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Meet Your New BFF: Max Diff

By April 18, 2016May 12th, 2020Research Methods

Max 2Who? Okay, so Max Diff (Max) isn’t a person, but is an analytic technique known as Maximum Differential Analysis.  We’re not kidding about the BFF part.  If you don’t know Max, you need to.

Why Max?

A big challenge in new product development is prioritizing the features most important to end users.  A typical outcome of qualitative research and ideation is a long list of potential features and benefits.  Including all possible features in a first-generation product may not be technically feasible, or worse—cost prohibitive.  Furthermore, marketing needs to know which benefits to communicate.  There is only so much “marketing real estate” to emphasize the top benefits and features.  Max can sort this out.

The typical approach is a survey to determine importance of each feature and benefit and relationships to purchase intent.  The issue:  we often find that everything is important.

Alternatively, end-users can rank-order features and benefits.  There are two issues with this approach.  First, any list greater than five items is a mental puzzle; surveys are mind-numbing enough.  The second issue with rank-order is scale.  That is, you’ll end up with a first place, a second place, and so on, but you won’t know the relative difference between each position.

Max to the Rescue.

Max allows you to determine the relative importance for each item in a large list, including features or benefits.  The model presents 4-6 items at a time and asks customers to select their most and least preferred in the set.  A different combination of items is presented over several iterations; the model learns and begins to understand where customers are willing to make trade-offs.

Also, the output is easy to interpret.  The best way to think about it is a 100-point allocation across all items tested.  The more important the item, the more points it gets.  A key strength of Max is that the top items driving choice are very easy to isolate, giving product developers and marketers much clearer direction.

Max at Work.

Max is extremely versatile as demonstrated by these recent case studies.

  • An early childhood learning center was trying to determine which features were most important to its target consumer. The list was 20-items long and included curriculum, abundant computers, foreign language classes, and music instruction.  Marketing was struggling on how to differentiate the business.  Turns out “quality of care” trumped all factors, but every center claimed this.  It was decided to focus on the second most important attribute:  the center’s unique curriculum.
  • A manufacturer of lawn and garden products offered its specialty retail partners a variety of value-add services. It hypothesized that a small subset of these services was directly related to loyalty and repeat purchases. Max supported a narrowing of its value-add services down to three.  The subsequent cost savings allowed the client to shift additional resources to those programs that mattered.

We are strong proponents of Max in the innovation process, especially when the goal is to narrow down the specific features and benefits most likely to drive purchase.  Because of his strength and simplicity, Max is indeed our new BFF.

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