Conjoint, MaxDiff, and Discrete Choice Studies

MaxDiff and Conjoint: Which Should You Use?

It happens to the best of us. You want to analyze customer preferences and you aren’t sure whether to use Conjoint or MaxDiff. This post will help you understand the differences and when to use each one.


What Conjoint and MaxDiff Share in Common

Conjoint and MaxDiff are both techniques for analyzing consumer choice. They both ask consumers to make choices that allow us to measure preferences across features and attributes. From there, though, they differ quite substantially.

The quick version? Use conjoint when you want to configure a product or service from a broad list of attributes and levels and you need to understand what combinations are most appealing. By comparison, use MaxDiff to understand the level of importance or preference for a variety of items, such as features, benefits, menu items, advertising slogans, etc.


What is Conjoint Analysis?

Conjoint analysis is the better known of the two techniques and has been in use for a number of years. It is very versatile and has been used across a number of categories, such as cars, computers, healthcare plans, food products, etc.

Conjoint analysis tests a number of variables, each at different levels. For example, if we wanted to understand what consumers want in a tablet computer, we might include variables such as brand, price, screen size, battery life, memory, and other features. Each variable might have multiple levels, ranging from two levels (yes/no or has it/does not have it), to four or five levels (such as different prices).

With conjoint, respondents are shown several descriptions at one time, with the variables at different levels, and asked to select the one description that they prefer. This process is repeated a number of times, for different combinations of levels and features.

The output indicates which combinations of features and levels are of greatest interest to consumers. So, when you have multiple variables and levels, conjoint is the better choice.


What is MaxDiff?

MaxDiff, on the other hand, evaluates preference among a large group of features or benefits. With MaxDiff, respondents typically see a list of features, in groups of three to five items. From this list, a respondent selects the one they prefer or is most important to them and the one they prefer least or is least important to them. An example of a typical list is provided below.


The output from MaxDiff is wonderfully simple because preference scores for all items add to 100. The higher the score the more important the item is.

Here are some situations in which you might consider using Max Diff:


  • Menu development: If you have ideas for new menu items, MaxDiff can help you prioritize the interest in these items. Respondents would read a one to two sentence description of each item and then make their selections of the items they are most and least interested in trying.
  • Packaged food varieties: If you are planning to add new varieties to your current line, MaxDiff can help you understand which varieties are of greater interest to your customers or prospects.
  • Slogans or logos: MaxDiff can help you understand which slogans or logos are more impactful or appropriate for your product.
  • Copy points for advertising: Some products or services have a number of features that could be included in advertising. Using MaxDiff you can measure which are more appealing for your customers.


So, MaxDiff helps you prioritize which menu items to introduce, which features to call out in your advertising, or what varieties to focus on in your product development. Our advice is to try to use it whenever you can.


Debbie Lesnick,
Senior Vice President & Head of Research,
MMR Strategy Group

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