It is a long way from Memphis to Osaka.
I recently found myself about halfway through such a flight and completely bored. I had already watched the last episode of the new Dallas on my iPad. I had finished one movie and played electronic Scrabble until I finally beat the computer (I won't share how many games that took). I even tried to take a nap, but that wasn't happening.
I knew in a matter of hours, the excitement of the trip would kick-back in – visiting a new place with a weekend full of in-depth interviews and focus groups. However, that was little comfort at the halfway point of a long flight.
International qualitative research can be much like my flight to Osaka. You start off with great expectations, but about halfway through, it is easy to get tired and fed up with the whole process. Over time, I have developed a few "strategies" to help me through…
Plan, but expect the unexpected
Before fieldwork begins, I always spend significant time table-setting the project with my clients. I want to be sure we are all on the same page regarding the process, including that there will be surprises along the way.
There are ALWAYS surprises along the way!
On one of my previous trips to Japan, we were testing a number of value proposition concepts. The client's ad agency had translated the concepts into Japanese for testing. After the first couple of in-depth interviews, we were surprised by some of the words and phrases participants used to describe the concepts. It took us a few minutes to figure it out, but the translation was in error.
We had to make a correction, and do it fast! Because we anticipated a surprise, we were prepared to deal with it and move on. We did not allow an unexpected event to turn the situation into a bigger issue than it was.
Stay on course
By the time you hit the mid-point of an expansive global qualitative project (like you're in Osaka, Japan after having spent the last three weeks in Paris, Frankfurt, Mexico City and Hong Kong; and expect to spend the next three weeks in Mumbai, Dubai, Sao Paulo and Toronto), everything starts running together and becoming very familiar. It is easy to start pushing buttons that say, "Let's eliminate this section, and add some probes about this new ‘hot topic'." Or, "Why don't we change the way we are probing that service idea overall?"
No matter how tempting it may be to make mid-point adjustment, please, please, please fight the urge (or at least limit its impact). Just because it is a new "hot topic" doesn't mean the objectives and purpose of the research have changed. You haven't heard these answers in Japanese before, and if you cut out sections of the interview, you will not know how they may be similar or different in Japan when compared to the other markets.
Maximize in-market learnings
Finally, find creative and productive ways to spend free time in market. International qualitative is not a 24 x 7 activity. In many cultures the window for when our discussions can take place may be limited – like from 7-9 PM each evening.
My most productive engagements have included customer visits in market (during the free time) to build a stronger understanding of how that international market functions and how the product or service works in-market. These can be planned visits with specific customers or mystery shopping expeditions where you are checking product placement at key retailers. Be creative with what you do and how you do it – new insights and leapfrog moments should be expected.
I failed to follow my own "strategies" for this flight to Osaka. I did not load enough "entertainment" on my iPad to keep me engaged throughout the flight. Moreover, I got surprised, without a fallback plan, when there were not TV screens at each seat of the plane. Fortunately, I found a creative way to maximize my on-plane time… I hope you enjoyed reading it.