by Tony Zahorik
Conjoint analysis was first introduced to the marketing world in 1969 and has become a popular method for understanding which aspects of a product, customers like and don’t like. It is now considered an essential tool in product design, as it tells product developers which attributes of a product are must haves for customers, and which attributes will increase the cost of the product without making it more appealing. Product designers use conjoint analysis in a number of diverse product categories such as automobiles, insurance, toll booth passes, hotels, and consumer package goods.
To acquire this type of information, the most obvious approach would be to ask people which aspects of a product are must haves, and which aspects could they live without. But what we really want to know is not how much a person likes a product feature, but rather what influence its presence would have on purchase likelihood. As more researchers place higher emphasis on understanding non-conscious influences on decision-making, conjoint presents a tried and true approach that captures in essence what people are unable to articulate about how they make choices. Importance (its impact on purchase intention) isn’t necessarily what the average person means by importance, and it’s not something they can easily tell us.
So, instead, conjoint gets at importance by taking people on a simulated shopping trip and, by observing their choices, deduces what must be driving their purchases. For example, suppose we gave a research respondent the choice of two automobiles, A and B. The two cars are said to be identical in every respect except for fuel economy and sound system, as follows:
If our respondent prefers A over B, we can deduce that having the deluxe sound system is more important than 4 more miles per gallon in fuel economy. The person is willing to give up at least 4 mpg to get that better sound system. We didn’t ask the question directly – we derived it. The result can be quantified for the various attributes of a product and is called “derived importance.” This is highly valuable information, especially when there are so many attributes that a person trades off quickly and sometimes unknowingly when they make choices between products.
There are two basic forms of conjoint analysis – standard conjoint and discrete choice modeling. The first, standard conjoint, typically presents hypothetical product profiles one at a time and receives a customer response to each, such as a rating of purchase intention. We can then compare the various products on these ratings to see which feature sets tend to result in greater interest.
The second form of conjoint is called Discrete Choice Modeling or DCM. In DCM respondents are shown sets of hypothetical products, and asked which one they like best or would be most likely to purchase. This activity is closer to how people actually shop and provides a more familiar context for making choices. Presenting decisions in a context that mimics the real world may help get respondents in a better mindset to provide responses that are closer to real decisions made in real environments.
For many years, conjoint has been an extremely actionable research approach for determining the value of individual product attributes and establishing their monetary value to make better product design decisions. The added benefit of its ability to capture harder to articulate influencers on decision-making is noteworthy as the discussion about non-conscious processes garners increasing attention and researchers look for tools that provide a more holistic picture. It’s easy to overlook a traditional “ask/answer” approach in lieu of newer, sexier emerging tools. Remember that conjoint provides a researcher the opportunity to present options that mimic real world choices and leverages advanced analytics to examine what people can’t tell you to provide a more complete picture of choice.
Interested in learning more on Non-Conscious Measurement’s role in marketing research? Check out A Conscious Question: Can Non-Conscious Measurement Unlock Ultimate Consumer Truths?
As a member of the teaching staff at Burke Institute, Dr. Tony Zahorik enjoys traveling around the world sharing his extensive knowledge of marketing research methodology with a variety of industries. He has been acclaimed for his ability to teach technical subjects to both technically and non-technically oriented students.