How to generalize from a hierarchical model?

Max J. Pachali*, Peter Kurz, Thomas Otter

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Models of consumer heterogeneity play a pivotal role in marketing and economics, specifically in random coefficient or mixed logit models for aggregate or individual data and in hierarchical Bayesian models of heterogeneity. In applications, the inferential target often pertains to a population beyond the sample of consumers providing the data. For example, optimal prices inferred from the model are expected to be optimal in the population and not just optimal in the observed, finite sample. The population model, random coefficients distribution, or heterogeneity distribution is the natural and correct basis for generalizations from the observed sample to the market. However, in many if not most applications standard heterogeneity models such as the multivariate normal, or its finite mixture generalization lack economic rationality because they support regions of the parameter space that contradict basic economic arguments. For example, such population distributions support positive price coefficients or preferences against fuel-efficiency in cars. Likely as a consequence, it is common practice in applied research to rely on the collection of individual level mean estimates of consumers as a representation of population preferences that often substantially reduce the support for parameters in violation of economic expectations. To overcome the choice between relying on a mis-specified heterogeneity distribution and the collection of individual level means that fail to measure heterogeneity consistently, we develop an approach that facilitates the formulation of more economically faithful heterogeneity distributions based on prior constraints. In the common situation where the heterogeneity distribution comprises both constrained and unconstrained coefficients (e.g., brand and price coefficients), the choice of subjective prior parameters is an unresolved challenge. As a solution to this problem, we propose a marginal-conditional decomposition that avoids the conflict between wanting to be more informative about constrained parameters and only weakly informative about unconstrained parameters. We show how to efficiently sample from the implied posterior and illustrate the merits of our prior as well as the drawbacks of relying on means of individual level preferences for decision-making in two illustrative case studies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)343-380
JournalQuantitative Marketing and Economics
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Discrete choice
  • Bayesian inference
  • Market simulation
  • Constrained hierarchical prior


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