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:
- We had one general manager develop the standardized procedures, supported by local managers whose task was to implement the procedures uniformly and effectively.
- We developed an workable timeline which took into account the countries being researched and the cultural differences that would likely be encountered.
- 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.