Luggage Can Be Replaced; Your Content Can’t

Tips For Conducting Design Research Outside the U.S. (Part 1 of 2)

At STORYLINE, several our clients have teams around the world – which means we are often tasked with taking our team and methods abroad to support their efforts in-region. While the cultures, environments and local cuisine may change, our goal of uncovering rich, quality insights for them via design-focused methodologies does not!

Conducting in-depth qualitative research outside the U.S. introduces great opportunities, but also barriers that we must overcome to deliver on our promise of quality content. In this post, we want to share the first of two keys to success that have enabled us to achieve our – and hence, our clients’ – objectives.

Establish Trusted Partners In Target Markets

When conducting ethnographic interviews internationally, the quality of your content begins with the quality of your international partners. No business has a qualified internal base camp at the ready in every region to support design research, so establishing quality partners on the ground is a challenge even the largest companies must overcome.

These partners are the trusted extensions of your team on the ground, street-level in the regions you’re targeting – the experienced teams or individuals who know you and your approach and are ready to support you. These are the folks that you will need to lean on, not only for the expected (e.g., recruitment, interpretation or translation, potentially moderation) but the unexpected as well (e.g., when leadership asks for a few anecdotes from consumers in Japan and gives you two days to pull it off).

Word to the wise: there is a bit of snake oil out there too! Be cautious if you’re beginning with a blank slate of existing partnerships. We have heard from too many clients who contracted with international service providers that overpromise just to get business with U.S. brands and end up under-delivering down the stretch – most often companies who say they can facilitate this type of research simultaneously in multiple regions are in fact survey houses or focus group factories. If the promises seem too good to be true, they probably are. Do your homework, use referrals when you can – the quality of the insights that you gather could be at risk.

For us, not only do we trust our partners with our business but our clients’ business as well. We’ve spent years vetting potential partners and enriching the relationships we trust.  

And we’re fortunate to have established great relationships with teams that not only know our process, but they’ve connected with our people on a personal level. When U.S. news breaks from our region, we’re often in their thoughts. When the Boston Marathon bombings occurred, our partners in France and Spain reached out to check that we were all safe. It’s teams like these we can reach out to in a pinch or with an unusual request because they know us and therefore they’re willing to go the extra mile.

When quality content is on the line, there is simply too much at stake in terms the quality of research participants and the project timeline to have a company taking a 30,000-foot view. We partner with those already working street level and so should you. This amounts to more effort – but if your goal is quality content, it’s is the only way to go when conducting design research engagements internationally.

Stay tuned for Part 2 on this topic – “Don’t Let Them Speak English (Really!”)