Difference between a perceptual map and a positioning map

Key differences between a perceptual map and a positioning map

  • Perceptual maps show how consumers PERCEIVE the positioning of brands
  • Positioning maps shows the positioning of brands, as measure objectively
  • Perceptual maps are helpful as stand-alone tools and provide a range of market insights (see this article)
  • Positioning maps need to be used in conjunction with perceptual maps
  • Perceptual maps mainly look at CURRENT, and sometimes past, market positioning
  • Positioning maps considers current positioning, but with a focus on FUTURE positioning goals

What is a perceptual map?

What is the difference between a perceptual maps and a positioning map? Perceptual maps and positioning maps are interrelated concepts and the terms are sometimes used interchangeably. But there are key differences between them, which means that they should be used and interpreted differently.

The word “perceptual” comes from the word “perception“, which means the consumer’s understanding, opinion and assessment of a brand or a product. As a result, a perceptual map shows the consumers’ perception (understanding, etc.) of the positioning of competing brands in a market.

In most cases, perceptual maps are constructed from a market research survey of consumers, where they are asked a series of image and brand questions. In some cases, perceptual maps may be constructed from the collective knowledge of experienced managers who estimate how consumers perceive the positioning of competing brands.

Therefore, a perceptual map shows the PERCEPTION of positioning of competing brands – not the desired positioning goals nor the actual positioning of the brands.

This is important to understand as usually there is a difference between reality and perception. As an example, “What is the safest bank?” – consumers may PERCEIVE it as Bank A because of their brand image, but from a financial ratio perspective the safest one is actually Bank B.

So this means that in a perceptual map we are measuring consumer perception of positioning, not technical reality.

What is a positioning map?

A positioning map is a similar concept, but the main difference is that we are NOT mapping consumer perception – instead, we are mapping either actual (technical) positioning and/or positioning goals.

The design of a positioning map is identical to a perceptual map as it is presented as a scatter (or bubble) chart and maps the positioning of competing brands. That is why there is sometimes confusion between these terms as they present in the same format.

Using Perceptual and Positioning Maps Together – Checking Market Reality

As mentioned above, for a positioning map we are demonstrating actual (or real( positioning. For example, let’s continue our banking example (for Bank A and Bank B), using the two positioning attributes of:

  • Has lots of branches
  • Is safe and secure

The two maps below highlight the difference between a perceptual map and a positioning map.

On the left, we have a perceptual map – based upon a survey of the perceptions of consumers. As you can see, consumers perceive Bank A as having more branches and being safer and more secure.

However, on the right we have a positioning map – which is based upon a count of branch locations and an analysis of financial ratios.

As you can see, in reality Bank B has more branches and is also stronger financially, but Bank A is perceived as being superior to its competitor on both of these attributes.

Comparison of a perceptual map to a positioning map

This difference between perception and reality is important information for both banks. Bank A can identify that their communication campaigns have been effective in demonstrating their branch accessibility and financial security. And Bank B can identify that they had not been overly successful in communicating these strong attributes to consumers.

Using Perceptual and Positioning Maps Together – Setting Positioning Goals

Another use of a positioning map is to overlay it with a perceptual map and set desired positioning goals. As shown below, we have merged a perceptual map and a positioning map into one diagram, plus added a positioning goal for Bank B.

This is an effective planning and internal communication tool, as it clearly identifies that current market reality as well as highlighting the communication challenge facing the brand (Bank B in this case).

using a perceptual map and a positioning map together

A Positioning Map NEEDS a Comparison to a Perceptual Map

In both of these examples of how to use a positioning map, you will note that a perceptual map is also required for comparison. We need to understand how consumers (or specific target markets) perceive the positioning of the brands in the market to make a positioning map work for us.

Without knowledge of the perception of consumers, a positioning map is a less valuable tool. If we don’t know the actual image of the brand in the market it makes it very difficult for us to set a suitable positioning (or repositioning) goal.

Perceptual Maps Do NOT Need a Comparison to a Positioning Map

Perceptual maps have multiple benefits to a marketer and provide a number of insights to help guide future marketing actions. This means that they can be beneficial in a stand-alone manner and do not need a comparison to a positioning map.

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