How to conduct international market research: 4 methods for global insights

These international market research methods help your business go global by reaching the audiences who will love your product in multiple target countries.

Are you planning on taking the world by storm with your new brand, product or service? Do some international market research first, to make sure you understand the nuances of different global markets, and create a comprehensive picture of your new target market.

You could use international market research to get a clear picture of the risks and business opportunities that lie ahead in countries you plan to export or expand to. It can include competitive analysis, research into how to resonate with consumers in different countries, as well as drilling down into legal, cultural, political and logistical aspects.

Why conduct international market research?

There can be huge differences between each different foreign marketplace that you might not have thought of or realized as an outsider looking in. For any international business, it’s important that you get quality primary data in all the countries you operate in, to make sure you’re not tone-deaf, and are able to optimize your products, processes, and promotion for each specific market.

Here’s a fantastic example of how international market research pays off. 

We’ve seen first-hand how companies like Klarna have benefited from doing thorough research and copy testing before expanding to new markets. Their qualitative research in Belgium uncovered a crucial piece of information: Belgian consumers didn’t like the name of the product they intended to launch there.  

Klarna turned to Attest to do a quantitative study, and created a survey to test different product names and to see what would convert best. In the end, a suitable name popped up out of the data and Klarna went ahead with a successful launch,

That’s just one way international market research can benefit your business. But of course, there’s more, so keep on reading.

Minimize risks when entering overseas markets

As with any type of market research, one of the main objectives is minimizing risk. 

You wouldn’t walk into a porcelain shop wearing a blindfold; you’d study the room, and move accordingly. 

Use market research to minimize the risk of entering a market that is already saturated, or where there’s no demand, or where you wouldn’t make a profit at the price point you’re offering… The world is your oyster. 

Get to know customers across different cultures

The world is getting more and more connected. There’s a surge of ‘digital nomads’ and people who say they are ‘citizens of the world’ when you ask them where they’re from. But, there are still plenty of cultural differences you should be aware of when it comes to selling products or services.

Studying consumer behavior in foreign markets is crucial for international market research. You could wonder about questions like:

  • Who shops online more, Italians or Germans? And what does this mean for our localized online stores?
  • Do car buyers in the US conduct their research differently than UK car buyers?
  • Is getting your groceries delivered as big a thing in Spain as it is in Norway?

Don’t just assume there’ll be enough overlap between countries. You could be surprised by the difference in results. For instance, a passionate Italian grandmother might approach buying pasta very differently from a student in Budapest—so adjust your pricing, global market research, international marketing, distribution channels and more accordingly.

Identify business opportunities and market potential

Which countries still don’t have a product as awesome as yours? In which target markets are people currently buying large quantities of the product you’re selling—so much that the current producers can’t keep up? What emerging markets should you enter right now?

International market research helps you spot new business opportunities. You find out how large potential markets are, who your competitors are and how you could steal market share from them.

Don’t just look forward: look back too to see how the market has developed. What market trends have passed, and how did people react to them? What are the usual growth rates for businesses like yours?

Identifying the fastest growing markets and familiarizing yourself with the players in those will help you figure out your own competitive advantages, so you can enter new markets with confidence, being able to lead—not just follow. 

Not sure where to start? Say hello to our market analysis template! With this we offer you a clear idea of the type of questions you can ask. Use it as a starting point and tailor it to your needs to really get to know your market.

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Optimize spending and margins

It’s very likely that you have to tweak your usual strategies a little, depending on the market. In other countries there will be different distribution channels, production options and costs for selling. Getting insight into this before entering is crucial.

Look into which channels are available and gather information on suppliers, manufacturers and other partners you need. Having this info ready before launch will mean you can fuel your export plan with valuable strategic insights, ensuring you maximize your profit, and can deliver your products on time.

Make sure you’re compliant

We can’t stress enough how important it is that you get all the legal insights ready before entering a new market. Every country has different rules and standards, and not being compliant could be an expensive mistake. 

Find out what the required certifications and standards are, and what tests your products have to endure. Check if products or packaging need to be altered for specific markets with specific rules. 

Primary vs secondary international market research

Your international market research should be a mix of primary and secondary data, mixed to compliment each other to give you a thorough understanding of a new market.

