Fireworks? Conjoint Works!

Just days before her nation’s Independence Day, Eve Lenkowsky ponders fireworks and shows how a market research technique can illuminate the factors behind the complex choices we make.

Seeing as it is Canada Day on July 1st (Canada’s national day) and will be the American Independence Day holiday of the Fourth of July on…well, July 4th, I’ve decided I want to write something up about fireworks. I absolutely love fireworks on the Fourth of July. Some of my best childhood memories revolve around staring up in wonder at the huge bursts of color, giggling at surprising bursts of sound, and running around in the fields with other children, chasing after fireflies.

When I think back upon each year of fireworks, I realize that several questions almost always subconsciously arise in my mind. Which kind of firework is my favorite? What pattern do I like best? What color do I like best? What sounds do I like best?


I have a sneaking suspicion that I am not the only person for whom these questions come to mind. Sure, we all are curious about what order the fireworks will be launched, and whether the next one will outdo the one just before, and how much longer until the grand finale, but I think that after awhile you might wind up trying to determine your favorite effect, and just not know the answer.

“But how can this be?” you might wonder to yourself. 2Don’t I know myself well enough to know what I like the best?2 After all, you know that gold is your favorite color. You know you can’t stand the sound of whistles. You’re not really sure what shape you like the best…they’re all pretty impressive aside from that fizzle-y droopy one. And come to think over it, overall, you’re not really sure whether you care most about color, shape, or sound—which of these you value most when it comes to evaluating a firework. Don’t worry…you’re not the only one. And I’m sure the pyrotechnics expert who is running the show would love to know what the audience likes the best and cares about most.

So let’s solve everybody’s problem with a little market research technique called a choice-based conjoint. It’s a statistical method that makes it possible to figure out how people value different elements of a product or service. We do this by asking people to choose one product out of a group of products, with each consisting of different combinations of features (or “attributes”). Naturally, there will be some elements that each person might really like and others that might not be so great. It forces people to make trade-offs, and helps to ultimately determine what they prioritize most when making a choice.

So with fireworks, for example, the attributes might be patterns, colors, and sounds. Furthermore, within each attribute, there are levels, or variations on that attribute. For example, with the color attribute, the levels could be red, gold, green or purple. When designing a conjoint, the researcher does not have to have the same number of levels across the attributes; for example, he could show 7 colors, 6 patterns, and 3 noises. Check out the table below for the attributes and levels we’ll test now:




Crossette, Strobe, Tail, Willow


Red, Gold, Green, Purple


Bang & Report, Crackle, Hummer, Whistle

When a respondent goes through a conjoint exercise, he or she is shown an assortment of product concepts which present various combinations of the levels of each attribute. So here, in our fireworks exercise, I can show you a group of options (concepts) that combine the different levels of fireworks and ask you to choose the one that is most appealing to you.

Based on the attributes we’re testing here, you would ultimately be shown 64 concepts, which I calculated by multiplying the number of levels for each attribute times each other. So 4 patterns x 4 colors x 4 sounds = 64 concepts. It sounds like a lot of options to look at, but the way we simplify things is by showing you only a handful of options at a time. So you look at 4 concepts, pick your favorite, and then we show you another set of 4 options and you pick your favorite again, and so on.

By the time you’ve gone through all the groups of firework choices, it becomes possible to determine which attribute you value the most, second most, and third most. You might discover, indirectly through the conjoint, that you care the most about sound, then color, and lastly the pattern. We can also see which level you prefer within each attribute, which may or may not have been obvious to you from the start. Using the power of statistics, we can get under the skin of those things that really matter to people – something that isn’t always possible with direct questioning. In effect, the numbers tell us what we cannot see ourselves.

For business, this firecracker of a statistical method makes it possible for a company to get a better understanding of the choices its customers will make, and what parts of their product or service they value the most. This is of crucial importance when organisations are seeking to price their products and services: If we know the intrinsic value that customers place on different parts of an offer, we can more accurately price and market these goods and services prior to launch.

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