Finding Out what is Important to Customers

The marketplace is a dog-eat-dog kind of world. Companies are constantly trying to pull away or stay above the competition. The question of what drives consumers to liking, purchasing and staying loyal to a product or service is a constant in marketers’ minds.

Consumer research tries to help marketers by measuring how much an attribute impacts purchase behavior, overall liking, or satisfaction. This can be done directly by asking consumers to rate the importance of attributes: How important is packaging when buying a product? While this method known as stated importance is easy to conduct and readily understood, it does have its pitfalls.

For one, customers tend to focus on rational aspects of the product. A respondent may claim that packaging is not important to her purchase behavior of personal care product but goes on to choose a brand that is stylishly packaged over another brand, all other attributes the same. Social bias can also play a role. This happens when respondents give greater importance to attributes they perceive to be socially preferable in a survey environment than they do in actual purchase decisions. For example, they may claim that giving a portion of profits to charity is important but in real life, they don’t distinguish between companies that do and do not contribute to charity.

Another weakness of stated importance is when aggregate scores fail to provide enough discrimination between attributes. All of the attributes may be rated as “Very Important” and this is of little use to companies when prioritizing innovation or improvement efforts

In these cases, Derived Importance can be a useful addition to the statistical analysis. This method works by correlating responses such as overall liking, purchase behavior, or satisfaction to the liking or satisfaction of specific product attributes such as price, packaging, availability, etc. The higher the correlation is between specific product attributes and the dependent variable like overall liking, the more influential or important that attribute is. This analysis is easy to apply since questionnaires usually already capture the necessary data. This means that it can even be applied retrospectively to survey data you've already collected. It does have its own set of pitfalls and requires a certain sample size but done well and in the right conditions, Derived Importance produces valid results. An experienced market researcher can help you select the correct analysis and avoid any pitfalls in interpretation. 

Its not just a tool in the consumer driven purchase world. Whenever there are a number of different characteristics or issues which can affect an individual's decision, derived importance is really useful. It can help determine what really matters to people in a range of scenarios, from career choices to public service planning, from elections to voting the winner of X-Factor.