Each research method comes with its own benefits, but combining the two gives you the best of both worlds. 

Secondary market research

Secondary market research is great to lay the groundwork in the market research process: you can use data and quantitative research that you can find online to get a good understanding of the market. Think market data and trade data, and specific trade statistics for a country or a product. 

The benefit of using secondary market research for this part is that it’s relatively quick, and cost-efficient. However, it can only be used for part of your research objectives, because the information is generic, not specified to your product and might not be up-to-date.

Primary market research

In comes primary market research. This is often done using online surveys, or by talking to experts in the foreign market you’re looking into. This is great to study your target customers from up close, or learn about the current market conditions from local experts. You can also use primary research to talk to local suppliers, for more successful export planning.

What to consider before starting the global market research process

Every form of market research should be done with care—international or not. After all, you’re going to be basing important business decisions on the outcomes of your research, so best be careful, right? Right. Here are some extra words of advice, to not let your adventure abroad be an expensive waste of time.

  1. Markets change: bear in mind that if you do international market research just once, you’ll online have a static picture of what the market was once like. Markets are dynamic, and international markets react to each other—so make sure you keep an eye on relevant trends and market conditions, and follow up on your research regularly.
  2. Inside information is best: when it comes to international market research, make sure you speak to the right people. A survey group that looks exactly like your target market, but ‘just’ has different nationalities, is likely not a good representation of who you are trying to research.
  3. Be willing to act on the results, not just analyze them: allow the data you’ve collected to influence your decision-making process. This will help you create more defined objectives for your research, and make your approach to the research a lot more practical. It can help to make important stakeholders part of the research process.

How to conduct international market research: 4 strategies

1. Talk to local experts in potential markets

Sometimes you can have a long hard look at the data, but still not get a good feeling of what is actually happening inside a market. In those cases, it can be incredibly helpful to talk to local experts to add some qualitative flavor to your research dish. These can be suppliers, manufacturers, economic experts, business journalists or anyone else who can make the data you see come to life.

2. Dive into secondary data from governments

While we don’t recommend using only secondary research as a source for your market intelligence, it sometimes simply is the only option, especially if your budget is limited. In that case, make sure you pick the right sources. 

We recommend you start with government trade data and economic statistics, which are usually up-to-date and the most accurate. Be wary of sources from websites that could have tainted the stats for financial gain, or for PR or SEO purposes.

3. Talk to consumers using online surveys

How can you possibly talk to all those potential buyers in your target markets, let alone track your brand, without booking expensive plane tickets there? We’ll let you in on a secret: use Attest.

If you’re sending online surveys, you want to have the peace of mind that it is being completed by people who are in your target group. We’ve made sure of that, by giving you access to an audience of 125 million people in 59 countries. Using Attest, you can very specifically segment your audience for hyper relevant results.

4. Use focus groups for more data

If you want to test some ideas or supplement your primary research insights with more qualitative market research data, focus groups can be a great way to move forward. Make sure that before flying out there you make sure you’re talking to relevant people who fit your target group description to a T.

Access more consumers with overseas market research

Set yourself up for success, wherever you choose to go. If your business is ready to expand overseas and is crossing borders, make the most out of our international market research platform. And if you’re in the States, here’s how the top market research companies in the US stack up.

Uncover your global market insights

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FAQs about market research in foreign markets

1. What are the 6 steps of international market research?

Start with setting a goal and defining what you want to know. Then create a research plan including your research methods. Choose the right research tools (like Attest’s market analysis software) for that, and then start conducting the research. Analyze all the data and pin it together. Finally, present the data and take action based on your new insights.

2. What are the main factors involved in international market research?

In international market research, we recommend you dig into your competitors, the market size and market trends over time. Analyze cultural differences, be aware of legal and political factors and make sure you get to know your suppliers and distribution channels.

3. What are the benefits of international market research?

You don’t just minimize risk, you also learn how to maximize your success. You learn how to adapt your marketing to fit local markets, position your company’s product successfully and operate at the most beneficial prices.

Nick White

Customer Research Lead 

Nick joined Attest in 2021, with more than 10 years' experience in market research and consumer insights on both agency and brand sides. As part of the Customer Research Team team, Nick takes a hands-on role supporting customers uncover insights and opportunities for growth.

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