An Introduction to Translation in Market(ing) Research

Market(ing) research is an integral part of every business venture and its results impact our everyday lives. This very diverse sector offers plenty of interesting opportunities for translators.

Whether we’re aware of it or not, the results of market(ing) research are all around us. The products we use, commercials we watch, and logos we see—all of these and much more have been analyzed and tested with market research to measure their effectiveness before the companies behind them make major decisions or large investments in product development and advertising.

This can be a very exciting sector for translators with plenty of interesting job opportunities. Because the material is so diverse, within the span of a week you may be translating about moisturizer, pizza, dried fruit, the off-label prescription practices of physicians, and opinions about fracking (i.e., hydraulic fracturing, which is the process of drilling into the ground before a high-pressure water mixture is directed at the rock to release the gas inside).

Before jumping in, however, it’s vital to have a thorough understanding of what markets, marketing, market research, and market(ing) research are. I’m using (ing) here when discussing market(ing) research to emphasize that there’s a great deal of overlap between it and market research. It’s almost impossible to create separate and accurate descriptions of these concepts because even various experts use them interchangeably. So, let’s break down the terminology.

Market: This can be a physical or virtual place to buy or sell something. It’s also an identified category of buyers or potential buyers, like the snack foods market or the market for arthritis medication.

Marketing: Describes the activities and processes that promote products or services, including communication, advertising, and distribution.

Market Research: The process of collecting, analyzing, and interpreting information about a market, product, or service, the customers it targets, and the place where customers obtain it.

Market(ing) Research: The collection of data related to marketing, which is then analyzed and interpreted before use in marketing decision-making. It generally incorporates market research and product and consumer research.

What kind of data is collected in market(ing) research? So, let’s say a major U.S. potato chip manufacturer decides to see if the market in another country is viable for them. The initial step would be finding someone to collect and analyze information on the following in that country:

  • The snack foods market in general, along with the potato chip market;
  • Potato chip buyers and consumers;
  • Pricing structures;
  • Competitors already on the market; and
  • Specific potato chip flavor preferences, including any that are unique to the target country.

Why Is Market(ing) Research Necessary?

A business cannot be successful without obtaining accurate and comprehensive information before making major financial investments. Every aspect of the products you use (e.g., packaging, color scheme, varieties, size, price, taste, etc.), every ad you see, and every slogan you read may (or should) have undergone market(ing) research.

Today’s business environment is a volatile one, resulting in a new generation of companies that are unique and innovative (e.g., Uber). There are many reasons businesses fail but a large number of them can be avoided by implementing market(ing) research, including ascertaining whether there is an actual need for a product and addressing such issues as competition, bad or insufficient marketing, not reacting to customers’ needs or changes in the industry, and overexpansion.

The Two Types oF Market(ing) Research

Market(ing) research can be broken down into two basic types: primary and secondary research. Primary research is information gathered through surveys, interviews, and other direct contact with people in the target group. Secondary research, also called desk research, is information gathered from sources that have already been published, such as company reports, trade association materials, and articles in industry journals. Market research reports are also available for purchase from companies specializing in this area. For example, if a German dog food company wants to move into the U.S. market, a first step might be to purchase a report on the industry before investing in more expensive customized research. This is where a translator could be involved if the company wants the purchased report translated into German.

There’s a large variety of work for translators in the primary research sector, so that’s what I’ll focus on here.

Primary Research Stages and What They Mean for Translators

Purpose: Before anything can happen, the research objective must be defined. For example, is there a new concept or product? Is the existing product being changed (e.g., new logo, new positioning, or new package)? Does the product placement at the point of sale need to be determined or changed? Does brand recall need to be improved? Do people remember the advertising?

Let’s say a manufacturer of dip mixes and chips decides to change their existing products by successively removing certain additives. This means that the new recipes need to be tested to see if current users like the resulting products as much as the old ones. The testing could also examine how the new products fare against the competition, whether the positioning of the products has changed, and whether new marketing opportunities emerge.

For translators, this step could involve translating a proposal. The client may also request rough cost estimates for different parts of the study to help the end client make budget decisions.

Instruments and Approach: The next stage is deciding on the research instruments and planning the research approach. There are two major kinds of primary research: qualitative and quantitative.

  • Qualitative research provides an initial understanding (e.g., how people respond to a new, innovative concept) and requires subjective interpretation. Methods used here include focus groups, online journals, and in-depth interviews.
  • Quantitative research is typically conclusive and intended for recommending courses of action such as a product launch. Computer-assisted telephone/personal interviews, mobile apps, and questionnaires with primarily closed questions are examples of quantitative methods. The results of qualitative research are often followed by quantitative research analysis.

Several qualitative or quantitative methods may be used jointly, and many institutes/agencies develop and use proprietary methods, apps, panels, and more for this purpose. The research study may be ad hoc (one-off) or a tracking study (continuous/repeated at certain intervals). During this step, possible tools are selected and developed (such as the interview guide, focus group guide, screener, and questionnaire). In addition, the research sample and possible quotas are defined. For example, who will be surveyed—users, non-users, the general population, men, women, or households with children?

This stage could involve a lot of potential work for translators, the nature of which will vary depending on the research approach used. Translations of various questionnaires, focus group guides, concepts, storyboards, or ancillary documents such as confidentiality agreements, data privacy and protection documents may be needed.

