Methods for the Analysis of Choices and Evaluations

Options Analysis basics


  1. Overview

  2. Options Analysis focuses on option appeal and choice

  3. Options

  4. Appeal evaluations

  5. Selection sets

  6. Types of choice and their relation to appeal

  7. Individual and group levels of analysis

  8. How differences in share can be deceptive

  9. Advantage and disadvantage

  10. What generates advantage, disadvantage and share?

  11. Applying Options Analysis results – competitive analysis as an example

Overview of Options Analysis

This web page introduces:

  1. Key concepts.

  2. How Options Analysis works.

  3. Types of analysis produced.

Options Analysis is not a single technique. It consists of a related set of methods varying in purpose and sophistication. For example:

  1. The simplest options analysis reveals levels of advantage and disadvantage amongst options.

  2. Also readily analysed are the effects of each option on the share, advantage and disadvantage of all the other options in a selection set.

  3. Further investigation may include simulation of effects of changes in appeal on advantage, disadvantage and share of choice.

  4. And, advanced applications may entail unravelling an entanglement of appeal factors generating particular share results.


Options Analysis focuses on option appeal and choice

Options Analysis is concerned with analysis of option appeal and option choice for groups of individuals.

Options Analysis also deals with analysis of past changes in appeal and choice and how they might be changed in future.

Both choice and appeal are global responses to options.

Differences in appeal within a set of options are calculated to arrive at each individual's option choice. Subject to external constraints and variations in conditions, differences in current option appeal can also predict future choice amongst those options.

These appeal-choice relationships are integral to the application. They may be subject to validation testing or treated as working assumptions. Testing of some or all appeal-choice relationships can be routinely accomplished in the course of survey research.

Options Analysis is descriptive. It is not normative or prescriptive. Options Analysis requires no assumptions on rational or reasoned consideration of option outcomes, nor of utility or hedonism.

The independent measurement of appeal substantially aids the reliable identification of the factors influencing advantage and choice.

The methodology facilitates:

  1. study-by-study tests of appeal-choice relationships,

  2. exploration of the nature of appeal and its variation across options for individuals, groups and sub-groups,

  3. examination of levels and sources of differential appeal creating option advantage and disadvantage, and

  4. analysis of the consequences of appeal for choice.



For Options Analysis, an option is anything able to be evaluated and selected in its own right.

Satisfactory specification of each option is a critical part of the research. Option specification involves appropriate qualification of the option's identity and may refer to option accessibility, timing, conditions of availability and other contextual and personal considerations relevant to the research.

If any action is required as part of an option, such as buying, using, or voting, it is essential to the accuracy of the results that this action be explicit in the option specification. Otherwise, results are likely to be ambiguous or misleading.

Any substantive variation in the specification of an option creates a new option. Data on this variant may be compared with the original option, other variants, or other options, in terms of advantage, disadvantage or share of choice.


Appeal evaluations

The appeal of an option to an individual is an assessment of the polarity and intensity of motivational sentiment he or she attaches to it. It is a measure of how much a person wants to secure or avoid an option.

For data collection, an appeal evaluation is the elicited rating response of an individual to a description of a carefully qualified option in terms of a scale ranging from extremely unattractive to extremely attractive with an implicit zero point at indifference.

The appeal scale should be sufficiently refined and extended to allow respondents to assign all the distinct ratings they consider appropriate. Scales which merge ratings respondents see as different will impair choice predictions.

Where an individual is unaware or for some other reason cannot evaluate an option, this data is entered instead of appeal and is taken into account in the analysis.

Satisfactory measurement of option appeal is required for sound analysis of advantage, disadvantage, choice and share.


Selection sets

Selection sets are collections of options from which a choice could be made.

Studies comparing options may range from two or three to a large range of variant options to be analysed in multiple selection sets.

Selection sets may vary considerably in the heterogeneity or homogeneity of their options. For example, a selection set may refer to buying an ice cream, going for a swim, and studying. Alternatively, a selection set may be as similar as four identical services differing only by name (to test the appeal of the names, for example).

The composition of selection sets may be varied for analysis. One way of using Options Analysis is to vary selection sets to assess the impact of each option's presence on other options in the set.


Types of choice and their relation to appeal

Choice selection includes preferences, intentions and actions.

  1. Preference applies to selecting an option someone else would act on e.g. a change in the law, a proposed new service, or a new product attribute.

  2. Choice intention refers to an individual's current selection for future action by him or herself e.g. through purchase, use, or voting.

  3. Choice action refers to actual performance of such behaviours as purchasing, using or voting.

Options Analysis infers each individual’s choice from their highest appeal rating for options within a selection set. This can be compared to each individual's elicited choice selection for the same set. This is a test of the validity of inferred choice selection.

Using such methods, the quality of both the results and the field procedures applied can be confirmed. The analysis of advantage, disadvantage and share, based on differences in appeal, may then proceed with confidence.


Individual and group levels of analysis

Options Analysis is mainly intended for the analysis of group results. However, it may also be used for the analysis of an individual's ratings.

