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Published: February 28, 2012
 / Spring 2012 / Issue 66

 
 

A New Way to Gain Customer Insights

How conjoint analysis, a tried-and-true market research tool, can be used to support organic growth.

When Dow Jones decided to revamp the Wall Street Journal in the mid-2000s, the newspaper had just endured five years of flat circulation and advertising revenue, and the whole industry was ailing. Although the Journal didn’t want to alienate its core readership, it hoped to attract new readers — in particular a younger demographic that advertisers would value. Dow Jones knew it had to make changes to its then 125-year-old newspaper. But the company’s bigger purpose was to understand the needs of an emerging segment of business news consumers that the Journal was not successfully reaching.

To help develop its strategy, Dow Jones employed a variant of conjoint analysis, a technique that has been widely used in market research for 30 years. In a traditional conjoint analysis, survey respondents are asked which products or product attributes they value as a trade-off between two or more options, repeated in enough combinations to yield a reliable ranking of each attribute’s importance. Dow Jones used this type of analysis in a new way, to identify prospective readers and reveal their preferences. After its redesign to attract this new customer segment, the Journal (now part of the News Corporation) saw a 35 percent improvement in its efforts to add new subscribers through direct marketing, reversed a three-year slump in ad sales, and experienced an annual revenue improvement of US$25 million from new programs and pricing initiatives.

For companies in industries as varied as luxury goods and retail banking, conjoint analysis is emerging as a strategic tool, providing actionable intelligence that businesses can use to support organic growth. The methodology is very similar to the traditional practice of this type of analysis, but with a key variation: The marketing team uses the results to identify customer groups (and prospects) with similar preferences, providing a more detailed view of the categories they fall into, the needs they have, and the likelihood that they might become bigger (or smaller) sources of revenue.

Of course, it would be hard to find a company that hasn’t done some kind of customer segmentation, and using conjoint analysis is certainly not the only way to achieve it. Companies usually have a sense of who their real and prospective customers are, and have an idea of what each segment considers important. But by segmenting customers with the help of conjoint analysis, companies can develop a more layered form of intelligence, with implications for which segments to prioritize, which value propositions to offer them, and how to market to them.

Looking for Luxury Shoppers

In recent years, a manufacturer of luxury gifts had become dissatisfied with the pace of growth in one of its largest geographic markets. Was the company targeting the wrong customers? Using the wrong materials? Supporting a brand with an undifferentiated value proposition? Advertising ineffectively? The company thought that if it could answer these questions, it would gain some of the insights needed to transform its organic growth strategy.

Using traditional conjoint analysis techniques, the manufacturer surveyed 2,000 luxury gift–buying consumers to find out the extent to which they were price- and brand-conscious; valued materials such as fine leather, fabrics, and metals; and wanted their gifts to elicit oohs and aahs from friends and family. The manufacturer then combined the data from the conjoint analysis with the results from other survey questions to define five customer segments, and decided it had headroom — an opportunity to pick up significant market share — in several of those segments, including a group it called “classic shoppers.”

Thanks to the survey, the manufacturer knew that in the “classic shopper” segment, customers ascribed great importance to prestige, cared a lot about high-quality materials, and preferred designs that made bold statements. The least important attribute to this customer segment was price. These customers didn’t mind paying a premium to get what they wanted.

 
 
 
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