Fieldwork: Once the research approach is determined and the instruments are ready, it’s time for the fieldwork stage. This is when the data is collected, which means there might not be a need for much translation at this point. Changes to the questionnaire may be needed quickly if, for example, the target group proves difficult to find. Verbatims (answers to open-ended questions) and transcripts may need to be translated successively during this stage. Interpreting may also be needed during this stage if focus groups or interviews are observed by clients who don’t speak the language of the country being studied.

Analysis and Reporting: After the fieldwork has concluded, the results are analyzed using all the input collected. In qualitative research, for example, this can include verbatims, interview transcripts, or focus group recordings. In quantitative research, it usually includes the tabular results of data collected from the closed questions in questionnaires, where respondents choose from possible responses. (For example, when testing a dried fruit snack, there may be a question regarding the softness of the product using something called a Likert scale: Was it much too soft, somewhat too soft, just right, somewhat too hard, much too hard?)

Responses to open-ended questions in quantitative research are sometimes categorized into what are called code frames. For example, if the subject of the research is pizza, there may be an open-ended question asking if there was anything the respondent particularly liked about the pizza (Likes), followed by one asking if there was anything the respondent didn’t like (Dislikes). The results will likely include a large number of responses about the crust being crispy or chewy, too hard or soft, the tomato sauce being properly seasoned or bland, and the pizza having too much/too little sauce, not enough cheese or toppings, and so on. These answers are combined and categorized into what is called a code frame, which shows the number of times each item was mentioned.

After analysis, the results are prepared for the end client as a presentation or report, sometimes preceded by preliminary results or one-page summaries. For the translator, this stage means possible translation of the code frame, preliminary results, one-page summary, presentation/report, and the most important part of the study, the overall summary and recommendations.

Taking Action: In the final stage, the market research institute provides the results, including the summary and recommendations, to the end client, who now uses this information to take action, potentially collaborating with the institute for future research. This may entail further research on the same issue (e.g., if the previous research was qualitative, it may now be time for a quantitative survey). The research also might have to be repeated after reworking the recipe, package, slogan wording, or ad. At this point, it’s important for translators who have been working with the market research institute or end client to signal their availability for future projects and to be prepared to provide cost estimates.

Market(ing) Research Industry Structure

According to a 2019 global market research report by the European Society for Opinion and Marketing Research (ESOMAR), the global industry for research and insights was valued at $80 billion in 2018.1

There are basically four types of market(ing) research providers: major international firms like AC Nielsen or Kantar, national institutes in each country, small institutes sometimes called boutique institutes, and freelancers.

Major companies generally have their own internal market research departments, which tend to use a number of different institutes. The rate of employee turnover at institutes is often high, but, at least in my experience, satisfied clients who switch jobs tend to take their translators along.

Working in the market(ing) research industry gives you plenty of opportunities to expand your own network, as there is a lot of crossover with, for example, advertising agencies, creatives, public relations, transcribers, and graphic designers.

There are also a large number of market(ing) research associations. The largest and most significant global one is ESOMAR, a membership organization for market, social, and opinion researchers founded in 1947. The majority of reputable research institutes are also ESOMAR members. Most countries have their own associations, such as the Insights Association in the U.S. (formed by the merger of the Marketing Research Association and the Council of American Survey Research Organizations) and the U.K.’s Market Research Society. Germany has the Berufsverband Deutscher Markt- und Sozialforscher e.V., Japan has the Japan Marketing Research Association, and Austria has the Verband der Marktforscher Österreichs, to name just a few. These associations are a good source when it comes to finding out what market(ing) research institutes are in your country.

What Do You Need to Be a Good Market(ing) Research Translator?

We’ve come to know the saying “A jack of all trades is a master of none” as having a negative implication. The complete and original saying, though, was actually “A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one.” Its intention was praise, meaning that a person is a generalist, versatile, and skilled at many things. This best sums up translation in this industry, because although market(ing) research has its own terminology, the research topics vary immensely. The list is endless, from eyewear to yogurt packaging to new Alzheimer drugs, which makes excellent research skills, a broad knowledge base, flexible thinking, and an interest in continuous learning a must.

Can Market(ing) Research Translators Be Replaced by Machine Translation?

In my opinion, translation in this sector will most likely not be taken over by machine translation in the near future for a few reasons. The first is due to data protection and privacy—confidentiality plays a major role here. In addition, texts in this field often require sensitivity, creativity, and context-specific knowledge. Translators also frequently deal with text fragments from face-to-face interviews or focus group transcripts, where a respondent may stop halfway through the sentence, necessitating (human) common sense, intuition, and extrapolation.

More Information

If you would like to find out more about market and market(ing) research, you can visit and The Marketing Research Kit for Dummies, by Michael R. Hyman and Jeremy J. Sierra, is also a very helpful book for finding out about market research.2 Some associations also have a newsletter you can subscribe to.

To learn the English terminology used in this field, you can refer to the glossary of market research terms compiled by Modern Marketing Partners3 or the market research glossary compiled by SIS International Research4, or download ESOMAR’s master marketing research glossary.5 Websites with information about market research exist in many languages, so use those research skills to find them!

  1. See
  2. Hyman, Michael R., and Jeremy J. Sierra. Marketing Research Kit for Dummies (For Dummies, 2010),
  3. Glossary of Market Research Terms (Modern Marketing Partners),
  4. SIS International Research,
  5. ESOMAR’s master marketing research glossary can be downloaded as a pdf at

Robin Limmeroth is a full-time freelance German>English translator, transcreator, and proofreader with 24 years of translation experience in the marketing research sector. Based in Mainz, Germany, she works for a number of market and marketing research institutes, advertising agencies, universities, and direct clients. Contact:

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