The Multicultural Challenge

Like brain surgery, many things can go wrong with multicultural research studies.  With limited knowledge and experience regarding multicultural consumers, newcomers often fall prey to promises of research providers that are general practitioners who lack the knowledge, staffing, equipment, and experience to conduct a credible study.

Following are 10 important things to keep in mind in planning your next multicultural research project.

  • English-Only Interviews:  A research provider that advises that it is “safe” to conduct an English-only study with Hispanics or Asians is likely to be misleading you.  Unless you are targeting very acculturated Hispanics or Asians in your study, a random sample of Hispanics will usually require two-thirds of the surveys to be conducted in Spanish, while about one-third will require an English-language interview.  The percentage of Asian adults that will require a native-language interview will be 80 percent or higher, while younger Asians are predominantly English-speaking.  More importantly, there are significant differences in the demographic attributes, media and consumer behavior of respondents that are surveyed in two different languages.
  • High-Density Sampling:   In order to complete a study in the shortest time and a limited budget, research providers will sometimes recommend a high-density sample of Hispanics, Asians or African Americans – that is, consumers that live in clustered neighborhoods – because it is much easier and faster to find respondents for a study.  Unless you want a study of respondents with “downscale demographics,” you should avoid using this sampling strategy.  Rather than obtaining a representative sample, a study will end up with respondents that are lower-income, under-educated, and dominant in a native language.
  • Research and Cultural Credentials Lacking:  Research providers are not required to be licensed in their profession, and a college degree is not a requirement to operate a research facility or provide consultation on multicultural studies. Although membership in professional organizations is valuable, endorsements of quality are not usually allowed.  Consequently, it is up to the research buyer to verify the credentials of the research provider, including their expertise in research methodology, statistics, cultural knowledge and insights, and writing skills.
  • Outsourcing to Foreign Countries:  There are considerable cost savings involved in outsourcing data collection activities to research providers who are located in countries outside of the U.S.  Naïve buyers are often fooled into thinking that valid and reliable information can still be expected as long as the language skills of the interviewing team are matched to the target audience.  Be advised, however, that significant differences can still be encountered in terms of varying accents, vocabulary, attitudes and knowledge of the U.S. marketing environment – all factors that can lead to the collection of biased and invalid information.
  • Predictive Dialers Can Lower Response Rates:  Predictive dialers have become popular in survey research because these solutions can quickly and efficiently dial and confirm thousands of telephone numbers in a short period of time, and allow improved scheduling of interviewer resources.  Although our company does not use predictive dialers, we have had experience with other providers who used this method in subcontracting assignments.  Our experience was not a positive one for two reasons.  First, the predictive dialers were voracious and required thousands of telephone numbers to get the study done.  Secondly, response rates were terrible and tended to decrease because respondents usually heard a period of silence upon answering the telephone before the interviewer greeted them.  Survey response rates improved significantly, however, once live interviewers made additional attempts to reach the target sample over a longer period of time than was provided by the predictive dialer.  Always ask a research provider if a predictive dialer is used and be cautious in going forward.
  • Online Surveys With Uneven Internet Access:  Online surveys are the panacea in the survey research industry due to their low cost and ease of implementation.  Online surveys work well for captive audiences, that is, organizations with a finite membership list or populations with recognized high levels of Internet usage.  While Asians have good access to the Internet,  access for Hispanic immigrants is in the 30 to 40 percent range while access for native born Hispanics is in the 70 to 80 percent range.  Don’t take anyone’s word for granted – just check the national studies of Hispanics by the Pew Hispanic Center to confirm the Internet access rates for different multicultural groups before investing in an online survey.
  • High Employee Turnover:  General practitioners in the multicultural research industry may not have a stable team of interviewing staff with different linguistic abilities, which is one good reason that temporary inexperienced workers are often hired to complete multicultural studies. Even worst, the work is outsourced to a research provider in another country. It is a good idea to monitor the telephone interviewers to ensure that your work is being conducted up to standard.
  • Limited Interviewing Software:  At Rincón & Associates, our CATI software includes multi-lingual capabilities so that audiences like Hispanics and Asians are provided a choice of the interviewing language.  General practitioners may not always have access to multi-lingual software and attempt to get by using an English-only system.  With such limited resources, interviewers are sometimes required to “translate-on-the-fly”  since a native-language questionnaire may not be provided for a study.  You are well advised to always check the quality of the questionnaires in all languages that are relevant to a study before data collection begins.
  • Disconnect With Multicultural Community:  Research studies often require the support and cooperation of community organizations, especially with low-incidence populations. Churches, parent-teacher organizations, chambers of commerce, social clubs, sports organizations, political organizations, and education groups can make it much easier to field a study. General practitioners in the research industry, however, typically have limited access to key networks of multicultural organizations.  Prior to engaging a research provider, it might be a good idea to check their ability to network with multicultural organizations if the outcome of a research study depends on it.
  • Learn to Distinguish Between Objective and Self-Serving Research:   Research professionals that utilize secondary sources of information should also consult original sources that are produced by objectively-minded organizations.  The Census Bureau is one good example:  produced by an objectively-driven public agency with no hidden agendas or self-serving needs. Research produced by media organizations, for example, do not always have a similar level of objectivity and are often motivated to support the use of their medium.  Similarly, research that is designed to promote a particular linguistic strategy – such as Spanish-language media or advertising — is not always objective and is largely self-serving.

In summary, you should ask yourself:  Why settle for a general practitioner when you can have a brain surgeon?   If the outcome of the study is important to your organization, you should not make any compromises in selecting a research provider to address your multicultural research needs. With 34 years of past experience in conducting studies of multicultural consumers, Rincón & Associates is the obvious choice.