Comparability in Cross-Cultural Qualitative Marketing Research: Equivalence in Personal Interviews

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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Increasingly qualitative inquiry has became of interest in marketing research, and a number of cross-cultural comparisons of qualitative data have been published. Therefore, it is important to address the issue of comparability in qualitative data. When assessing the comparability of two or more data sets across cultures, in quantitative research different types of equivalences have been widely examined, but this has not been common in qualitative inquiry. The present paper focuses on how the concept of equivalence can be applied in qualitative cross-cultural research. The comparability criteria found to be relevant in this context are: conceptual, functional, sample, contextual, researcher, and response equivalences. Thus, the paper contributes to qualitative research methodology in marketing by proposing the criterion of cross-cultural comparability in qualitative research methods in marketing.

Keywords: comparability, cross-cultural, equivalence, qualitative marketing research

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Traditionally, cross-cultural research has paid a great deal of attention to the comparability of data and findings across cultures, nations, regions, sub-cultures, groups and time. A widely used method to strengthen comparability has been the rise of different types of equivalences. In cross-cultural marketing research, research equivalence is an important concern, because it enables arguing that similarities and differences in results are caused by actual differences in two cultures, and not by invariance in the methods (cf. Baumgartner and Steenkamp, 2001; Kumar, 2000; Brislin, 1993; Craig and Douglas, 2005; Hui and Triandis, 1985; Mullen, 1995; Sekaran, 1983; Steenkamp and Baumgartner, 1998; Usunier, 1998, Usunier and Lee, 2005). As Harkness, Mohler and Van de Vijer point out: "Cross-cultural survey research is required to pursue strategies that try to come to terms with the fact that concepts may not be identical or comparable and that an instrument appropriate and adequate in one context (temporal or spatial) may not be adequate in another (Harkness, et al. 2003, p. 8)."

However, with some exceptions (Sparks, 2002; Malhotra Agarwal and Peterson, 1996) equivalences have mainly been studied in the context of quantitative marketing research (e.g. Davis, Douglas and Silk 1981; Mullen, 1995, Singh, 1995). At the same time, several cross-cultural researchers agree that quantitative methods are not applicable in all cultures or that they can be biased (e.g. Arnould, 2001; England and Harpaz 1983). At times, qualitative methods (1) are necessary because of the types of research questions asked, and because a qualitative approach uncovers emic issues of society more easily. Although there is a great deal of cross-cultural qualitative marketing research and a great need for such studies, with exception of Kjeldgaard, Csaba & Ger (2006) there appears to be no discussion or use of the concept of equivalences in qualitative studies of cross-cultural marketing.

As qualitative research methods have emerged in marketing (Douglas and Craig, 2006), studies using cross-cultural qualitative methods have begun to appear in international marketing journals (see for example Knight, Holdsworth and Mather, 2006, Owusu and Welch, 2007). Further, as qualitative inquiry is considered as crucial in comparative research (Malhotra et al. 1996), the examination of equivalencies in qualitative data is likely to increase the rigour of analysis in cross-cultural qualitative marketing research. This paper explores the possibility of applying the concept of equivalence in cross-cultural qualitative marketing research, in order to initiate a discussion about the applicability of equivalence of methods to qualitative research. In addition, the paper contributes to qualitative methodology by including the criterion of cross-cultural comparability in qualitative research methods in marketing. …