Comparative thick description

Jean‐Claude Usunier (University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland)
Stéphane Sbizzera (University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland)

International Marketing Review

ISSN: 0265-1335

Publication date: 15 February 2013



Local marketing decisions are too often made on a dichotomous basis, either standardize or fully adapt. However, similarities are too substantial and differences go too deep to be ignored. This article aims to articulate similarities and differences in local consumer experience across multiple contexts.


Language, being used daily in local contexts, reflects local knowledge (Geertz). This paper shows how translation/back‐translation can be used as a discovery tool, along with depth interviews and checks of researcher interpretations by informants, to generate cognitive mapping of consumption and taste experiences. Local words, used as emic signals, are combined into full portraits of the local experiences as narratives linking people to products and taste. Local portraits can then be merged to derive commonalities emergent from within the contexts studied. The comparative thick description framework is applied to the bitterness and crunchiness taste experiences in ten countries (China, Croatia, El Salvador, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey) and nine languages.


Local experiences in several different languages and countries in different areas of the world can be surveyed, compared, and organized into cognitive maps (Eden), which highlight commonalities and differences between contexts. In essence, differences are qualitative, dealing with creolization patterns, local consumption experience, local preferences, perceptions, and associations.

Research limitations/implications

This approach can be considered as interpretive and, although driven by a systematic approach, depends on researcher and informant expertise and rigor.

Practical implications

Cognitive maps help evaluate cross‐national differences and similarities in local markets. The emergent similarities and differences are highly meaningful for glocalizing marketing strategies, in terms of advertising, branding, and packaging.


Significant insights derived from this method can be tested in a more traditional and applied manner. This allows quicker insights into new local marketplaces and a progressive enrichment of cognitive maps with new languages and countries.



Usunier, J. and Sbizzera, S. (2013), "Comparative thick description", International Marketing Review, Vol. 30 No. 1, pp. 42-55.

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