Podcast: Cultural nuance in international survey design with Nancy Hernon

We spoke with Nancy Hernon, CEO and co-founder of G3 Translate, where we discussed how one size doesn't fit all in market research, and the critical role of international survey design in today's insights world.

On our podcast, we were joined by Nancy Hernon, CEO and Co-founder of G3 Translate, a translation agency dedicated to cultural relevancy and inclusion, and giving a voice to the consumer in a time where linguistic and cultural norms are ever-changing. Nancy is an entrepreneur with nearly 20 years of experience in the market research and insights industry. She enjoys uncovering new ways to engage respondents in global markets by delivering carefully translated surveys that are culturally sensitive to the target markets.

We discussed culturally relevant survey design, the risks of a one-size-fits-all approach to survey design, and ensuring the survey design itself works for all markets, not only linguistically but technically as well.


Culturally relevant survey design

When you’re writing a survey that you intend to conduct with any respondent whose native language is not the same as yours, you must ensure that you are creating an instrument that clearly conveys the thoughts and ideas about which the survey is being conducted. We then can ensure clients are provided with actionable data that is relevant to their customers in each market where the research is being conducted. “You need to be mindful of the nuance and of the various cultures involved in your research,” says Nancy.

The pillars of international survey design are:

  • Ensuring your language is culturally relevant;
  • Your demographic information is correct for the target audiences;
  • Your questions are relevant to the target audience;
  • And your design feels fluid and natural to the target audience without introducing bias.

Risks of a One-Size-Fits-All approach to survey design

“If you really insist that each market receives the same exact questionnaire design for all markets involved, you run the risk of bad data,” says Nancy. You also risk losing qualified respondents because your screener levels are incorrect, you risk offending the audience and having them stop the survey midway, and finally you risk having your questions worded in a way that doesn’t allow the respondent to open up and tell you what they really think. In market research, the goal is to get true, raw sentiment, and to speak to the heart of the respondent. If your wording doesn’t resonate with them on a personal level, they may feel like you didn’t bother to put the thought into your survey design just for them and not really give much thought to their answers, but instead perhaps slog through to get to the end incentive.

Ensuring the survey design works for all markets

“The reason we need to take an international survey design approach is so we can ensure clients are provided with actionable data that is relevant to their customers in each market where the research is being conducted,” shares Nancy. 

Know your respondent. It’s all about semantics, and making sure you are using language to draw out the respondent and make them feel you are speaking to their local market rather than simply translating a standard survey. The respondent should feel like the survey is directed towards them and not a random global audience. For example, certain cultures find it highly offensive to ask one’s ethnicity.

Nancy concludes by saying, “Always make sure your translation partner fully understands what you’re looking to achieve with your survey and is knowledgeable with regards to the actual subject matter.”

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