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Choice of scales in international marketing research

22 Comments · Measurement instruments

A challenge facing cross-cultural researchers is the development of scales that measure a construct in multiple countries.

In addition to all the issues related to achieving comparability and equivalence in the instrument, there is the underlying issue of whether the construct exists and can be measured using the same or similar instrument in more than one culture.

Most published research dealing with cross-cultural scales reports the results where a scale that has been developed in one country, typically the US, is applied in other countries.

Few, if any, modifications are made to the original scale, with the exception of dropping items that do not exhibit high levels of reliability.

In taking this approach. researchers are assuming that a construct found in one country is manifested in the same form in another.

Researchers may also adapt the scale by adding items to enhance their ability to identify culture-specific constructs.

Scale development can take place at the levels of an individual or the country. Most of the scaling literature deals with individual level scales or scales that are based on individuals’ data but ascribed to the country.

Scales can also be developed using macro-country data, in which case they would reflect country characteristics.

Scales may also be based on individuals’ responses as members of an organization. In this case inferences would be made about the organization.

In general, verbal scales are more effective among less-educated respondents, but a more appropriate procedure for illiterate respondents would be scales with pictorial stimuli.

Other devices such as smiling faces and a thermometer scale are also used among less-educated respondents.

Moreover, culture can affect the responses and may induce bias. The Likert scale is culture-bound and should be treated as a culture-specific instrument.

Research has been conducted to find out whether there is a pan-cultural scale. Bearing in mind the drawbacks of administering scales to respondents in different countries, the one scale that has consistently provided accurate results is the semantic differential scale.

Because the adjectives on the polar ends of the scale are opposite in meaning, it is easier for the respondent to understand and answer questions in a manner that is useful to the researcher (Kumar, 2000).

Designing scales for international marketing research calls for a great deal of adaptation on the researcher’s part.

It has to be decided whether a single scale can be used in all of the countries or whether it should be customized for each country.

In the US, a five or a seven point scale is used, but people in other countries, such as France, are familiar with a twenty-point scale.

Semantics plays an important role in the accuracy with which a scale measures any given attribute.

Many cultures tend to overstate their feelings, while others are more modest. The word “excellent” may connote very different levels of perfection to Japanese and Scandinavians.

Adjustments for such linguistic differences have to be made. It has been observed that verbal rating scales work the best in the international context.

All respondents are accustomed to talking about their feelings, irrespective of their country or culture.

In international marketing research we will often find some degree of construct bias in the research process.

Construct bias is likely to be present if the construct being studied differs across countries, or if the operationalization does not fit cultural understanding.

Construct bias can, for example, be induced if behaviours are sampled that are not associated with the construct studied.

The use of butter for baking in one country cannot be compared with the use of butter for spreading in another country and, as a consequence, attitudes towards butter will reflect quite different notions about the use of butter (Herk et al., 2005).

Keywords: cross-cultural researchers, scales, pictorial stimuli, thermometer scale,

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