March 29th, 2021

MaxDiff – Applications and Latest Innovations


Tyler Cusmina

Associate Director - Commercial Operations, TL Health

In our last article, we discussed some of the pitfalls of traditional ranking and rating research methods and how Maximum Difference (MaxDiff) scaling can address some of those shortcomings. (If you missed it, you can check it out here.) In the second part of our two-part series, we will discuss how MaxDiff scaling can be applied to solve a number of different business problems and some of the latest innovations in this space.

Applications of MaxDiff

MaxDiff is a versatile and easy to use research method that can be applied in a number of different business situations. This includes customer satisfaction, new product/idea development, concept/message testing, assessment of features and brand preference. Let us look at a couple of these in further detail.

Our first example is the use of MaxDiff for concept and message testing. Suppose you are developing new patient education materials and are not sure what messaging and images will be most impactful. By utilizing MaxDiff scaling, you can compare different messages and designs against one another, allowing patients to decide which concepts they like the most and which they like the least. This will then help you to determine which message and concept resonates most with your target audience, allowing you to build more effective patient education materials and improve patient care.

Another example is using MaxDiff for feature assessment of your product or service. In this example, let us say you want to know, if given a choice between multiple product features, which attributes physicians find most important when considering writing your product. In this situation, MaxDiff would be used to list your product’s features and see which attribute impacted physicians’ likelihood to write your product the most and the least. By using MaxDiff, we can establish how likely physicians are to write your product based on several different characteristics and what each attribute’s trade-off score would be (meaning how often an attribute would be picked when put in a head-to-head comparison with another). The results will provide you with vital information on which product features are most important and help you better position yourself within the market.

Finally, our last example of how to apply MaxDiff to your business is in customer satisfaction research. In this example, we will assume you run multiple speaker programs throughout the year. You want to know what your customers think of your programs and how you can improve them. Utilizing MaxDiff, you can list multiple attributes of your program (such as speaker engagement, venue, and relevance of material) and have attendees determine which of the attributes they thought the program did the best and worst on. From this experiment, you can identify which aspects of your program you are succeeding at and which may need improvement, helping you to build better speaker programs that fulfill the educational needs of your customers.

New Trends in MaxDiff

MaxDiff is a beneficial research technique that has a lot of business applications. This method has become even more effective over the years as companies enhance data capture and reporting techniques.

At TL Health, our partners are taking MaxDiff to another level by using a mobile-friendly, gamification approach to MaxDiff research. Instead of having respondents select which attribute they like the most and least, we list each attribute one at a time. Respondents then either swipe right if they like the attribute or left if they do not. If a respondent swipes right on two attributes, those two attributes are then placed in a head-to-head comparison where the respondent must choose which they like better. After several rounds, we are then able to determine the likability and trade-off score for each attribute. This approach to MaxDiff is a unique and fun way to capture valuable data. It is engaging and easy for the respondent and does not feel like a traditional market research study, which could lead to more reliable research results.

Another company that has been in the MaxDiff space for years is Sawtooth. Sawtooth really focuses on the analysis portion of the research and has developed multiple techniques to effectively and accurately analyze MaxDiff data. Their use of Hierarchical Bayes and TURF (Total Unduplicated Reach and Frequency) produce reliable and actionable results that are easy for the researcher to understand and apply. For example, Sawtooth uses TURF as “an optimization approach for finding a subset of items that “reach” the maximum number of respondents possible.”  This helps researchers decide which option is the best when resources are limited.

Wrapping Things Up

To conclude part two of our two-part series, from concept testing to customer satisfaction, MaxDiff allows you to determine the level of importance, rank order and trade-off scores for different attributes, making it a vital tool in helping you make a number of business decisions.

Companies like our partners and Sawtooth have improved the value of this research tool even further by making advancements in data collection and analysis, producing better, more reliable results. If you have not used MaxDiff yet, you may want to consider it for your next applicable research study.


Tyler Cusmina

Tyler has nine years of pharmaceutical experience working in Market Research and Pharmaceutical Sales. Tyler holds a BA in Marketing from the Temple University Fox School of Business and a Certificate of Proficiency in Quantitative Analysis Field Of Study Data Analysis from the Burke Institute.

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