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Westley Ritz

Westley Ritz

Wes, ever the observationalist, is struck by perceived curiosities in current world happenings, anywhere from culture to politics to sports. His mathematical background and thinking serves to highlight the disparity between emotional and rational happenings, and attempts to find answers via logical and calculated means.

We love Max-Diff! It is the industry gold standard for feature prioritization, and with good reason. It has been documented in journals, articles and white papers countless times how it is superior to typical Likert rating scales. The nature of the task forces respondents to make a trade-off among subsets of items, choosing the “best” and “worst” item within each group.  After some modeling, the items are typically scored on a relative scale from 0-100, where both the rank order and the distance from one item to another is observed. And unlike rating scales which tend to have scores clustering on the high end, Max-Diff results in a nice spread of scores clearly indicating which items are relatively superior.

But, how do we know that the winning items are actually appealing to respondents, and not just the best of a set of bad options? Max-Diff scores are relative, meaning they only compare the items to each other. But we don’t have any information about an item’s absolute preference.

Luckily, we have a couple options.

Two Ways to Control the Relativity of Feature Prioritization

Suppose a potato chip manufacturer wants to test out 10 new flavors and we run a Max-Diff exercise to get the order of preference. From the figure below, we see flavor A is leading the pack, with flavors B & C not far behind, and the rest further down.

Feature-prioritization-maxdiff-TRC-Market-Research

...

election bias new product researchSo I certainly do not follow politics closely, even during a presidential election year, which I guess could also be read as I don’t know very much about politics. But that small disclaimer aside, watching the news coverage of the recently passed Iowa Caucuses and upcoming New Hampshire primary, something struck me as peculiar in this process. These events happen in succession, not simultaneously. So first is the Iowa Caucus, then the New Hampshire primary, followed by the Nevada and South Carolina primaries, and so on with the other states.  And after each event is held the results are (almost) immediately known. So the folks in New Hampshire know the outcome from Iowa. The folks in Nevada and South Carolina know the outcomes from Iowa and New Hampshire. 

Doesn’t this lead to inherent and obvious bias? That’s the market researcher side talking. In implementing questionnaires we wouldn’t typically make known the results from previous respondents to those taking the survey later. This would surely have some influence on their answers that we wouldn’t want. We need a clean, pure read (as best as we can with surveys) as to consumer opinions and attitudes. Any deviation from this would surely compromise our data. 

But then again, is this always the case? Could there be situations in which some purposely predisposed informational bias is beneficial? I say yes! Granted one needs to be cautious and thoughtful when exposing respondents to prior information, but sometimes in order to get the specific type of response we want, a little bias is helpful. If asking about a particular product or product function, we may provide an example or guide so they can fully understand the product. E.g. 10 GB of storage is good for X number of movies and X number of songs. 

But circling back to the notion of letting respondents see the answers from previous respondents, even within the same survey, this could be quite helpful in priming folks to start thinking creatively. If we wish to gather creative ideas from consumers, it’s easy enough to ask them outright to jot something down. But it’s difficult to come up with new and creative ideas on the fly without much help. And responses we get from such tasks validate that point as many are nonsense, or short dull answers. So instead, we could show a respondent several ideas that have come up previously, either internally or from previous respondents, to jumpstart the thinking process and either edit/add onto an existing idea, or be stimulated enough to come up with their own unique idea. And truth is, it works! We at TRC implement this exact new product research technique with great success in our Idea Mill™ solution, and end up with many creative and unique ideas that our client companies use to move forward.

So while the presidential process strikes me as odd since any votes cast in other states following the Iowa Caucus may be inherently biased, there are opportunities where this sort of predisposition to information can work in our favor.

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