Online Product Design Testing – A New Application for MaxDiff

Online Product Design Testing – A New Application for MaxDiff

Online testing of marketing concepts is now an established and proven practice. Numerous methodologies are used to test copy points, features and benefits. One methodology, MaxDiff, is becoming one of the most useful and straight-forward tools available to marketers today. The key characteristic of a MaxDiff design is that it forces respondents to choose between alternatives, which may be very similar and have a very similar appeal. Forcing respondents to choose the most preferred and least preferred item from a set of alternatives, results in a greater ability to analytically discriminate between the alternatives than is possible using traditional monadic rating questions.

Typically, MaxDiff research relies on descriptive elements (such as features and copy points) to define the most motivating marketing messages. Now, marketers are utilizing the MaxDiff approach with product visuals, including product concepts, packaging, logos and more. With MaxDiff, respondents are exposed to a set of images and are asked to select the best (most appealing, most important, etc.) and worst (least appealing, least important, etc.). Respondents typically complete several scenarios where each scenario contains a different subset of images. The scenarios are carefully created using an experimental design that ensures that each item is shown an equal number of times and in different order.

Here’s an example of how this works for product packaging. Respondents are shown a series of four packaging concepts at a time, and are asked to indicate which package they most prefer and which they least prefer.
It’s a straight forward exercise that allows the respondent to assess alternatives quickly and react in a very intuitive manner. They don’t need to overthink details or explain their choices … they simply react.


The results from this MaxDiff exercise provides a score for each of the alternative images placed on a 0 to 100 point scale, indicating the likelihood that a particular style would be selected as “preferred”. In other words, each element “score” is the probability that the element is most preferred out of all of the elements that were tested.

So, why use MaxDiff for packaging and product concept testing instead of standard rating scales? Because research has shown that MaxDiff scores demonstrate greater discrimination among items and between respondents on the items. The MaxDiff question is simple to understand, so respondents from children to adults with a variety of educational and cultural backgrounds can provide reliable data. Since respondents make choices rather than expressing strength of preference using some numeric scale, there is no opportunity for scale use bias. This can be extremely useful for cross-cultural research studies.

In short, sometimes a simple approach can be the most powerful.

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