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Using feature importance research to drive product success

Knowing what customers want is the key to a successful product and service and that’s where feature importance research comes in.

Imagine you’re developing a new service, like a private members’ club lounge, or a book club. How can you best design service features to meet customers’ needs? In other words, how can you find out which genre of books customers prefer or what kinds of drinks to stock in your bar? In this guide, we’ll give you more insight into feature importance: what it is, what its benefits are, and how to use it, show you how to use a specific approach to feature importance research—a Maximum Difference (MaxDiff) analysis—to help you identify what features are important to consumers, craft appealing new products and keep existing products fresh and relevant. 

Before going on to discuss feature importance and feature importance research, we first need to clarify what we mean by features. You might see the terms product features and benefits used interchangeably, but crucially, they’re very different, if related. Features are the characteristics of a product, like its size, its color, its variations, taste and speed. Benefits, on the other hand, are the advantages that the features of a product or service can bring. For example, a cellphone that has an advanced camera feature can help improve users’ photography skills (the benefit). However, there is little point in a cell phone developer investing considerable amounts of money and time in creating an advanced camera feature if the benefits it gives are of limited interest to customers. That’s why it's important to conduct research into feature importance as part of the product design and redevelopment process.


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If your products and services have a number of different features, it can be difficult to know which to prioritize in marketing campaigns, and how to craft and tailor goods to meet the needs of different segments of customers. That’s where feature importance research comes in. 

Researching product feature importance provides information on the types of characteristics that customers value, helping you to better understand the needs of the customers and tailor your products and services to fulfil these needs. The types of characteristics that could be the subject of your analyses include:

  • Product and service features

You can use feature importance research to identify the characteristics of products and services that customers desire or want, and to compare the relevance or appeal of different characteristics.

  • Packaging design

What types of packaging designs stand out most to customers? If you have a few different designs in mind, you can use product feature research to compare their effectiveness and ability to convert prospective customers into actual sales.

  • Promotional features

You can even use feature importance research to test the likely appeal and impact of different promotional campaigns. For instance, you can use this type of research if you want to compare the impact of various claims on the packaging on your product, or the effectiveness of different marketing messages used in advertisements.

  • Brand preferences

Feature importance research need not be restricted to the features of your own products and services. You can compare consumer preferences for different brands using feature importance research, for instance.

In practice, feature importance research studies are usually carried out using MaxDiff analysis, or Maximum Difference analysis, also sometimes known as Best-Worst Scaling. This is usually a survey based approach in which respondents are presented with a series of product features and asked to pick the one they like best and the one they like the least. Although any number of features can be presented to respondents, in order not to confuse them, and to ensure that you are getting the most out of the study, it is crucial that not too late a choice set is presented. Research suggests that a choice set of between 3-5 features tends to work well.  

Analysis of the results helps you to understand the relative importance of all the different options you are testing with consumers, which gives you insight that allows you to prioritize and quantify the preference or importance of the items on a list. The results of all the comparisons are converted to a 0-100 scale, or to percentage scores that add up to 100 across all features.

MaxDiff analysis can be used to:

  • Identify relative preference for brands, product features, pack claims, and messaging

This can help support optimized product development and marketing decisions

  • Provide insight into the dataset

Relative scores can highlight the features that may be most relevant to the target, or the opposite, which features are the least relevant

  • Provide insight into the model

Inspecting the importance score provides insight into that specific model and which features are the most and least important for the model

  • Improve the predictive model

This can be achieved by using the importance scores to select those features to delete (lowest scores) or those features to keep (highest scores).

When incorporated as part of your product development and marketing research, feature importance research offers you a wealth of benefits.

  • Gain detailed insights into market needs

The key advantage of feature importance research is that it allows you to gain critical insight into customer wishes and needs. In today’s competitive marketplaces, gaining a strategic advantage is all about finding out what your customers want and then satisfying those needs. Feature importance research is a specific form of market research that can help you really pinpoint what customers want, putting you in the best possible position to satisfy those needs. This can help you to drive product success, bolster customer satisfaction, drive sales, and boost profits. 

  • Improve products based on consumer desires

The level of demand for your product and services, as well as customer satisfaction with them once purchased, are both driven by the degree to which you’re able to fulfil customer desires. It’s all very well creating innovative and fun new products, but if they don’t meet customer needs, sales are likely to fall flat. For this reason, it’s vital that the first stage of any product development or redesign process is focused on gaining insight into customer demands and wishes. Any research with customers should also seek to glean insight into the product features that customers find valuable. With this critical knowledge, you’ll be best placed to be able to fulfil customer desires, leading to strong sales, and happy, loyal customers.

  • Drive product success

If your product or service is a success, it will be appealing to customers, championed by them because of high satisfaction, and the need to tweak characteristics and features will be lower than if it is mediocre, or only weakly received by the market. Feature importance research takes the guesswork out of product development by giving you insight into what customers really want, which improves the likelihood your product will be well received on the market when it’s launched. 

  • Gain a competitive edge

Regardless of the types of products and services you sell, if you have competitors, you’re always at risk of losing customers to your rivals. Feature importance research is a crucial strategy in helping you to stand out from the pack and gain a strategic edge. With insight into the product characteristics that customers really want, you can craft cost-effective, impactful marketing campaigns, and develop products that truly appeal to customers. 

Feature importance research can be relatively complicated to do properly, especially if you don’t have any specialist software available. That’s why Momentive developed its feature importance solutions that make MaxDiff analysis an easier, meaningful task. Our expert researchers can take your ideas and develop a concise, effective MaxDiff survey, with short questions that have impact and take the burden out of survey taking for your respondents. 

We can even help you field the survey and analyze the results when they come in, distilling your findings into actionable insights. The solution can be used for numerous purposes, such as comparing the relative appeal of packaging design and claims, marketing messages, and brand preferences. Learn more about Momentive.

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