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6 Simple Ways to Test Consumer Preferences

September 12, 2017

10 min read

So you’ve got a great idea for a new product? But before you blow your budget on bringing it to market, there are a number of key questions you should get answered.

What motivates consumers to buy a product like yours? What product features are most important? Where do they go to buy products like yours? What do they think of your packaging design? Who are your competitors and what do consumers think of them? How much would they be willing to pay?

Testing consumer preferences not only helps you hone your product offering, it enables you to shape effective marketing messages and choose the most profitable distribution channels. You don’t need to get out on the road with your product, online consumer surveys offer a great way to reach out to hundreds or thousands of your target customers, so there’s no excuse for not doing it!

Here are 6 ways to test consumer preferences online and get answers to your burning questions in next to no time.

Feature Preferences

Testing feature preferences is something that should be done at the very outset of designing your product or service. It could help you avoid some costly mistakes, for example by wasting time and money developing a wireless fan, when all people really care about is its air cooling abilities.

To work out the product features your customers really value, you can utilise a multiple choice question listing all the features you’re considering. You might ask, “If you were looking to purchase an electric fan, what features would be important? Tick all that apply.” This process can help you categorise product features into “need to have” and “nice to have” (Don’t forget to include an “Other” choice in case there’s anything vital you’ve forgotten).

However, it’s not always about can’t-do-without features, sometimes you’re looking for a point of difference. In that case, you might ask, “Which features would make an electric fan stand out from the crowd?” Being wireless could be a great point of difference, but you should also qualify if they’d be prepared to pay a bit extra for it. (In this case, you can ask a follow-up question asking them to tick the price-point they’d expect to pay for this, relative to other products on the market.)

As well as shaping your product, identifying consumers’ feature preferences can also help you select what angles to focus on in your marketing campaigns. For example, if consumers tell you that it’s important for soft drinks to be low in sugar, you can emphasise that your product is kind on teeth (and waistlines) in your advertising.

Simple A/B Product Test

Your designers have been hard at work and you now have the final options for the look of your product or its packaging nailed down – you just need to know which one your customers will like best.

To find out, you can present consumers with images and ask them to vote for their favourite. It’s a worthwhile step, because it might not be the design you think that will come out on top. Attest conducted an interesting study recently examining consumers’ response to minimalist packaging designs.

While the graphic design community loved the stripped back look, consumers overwhelmingly prefered the traditional, busy designs. It goes to show, that these big brands could well have a mutiny on their hands if they go for a packaging redesign without first consulting their customers.

Even better, if you’re going for a specific market position (e.g. premium, affordable etc.) you can ask which packaging design looks most [premium, affordable etc.] This helps remove too much subjective preference (e.g. I prefer that because it’s my favourite colour), and hones in closer to the specific outcome you’re looking for.

If you don’t have an established “look”, it’s well worth testing consumer preferences around your graphic design. It could prevent you from making some embarrassingly terrible mistakes with your packaging design or logo.

Distribution Preferences

Developing a great product is only half the story – getting it in front of your customers is the other. Should you focus your efforts on getting stocked by major retailers, concentrate on specialist independent stores or adopt an online-only strategy for selling your product?

Asking consumers about their distribution preferences is a good place to start. Where do they go to buy a new mattress, for example? By asking them to rank the different places they shop by order of preference, you can identify the best distribution channels for your particular product.

You may well find that it’s important to people to be able to try out a mattress in person before committing to purchase and, as such, they prefer to buy on the high street (or you’ll need to allow for deliveries and returns if you do sell online).

As well as asking about how they like to buy, you can question them about the specific shops and websites they buy from.

Would they be more likely to go to Amazon, Argos or Currys to buy that new TV? Having customers rank their preferences will let you know where you need to be seen.


The quantitative data you get from multiple choice questions is hugely helpful, since the findings can be generalised beyond your participant group (when you have a statistically valid sample).