Individual level analysis

At the level of the individual, Options Analysis is concerned with:

  1. levels of appeal amongst options and the uncertainties amongst those appeal ratings, and

  2. the consequences for choice.

Group level analysis

At the level of the group, Options Analysis is concerned with:

  1. the relations of distributions of appeal between options, and

  2. the consequences for share of choice.


How differences in share can be deceptive

The attractiveness of an individual’s chosen option may be the same, just a little more, somewhat more, or very greatly more attractive than the next best alternative. Thus, choice, beyond implying equal or greater appeal, provides no indication of the size of the differences in appeal.

For a group, this means differences in the size of share of choice say little about the underlying differences in option appeal. These may be vary considerably.

For example, a very marginal attractiveness of one political candidate over another, universally felt amongst voters, will yield 100% share for the marginally attractive candidate. This may be viewed as a “landslide” of catastrophic proportion – but it is due only to the finest tipping of a balance that might well have been tipped the other way. ( Click here to see more on this appeal-share relationship. )

On another occasion, a 50/50 poll result may be said to reflect little difference between candidates or a deep divide in sentiment. Either of these statements could be true.

Paradoxically, while appeal determines choice for individuals, the most generally appealing option may have little or even no share of choice. ( Click here to see such an example of paradoxical appeal-share relations. )

Lack of consistency between scale of option share and differences in appeal also means that option share provides no reliable indication of the ease of changing choice and share. Changeability of choice and share requires examination of differences in option appeal, across individuals, to assess the size of advantage or disadvantage for each option.


Advantage and disadvantage

Differences in appeal between options are measured in terms of advantage and disadvantage.

An option’s advantage for an individual is the amount of appeal by which it exceeds the highest appeal that individual assigns to the other options in a selection set.

An option’s disadvantage is measured in a similar way. Disadvantage is the difference between an individual’s appeal rating of an option and his or her highest option rating in the selection set. This is the distance that would need to be closed for choice selection to be inferred for that option for a respondent.

For a group, advantage may be summarised as the average individual advantage for an option. For the sub-group of inferred option choosers, their group advantage would then be their sub-group average for an option. The overall advantage for an option may be low while for the sub-group of inferred choosers it may be very high.

Similarly, group disadvantage is the average disadvantage for a group.

Advantage and disadvantage, and consequently, share of choice, can be expected to vary between groups with differing characteristics and in different situations.


What generates advantage, disadvantage and share?

The appeal of each option depends on how it is perceived by each individual. That involves both the nature of the option and the state of the individual at the time of assessment. The sum of the different individuals' elicited perceptions of an option contribute to its distribution of appeal ratings.

If options are seen as different they will have different appeal distributions. Systematic differences in appeal distributions imply systematic differences in advantage and disadvantage with consequent systematic impacts on shares of choice.

Only differences amongst each individual's option ratings contribute to advantage, disadvantage and choice. So appeal data across respondents within a selection set require adjustment to exclude other sources of variation.

Each adjusted option appeal distribution is characterised by all its moments (the mean, standard deviation, skewness, and kurtosis) and inter-alignment between distributions (i.e. differences between distributions which reflect concordant, contrasting, or idiosyncratic between-option relationships).

Each parameter defines the character of its own appeal impacts on an option's appeal distribution. Between the options in a selection set the total parameter effects create the advantage, disadvantage and share of choice attributable to each option.

Average appeal reflects the general standing of an option. The other parameters reflect the variability and direction of individual appeal around each option's mean. Thus, Options Analysis incorporates both general agreement and varieties of systematic contrariness amongst individuals as the sources of advantage, disadvantage, and share of choice. Both general agreement and systematic contrariness are also modelled in simulation.

By standardising these parameters, Options Analysis reveals the scale, direction and nature of their current contributions. Similarly, studying the possible effects of parameter change will show impacts on advantage, disadvantage and share of choice.

For more information on the components of appeal click here .


Applying Options Analysis results – competitive analysis as an example

An option’s performance on each parameter, with associated consequences for advantage, disadvantage and share, may be seen as a strength or weakness of the option. These, separately or in combination with other parameters, may indicate threats to or opportunities for changing the performance of other options in the set.

Thus, appeal parameter performance and change reflect particular types of strategy and tactics. For example, an option which obtains advantage and share from its superior mean appeal should look to sustain its generic qualities. Similarly, an option which obtains advantage and share from negative inter-alignment with other options should look to support its contrasting qualities with the other options. Options usually display a mix of parameter strengths and weaknesses.

Likewise, changing the performance of an option involves a search for modifications which, when incorporated in an option, generate those parameter changes most likely to add advantage, reduce disadvantage, or generate or defend share of choice.

Since changes in share may be disproportionately affected by change in appeal, opportunities for leverage should be examined. Small changes in appeal may generate large movements in share. Alternatively, small changes in share may be extremely difficult or costly where large changes in appeal are required.

The analysis can facilitate a search for opportunities based on small changes in appeal to gain substantial share, and, show where to avoid major costly efforts yielding little reward.


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