TURF analysis for beginners

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Posted Jul 12, 2023
Eliza Jacobs

Forget the lab coat—you don’t need to be a data scientist to transform your consumer insights. In this article, we’ll go over the basics of TURF analysis, a simple yet powerful technique that can help you uncover hidden opportunities! So if you have multiple promising customer segments, but only enough budget to target some of them, you’re in the right place. So for now, let’s leave the heavy-duty statistics and complicated data modeling aside and embark on our adventure by jumping into an introduction to TURF analysis.

TURF analysis 101

Wait… so you’re not a data scientist? Just kidding, you don’t have to be! All you need is common sense to know that even with a limited budget and frequency caps, there’s still a need to reach as many potential customers as possible. So what is TURF analysis for MaxDiff? Well, it helps determine the best combination of segments to achieve this exact goal, so you can confidently allocate your budget. 

The key here is not to be intimidated by the “analysis” part of TURF analysis. At its heart, it’s a relatively simple technique that has been helping insights seekers make data-driven decisions for years—no data science expertise needed.

What is TURF

But let’s back up—what does TURF even stand for? Total Unduplicated Reach and Frequency. It’s basically a statistical analysis methodology we can use to estimate the potential market size and/or media potential. 

More specifically, TURF analysis can help you determine:

  • Your total reach: The total number or percentage of people in your target audience who purchase at least one product from your product line..
  • Your frequency: The average number of times that a customer purchases a product from the product line. 

So in simple terms, TURF analysis can help you allocate your limited marketing dollars between different customer segments in the way that will allow you to maximize your reach at a desired frequency. 

How about an example? 

Let’s say you have a budget to reach 200k people with an ad campaign, and there are two segments you want to reach: Segment A has 100k people, and Segment B has 200k people. Now, without TURF analysis, you’d probably want to split the budget evenly, but using TURF, you may find that targeting Segment A with a frequency of 3 and Segment B with a frequency of 1 allows you to reach 150k unique people (50k from A and a different 100k from B). So in this example, TURF would recommend more budget to Segment A in order to achieve that perfect mix. Pretty cool, right?

The point here is that TURF has many use cases, including helping you understand the optimal way to mix and match your segments into the biggest reach within your given parameters. And it does it without requiring any advanced statistical analysis on your part!

The TURF analysis formula

The beauty of TURF analysis is it helps you figure out how to allocate your budget between segments to achieve the ideal combination of maximum Total Reach at your desired Frequency, while reaching the most Unduplicated individuals possible.

For example, say you have $100k to spend across two segments. Segment A allows you to reach 100k people at $1 per person, and Segment B allows you to reach 200k at $0.50 per person.

If you just split the budget evenly, you'd reach 150k people total (50k from each segment) but only 100k unique people, since 50k would be duplicates across the two segments.

Using TURF, you might find spending $60k on Segment A (to reach 60k people at 3 frequencies) and $40k on Segment B (to reach 80k new people) allows you to reach 140k unique people with the ideal frequency levels you want.

Make sense? TURF analysis helps you mix and match segments to find the optimal solution of reach, uniqueness, and frequency within your budget.

Powerful but not perfect

Ok, so while TURF analysis can be done easily with the right tools, it does come with a few assumptions that you should be aware of. Let’s go over them in plain terms and share some tips for overcoming these limitations. 

First, TURF analysis assumes that once your customers buy from you, they’ll stop considering alternatives in your category. This works ok for big, infrequent purchases (like a refrigerator) but not for repeat buys (like groceries). 

So what’s the solution? Well, for repeat needs, you’ll need to use the existing knowledge of your consumer in order to determine realistic frequency caps. Don’t just let TURF make assumptions—start conservatively and adjust based on performance. 

You’ll also need to understand that TURF doesn’t account for how often individual consumers will buy or use a product—it assumes all customers in a segment will buy with equal frequency, when in reality we know that light users in the same segment will differ quite a bit from heavy users. 

Let’s make TURF analysis work for you

So how does this actually work? Let’s go over how to put TURF analysis to work for you. 

First things first: Focus on your business goals. How much reach and at what frequency cap do you need to achieve your marketing objectives? Keep it simple here—there’s no need to overthink at this stage.

Next, you’ll want to  identify and evaluate your viable customer segments. Consider attributes like demographic info, past buying behaviors, geography, channel preferences, and more to determine potential target groups. Review any available data on their reach, cost to target, and potential lifetime value. This step does require some analysis to ensure you're focusing on segments that will provide strong ROI, but don’t let it hold you back. By the end, you’ll want to end up with a list of 3-5 of your most promising segments.

Give aytm’s TURF simulator a try

At this point, you’ll want to pick the right tool for you. There are plenty out there (some folks even use a classic spreadsheet) but we’ll go over why we think aytm’s TURF simulator tool would be the best fit for you. 

Before we go into this, take heed: If this feels like it’s going over your head, just scroll to the bottom section. We’ve got you covered!

With aytm, you can bring TURF analysis directly into your survey just by selecting our automated, Advanced MaxDiff test. From there you can click the dropdown to switch from MaxDiff Express to HB + TURF. This will include the individual utility scores and the TURF simulator with your survey results. So once the MaxDiff HB +Turf analysis is complete, the individual utility scores for the items will become available to download. 

Our tool makes use of coefficients to produce the output. And to convert the utility scores into "reached" and "not reached" statuses for a given combination of items for a given respondent, it employs three different industry-standard approaches:

  1. First-choice (only one the most preferred item is considered "reached")
  2. Threshold x% (items with purchase likelihood greater than the threshold value will be "reached")
  3. Weighted by probability (items with higher purchase likelihood get more reach)

When you export the TURF simulator, you can see all possible configurations of the max number of simulations, the unduplicated frequency (how many of your target the combination would reach), and the reach of your target (what percent of your audience the combination would please).

You can even view the analysis in a spreadsheet. Our Excel simulator has two views:

  • Summary view lets you activate or disable certain items to see how it affects the summary statistics. Here, you can enter the total budget and item cost to see additional data on how well certain selection fits the budget. 
  • All combinations view lists all possible combinations of activated items and allows in-depth filtering. For instance, you may be interested in the best combination of 3 items, excluding one particular item. We built Excel filters into the simulator, so you can achieve this in no time.

After that, review, test and repeat. Check how your selected segments actually perform and make changes to your mix over time based on your learnings and any changes to segments or budget. Basic marketing optimization. That’s not so bad, is it?

There’s always more to learn

If you’re thirsty for more knowledge, we actually built a free course on our very own Lighthouse Academy that walks you through the entire process. So if you’re new to TURF, or if you could simply use a refresher on best practices, don’t worry we’ve got you covered!

Take the free, self-paced course on TURF analysis for MaxDiff

Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2019 but updated in 2023 for relevancy and accuracy.

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