Research to find the most effective methodologies.  We consider cultures, context, methodological strengths and limitations, and analytical tools.

Emerging Markets present great opportunities and challenges for researchers in the era of globalization. Our job is to work within the budgetary constraints of our clients while maintaining the highest level of quality, meeting all deadlines, and providing deep insights about the people we research.