However, it doesn’t tell you the full story. For example, it might show you that 70% of customers want their washing machine to be low energy consumption, but it doesn’t tell you if that’s because they’re concerned about the environment or because they’re concerned about their energy bills. To find out, you’d have to ask them, and that’s where qualitative research comes in.

Qualitative based survey questions are ones that allow spontaneous, free-text answers and they’re great for discovering your customers’ motivations. Things you can investigate using this method include the reasons consumers buy certain brands, the traits they think are important in a brand, any frustrations they have with products in your category and what might make them consider buying another brand.

You can also find out key information about the customer journey and decision making process they go through when making a purchase. Hear in their own words what they do when considering buying new running shoes, for example. Do they ask friends for recommendations? Do they look in magazines? Do they try on in store and then go online to look for the best price? What are the factors that finally sway their decision to buy?

This insight into your customer’s mindset helps you understand how to sell to them, how to position your brand and the marketing messages you should use to woo them. Essentially it gives context to your quantitative data.  

This understanding of consumers is also known as ‘jobs to be done’ and you can see a sample survey template for this here.

Pricing Preferences

Setting your price can be challenging; you don’t want to undersell yourself but you don’t want to scare customers away either. If only you knew what people would be willing to pay. Undertaking price sensitivity testing can help you discover the pricing preferences of your target customers.

One way of doing this is by utilising the van Westendorp Pricing Model, in which survey participants are asked four questions:

  1. At what price do you think the product/service is priced so low that it makes you question its quality?
  2. At what price do you think the product/service is a bargain?
  3. At what price do you think the product/service begins to seem expensive?
  4. At what price do you think the product/service is too expensive?

Here’s a sample template you can use.

The responses to each question are plotted on a graph called a Price Map. The intersection of certain data points indicate the Optimum Price Point (OPP) and the Indifference Price Point (IDP) to give you a better idea of where to pitch your product.

Maybe you want to have mass appeal so you chose a price that everyone will be happy with, or perhaps you want to present your product as a higher-end item? You can segment the results by various different demographics to understand who is willing to pay the most and then target those customers through your positioning and marketing.

Brand Strength

What do your customers think of your brand? Would they recommend you to others? You can find out by measuring your Net Promoter Score (NPS). NPS indexes the willingness of customers to recommend your company’s products or services to others. It’s used to gauge overall customer satisfaction as well as brand loyalty.

Customers are surveyed on one single question, “On a scale of 0 to 10, how likely are you to recommend this company’s product or service to a friend or a colleague?” Based on their rating, customers are then classified as either brand detractors, passives and promoters. The Net Promoter Score (NPS) is determined by subtracting the percentage of customers who are detractors from the percentage who are promoters. (This is done automatically in Attest.)

The score can be as high as 100+ (if everybody is a promoter) or as low as -100 (if everybody is a detractor). A good NPS is considered to be anything above zero, with 50+ being excellent and 70+ world class customer satisfaction (Apple is an example of a brand with a NPS of 70+).

As well as measuring your own NPS, you can measure that of your competitors. This helps you benchmark yourself against them – do you have a long way to go to match their popularity or are you neck and neck? Measuring regularly, especially after each marketing push, can help you track your progress.

NPS is particularly important for challenger brands, who are going up against a more established player. If you see your NPS edge ahead of theirs, you know you’re doing great and this is really something to shout about!


It’s so easy to test consumer preferences with simple online surveys, you’d be foolish to come to market without doing so. It’s pretty much essential for new brands to gain an understanding of their potential customers and their wants and needs before trying to sell to them.

However, it’s also vital for existing brands with a loyal customer base as it can be surprisingly easy to alienate them. You only have to look at the protests that broke out when Coke changed its formula back in the 80s!

Just because you and your team think something is a winner, doesn’t mean everybody else will, so consider consumer preference testing to be your sanity check.

Complete Guide to Survey Creation

Creating surveys that deliver quality, actionable insights doesn’t have to be so hard. Here’s how you can do it.

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