China has long been an important growth area for scholarly publishing. In the early 2000’s, many societies and publishers saw a large influx of subscriptions and manuscripts coming in from China. Just last year, China became the largest producer of scientific articles. And of late, Chinese publishers and researchers are working to increase scientific collaboration between China and western countries with international journals being launched and efforts to attract researchers worldwide.

Understanding the market, building relationships, and deciphering the infrastructure and processes can be largely new territory for those working to develop products and services in this important region. Just arranging conversations with researchers to understand their priorities and motivations requires both logistical as well as cultural knowledge. But if done well, the value of the information gathered can be immensely helpful in expanding our ability to collaborate successfully in China.

Here are some helpful tips for conducting targeted market research with researchers in China.

  • How will you communicate? Assuming talking is your primary goal, you’ll need to figure out the logistics. For example, does your conference call service include China? Or is it an option you can add on for the duration of your research project? Do you need advance notice to set this up? You should also consider that interviewees may be wary of calling into a service – even though a local Chinese number is provided, and Skype to Skype won’t work in China. However, Skype can be used as a phone service to call a cell or land line in China and it may prove the most economical option, for a one on one conversation.
  • Will you need an interpreter? Having an interpreter might not be necessary. Many people in China speak English, especially if you are speaking with academic researchers. Having the option to conduct conversations in the local language can help ease your recruitment efforts, make your participant more comfortable, and bridge any gaps in understanding. If you have the budget, it’s worth considering. If you do not, you should still be able to communicate effectively.
  • Should you send around questions in advance? Oftentimes, when conducting market research, it is preferable to get a spontaneous response. We want to get the participant’s gut reaction, which can be lost when they have had time to prepare. However, when interviewing in China, advance preparation may be necessary to increase your participant’s comfort level. Consider preparing a set of advance talking points – even if it is not the full interview guide – and sharing that in advance.
  • Will permission be needed? Depending on the type of participants with whom you want to talk, they may need permission to speak with you. Do some advance research to see if this will be necessary and build in extra time for this additional step in the recruiting process and project timeline. Consider too what you will call the communication you’re scheduling. “Interview” may sound too formal or even have a connotation of being something that will be made publicly available, whereas discussion may appear less formal and therefore more approachable.
  • Are you keeping this anonymous? Unfortunately, we’d advise you to think again. The more open you can be in this situation the better. Keeping the organization or even the purpose behind the discussion a secret may create distrust and make it more difficult for you to recruit participants.

In the end, be confident that you can secure the insights you need to understand and serve this important and interesting market. It will just take some careful planning and forethought!