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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.

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We’ve been on the GRIT list of most innovative research companies for five years now. I’m proud of that achievement and of the fact that we’ve moved up 10 places in those five years (many much larger firms rank lower or not at all). I think the key point for me to share though is that we don’t innovate to make the GRIT list, but rather GRIT simply recognizes what is a way of life at TRC. 

TRC was founded in 1987 at a time when more than half of all phone interviews were done using hard copy paper and pencil forms and almost no one had a PC on their desk. From the start, every TRC employee had a PC on their desk from interviewers through our top executives. To do this we installed what was, at the time, the largest PC network in the world (PC World Magazine wrote an article on us). From there we adopted digital recording technology so we could quantify quality, and then went on to become very early adopters of using the internet to do surveys.

Beyond data collection, we innovated in techniques. Over the years we created techniques like asymmetrical key driver analysis (which doesn’t assume that all features will have the same positive and negative impact) and Bracket (a more efficient way of doing ranking exercises). We also applied things that we learned from our many academic partners such as Smart Incentives (a gamified incentive aligned method for ideation within quantitative surveys).

We continue to come up with new ways of driving insights. Some are improvements on existing methods (such as better ways to do Discrete Choice) and some are applying new tools to better understand what drives consumer behavior (such as text analytics).

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puzzle-ideas-using-agile-market-research

Folks isolating at home during the COVID-19 pandemic are looking for inexpensive family-friendly ways to entertain themselves. Jigsaw puzzles seem to be fitting that bill, and my family has been doing them since before the shut-down began.

At my house, as we’ve gotten better at doing them, we’ve also gotten more particular about which puzzles to buy. Subject matter, the size and number of the pieces, the construction material, border type and repetitiveness of the patterns all factor into our decision for which puzzles to tackle. We won’t attempt something all in one color palette nor one with rounded edges (that grayscale Moon puzzle circulating social media is a definite NO). But we also don’t want to waste our time on something that is too easy or with juvenile subject matter.

As I’m dreaming of the perfect puzzle, I can easily see how a manufacturer could utilize conjoint to help determine the types of puzzles to design. Puzzle-buying consumers could trade-off puzzle features and price, perhaps even bundling some puzzles together. Suggestions for puzzle subject matter could be generated through a crowdsourcing-style research exercise, such as our Idea Mill™ agile product. The 6 to 36 designs with the most promise could then be winnowed down in an Idea Magnet™ feature prioritization exercise.

So now that I have the entire research program laid out, I just need a jigsaw puzzle company to embrace my research plan and quickly – before I run out of puzzles!

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qualitative-and-quantitative-market-research-difficult-time
 
Every corner of our world, and every type of business, has been impacted by COVID-19.  
 
In market research, we have seen in-person qualitative projects (focus groups, one-on-one interviews, etc.) move to online platforms. Like business meetings, school classrooms, and social events, research conversations have been able to take place virtually thanks to the Internet. There is a proliferation of tools at our disposal to continue our work under new parameters. Research technology providers have shared many success stories under this “new normal,” and I have experienced them first-hand as a moderator.  

 

How the nature of the qualitative research conversations had to adjust 

 
The past few weeks have reminded me that these interactions truly are “conversations” and not just information gathering sessions. While quantitative surveys depend on consistency and objectivity, qualitative engagements require active listening and adaptation to individual participants. Truly hearing someone involves understanding their state-of-mind.  
 
Regardless of the research topic, it feels appropriate to touch on respondents’ experiences – medical and social – before asking for their input. Jumping right into moderator guide content feels like ignoring “the elephant in the room.” 
 

Specific Examples

I have interviewed both physicians and consumers during this crisis and unless a respondent leads the conversation in another direction, I have generally started with an informal check-in to acknowledge the unusual situation we’re all experiencing.
 
 - I’m starting consumer interviews with questions like “First of all, how are you feeling, and is everyone around you okay?” or “Before we get too far, how have you been doing with everything going on in the world right now?”
 
 - With physicians, I might begin with something like “I’m sure things have been very different for you lately. Is there anything you need me to know about what’s happening with you or your practice at this time, before we get into our questions?”
 
Most participants and their families are healthy; many are concerned about jobs, and all are facing the disruptions caused by stay-at-home orders. By addressing the challenges they articulate (“I understand, and I’m hearing that from others as well” or “I am sure that’s difficult, and I appreciate your taking the time to talk with me at such an unusual time”), I can both establish the important context around interviews during this crisis and also then move beyond it to the actual interview content.  
 

People long for interaction

Shelter-in-place requirements surely play a role in maintaining pre-Coronavirus research response rates.  Interview targets have time and flexibility, and an honorarium is as valued as ever, if not more.  But there is another facet for many: isolation is lonely. Participating in a market research discussion is an opportunity to “meet” someone new. Many of us miss that type of interaction, but for someone living alone or without much social engagement, being a respondent has additionally compelling value.  
 
Of course the objective for any moderator is to explore a research question and provide answers to our clients. We are not in this business to become friends with respondents. But in this unprecedented time, we should be sensitive to participants’ mindset and motivations. As always, we are asking them to open a window into their world by answering our questions. For now, we might also be opening a kind of window for them to look out from.
 
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Despite all of our collective struggles and the terrible individual tragedies that are currently happening, we are a resilient country...we will come through this. We will not, however, come through unchanged.
 
Forty years after World War II, my family found over 200 rolls of toilet paper in my grandfather's house. My grandmother said it was because it was in short supply during the war, so every time he went to the store since then he picked up an extra roll or two. This is a classic example of event-driven behavioral change. 
 
 

Why do I think there will be a boom? 

 
This is an event-driven downturn. History suggests that event-driven recoveries are swift. Firms that are not prepared will struggle to keep up with the changed marketplace. How do you prepare for changes like my grandfather went through?
 
It will be important to understand how your customers will be different on the other side of this tragedy.
 
 

Possible COVID-19 triggered market challenges and how research can help

 
1.With the forced trial due to shortages of some goods, is your brand in peril of losing previously loyal customers to competitors? 
 
2.Or conversely, how can your brand retain any newly acquired customers long term? 
 
3.Is there a new channel and/or pricing model for your category given the new digital reality? Can you develop it first? 
 
4.Have priorities when making purchase decisions changed significantly from before the crisis? Will it be long term or temporary? 
 
 
Here are two case studies showing how research can help navigate significant shifts in the market:
 
Clients have chosen TRC Market Research as their custom, consultative research partner to navigate big changes. We have deep expertise solving complicated problems.
 
We can also easily pivot to quick, affordable agile solutions when needed, especially when you need short term tactical feedback during this crisis. While customers will change, you still need to understand their current feelings, even if it provides only temporary tactical guidance.
 
We believe in custom solutions.  We are available to talk through your firm’s specific challenges and give our impartial opinion.
 
 
 
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