Fuel Cycle

A Non-Researcher’s Guide To The Kano Model

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Any successful business owner will tell you that it’s nearly impossible to launch a product or service effectively without understanding what your customers care about- and to understand what customers care about, brands must invest in market research. Although market research can be an intimidating term for non-researchers, it simply means gathering consumers’ feedback about your offering.

There are numerous research methods that brands can deploy, such as templated surveys, focus groups, in-depth interviews, observation, and more. While collecting the data is relatively straightforward, the interpretation of the data is where things get fuzzy. Thankfully, with a well-crafted study following the Kano Model, it’s simple to interpret customer preference effectively. The Kano method takes the guesswork out of customer wants and needs and helps businesses launch the best products and services possible.

What is the Kano Model?

The Kano model (pronounced “kah-no”) is an approach to prioritizing features on a product roadmap, based on two questions that measure the degree to which they are likely to satisfy customers. Product teams can weigh a high-satisfaction feature against its implementation costs to determine if adding it to the roadmap is a strategically sound decision. 

The format was introduced in the early 1980s by a Japanese professor named Noriaki Kano to help market researchers determine customers’ satisfaction with product features.

The model uses respondent satisfaction based on two different questions – if the feature is or is not included in your product or service – to categorize features into the following groups:

Features to Prioritize  Features to Deprioritize  
Table Stakes This feature is considered standard or expected for your product. Ensure it is included to avoid dissatisfaction.  Indifferent Respondents are indifferent to the inclusion of this feature. Do not prioritize for development.  
Satisfiers The presence of this feature both delights if included and dissatisfies if not included. Prioritize in the roadmap.  Questionable This feature causes confusion. Consider further exploration to determine how to proceed.  
Delighters This feature would be enjoyed but is unexpected. If included, consider marketing as a stand-out feature.  Reverse This feature is actively disliked. Do not include it in your product.  

What are the Benefits of the Kano Model?

The Kano methodology helps sort potential product features into key categories, to determine how your team should prioritize development. This model will not only show you where not to focus (those features that consumers reject or are indifferent to), they will help lay out the roadmap for development by noting must-haves for an MVP (minimum viable product), attractive features to continue building out, and delighting features that may differentiate your product in the category. 

Here are a few specific reasons why product and insights professionals use the Kano model:

It’s proven. ​Kano is often used as a best practice tool within Six Sigma practices​ and has earned a reputation of reliability.

It saves time​. Kano prevents product managers from wasting their time working on attributes that will not please customers or leave them indifferent.​​

It’s flexible​. The technique can be applied to all types of features, claims, or benefits across industries and product or service types.

It speaks to the current market​. The current pace of change means that the things that delighted people a year ago might now be expected, or even undesired. For example:​

  • The BlackBerry keyboard​
  • Ethernet connection in hotel rooms​
  • Air conditioning in cars

Who Is the Kano Model For and What Questions Does it Answer?

The Kano model is most relevant to product managers and consumer insights managers, particularly in industries with feature-heavy products such as technology, financial services, durable goods, healthcare, and B2B/services. 

To give you an idea of how the Kano model is used in a real context, here are a few examples of questions that can be answered with the Kano methodology:

  • How should I narrow down my list of potential service benefits? ​
  • Which product features should I develop first?​
  • Which features aren’t worth investing in?​
  • Which claims or messages may be a potential marketing focus?​
  • Should I invest in faster shipping or free gift wrapping to elevate my product experience?​
  • Does free cloud storage still delight customers, or is it now an expected feature?**

**Reminder:While Kano is often utilized for new product development, it is just as important to track satisfaction over time! Delighters can quickly shift to table stakes (think Bluetooth connectivity in cars) or even indifferent features (think ethernet connections in hotel rooms). 

The Kano Model in Action

A national retail bank sought to build a personalized wealth management area within their mobile banking application. While some features and requirements were federally mandated, the team brainstormed several new pieces of functionality specific to wealth management services.

The team conducted a feature prioritization test with their current customers, using the Kano model to contextualize each feature. They also internally assessed the effort level required for development.

Feature Category Importance (1-9) Difficulty 
Plan overview Table stakes 8.1 Low 
Virtual check deposit Satisfier 7.5 Moderate 
Fund transfers Table stakes 6.2 Low 
Bill pay Indifferent 3.9 Low 
News updates Delighter 6.1 Moderate 
Live chat Delighter 4.8 Moderate 
Social media feed Indifferent 2.2 Low 
Life event planning   Delighter 4.2 High 

Using this data, the team was able to finalize their roadmap for development. The minimum viable product (MVP) only included those features that would have caused dissatisfaction if not present. The remaining roadmap was built by prioritizing delighting features that were lower difficulty and higher importance, and deprioritizing indifferent features. Marketing was able to plan communication campaigns to promote the rollout of the ‘delighter’ features.

Feature Roadmap 
Plan overview MVP 
Virtual check deposit MVP 
Fund transfers MVP 
News updates P1 (Priority 1) 
Live chat P2 
Life event planning  P3 
Bill pay P3 
Social media feed n/a 

The team repeated this research every 6-12 months to get a read on more detailed features within a product, reset the roadmap priorities, and understand how perception of key features was changing over time. 

Fuel Cycle’s Kano Model Project Template

To help product teams quickly gather actionable insights, Fuel Cycle developed a suite of customizable survey templates. The Kano methodology assists with outputs including:

  • Overview of categories and interpretations for actionable recommendations​
  • Key category and average importance rating for each feature ​
  • Breakdown of categorization counts by each feature​

Results are viewable with easy-to-read dashboards that allow for advanced filtering, individual chart downloads, and exports to Excel.

Appeal to Your Customers

Do you really know your customers if you don’t have insights? With proper research methods like the Kano model, you can appeal to your customers with confidence.

If you’re already a Fuel Cycle user and want to learn more about the Kano methodology, including how to start using it for your product feature prioritization studies, reach out to your account lead for more information. 

Also be sure to check out our ebook, The Essential Guide to Becoming a Market Research Powerhouse to learn more about leveraging data to make better business decisions.

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