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Rapunzel Ousts Ethnic Barbies: International Market Research Guidelines (Marketing Memo, June, 2003)

Conducting international market research is daunting as foreign companies disclose even less information than U.S. companies. Nonetheless, many start-ups rush to introduce their products internationally. By first researching the issues and opportunities, companies can reduce the risk associated with engaging in international business. Here are some guidelines for international market researchers:

  • Re-test your assumptions about foreign markets. Rapunzel, Mattel's newest Barbie Doll, has been a runaway success with foreign children, eclipsing more ethnic- looking dolls. Researchers found that American movies and TV shows influence children's preferences, making the doll with flowing blond locks a universal favorite.
  • Respect differences in history, culture, and business practices when conducting research in Canada, Mexico, and elsewhere. Canada is not the fifty-first state!
  • When introducing technology products, contact standards associations or government agencies in each country before selecting target countries. A particular telecommunications protocol may have as many as seven layers, and standards for individual layers may differ for each country. Compare the effort to comply with local standards with the size of the opportunity in a particular country and the riskiness of the endeavor.
  • Be careful when comparing financial data from companies in different countries as accounting and reporting practices differ. Call or email investor relation managers and CFOs, and ask what the numbers mean before comparing companies from different countries. Ask which currency conversion rates apply. Compare non-financial indicators of corporate health in addition to comparing financials.
  • To get around language barriers when researching foreign companies, look on company web sites for U.S. branch offices. A U.S.-based employee of the company may be able to answer your questions or call the home office for you. Google and other search engines translate Web content, but with varying success.
  • Seek help from in-country resources, such as distributors, U.S. Chambers of Commerce, and U.S. Consulates, and exploit their country and industry expertise.
  • Allow extra time to complete your research. Much of France shuts down for vacation in August. Easter Monday and May Day are holidays in many countries. Use email and fax capabilities to minimize time zone differences and language barriers.

Send an email to to request a free list of international information sources.

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