How to Effectively Use Perceptual Maps

Tips on Using Perceptual Maps

Perceptual maps are a powerful tool for understanding competitive positioning and the effectiveness of marketing campaigns and brand management over time. They are usually covered in a Marketing 101 (or similar) foundations course and they appear to be very simple, but care needs to be taken for perceptual maps to be used correctly and effectively.

Here are some tips on how to best use perceptual maps…

Use and Review More than One Perceptual Map

You should be reviewing multiple perceptual maps. We will usually have access to an array of consumer image data, so why not use it? Reviewing multiple maps (by using different sets of attributes) gives us more insight and a better understanding of what is really happening in the marketplace.

And making many perceptual maps is very easy too – check out the multi-map maker also available for free download on this website.

Use Determinant Attributes

Determinant attributes are those attributes that consumers use to choose and differentiate between competing offerings. Think of it as “what determines” the brand choice. Therefore, try to avoid minor attributes that are not considered in the consumer’s evaluation phase of their purchase decision.

This website has an article on determinant attributes, or please review this external journal article on identifying determinant attributes.

Look at Market Segments – Not Just the Overall Market

Because we can review lots of perceptual maps very quickly, it makes sense to look at how different market segments perceive our brand and our competitors. As we know, market segments are groups of consumers that share common views, behaviors and/or profiles.

Therefore, each segment view is likely to produce a distinctive perceptual map. If we just look at the market overall, we will get an “average” of perception, which is quite unhelpful as we are generally pursuing a defined target market in our marketing actions.

Consider Indirect Competitors

Our biggest threats often come from indirect competition. Just consider all the “market disrupters” that have had success in gaining market share and even reinventing markets and industries.

Just considering our direct “me-too” competitors is a too narrow and short-term focus. We need to look at multiple competitive sets in our perceptual maps – that is, have maps that look at our direct competitors, but also construct maps that take a bigger look at the market and what the central consumer need/benefit is by looking at indirect players and substitute products as well.

Track Image Over Time

time in a perceptual map
Perceptual maps should be dynamic and show the perceived image of brands over time, not just at a single point in time. All brands are evolving and the marketing environment is dynamic – which makes perceptual maps a powerful tool to visually demonstrate what is happening in the competitive landscape.

Here is a simple example (click to enlarge)


This perceptual map clearly shows the success of our brand (US) against our key competitor (THEM) over time. This is a good example of repositioning as well.


Never Use Price and Quality in the Same Map

price quality perceptual map

This is not good and students tend to do this a lot. Why should it be avoided? Because consumers connect price and quality. If a product/brand is more expensive than its competitor, then consumers usually believe that it is of higher quality.

Therefore, in this map, we are effectively using the same attribute twice, and we will end up with a correlated (and not helpful) map as shown here.

Click to enlarge the map.



Connect the Perceptual Findings Back to the Market

A perceptual map is an analytical tool. It is helpful to help our understanding of the market. We need to combine this information with other data and marketing metrics.

For example: What is happening to sales and market share? What are our competitors doing with their marketing mix? Are there new players? And so on – we need to try and identify WHY consumer perceptions are changing in this manner.

Try to Use Consumer Data

The most useful perceptual map is one that is derived from valid consumer survey data. This gives us a true consumer viewpoint and helps provide insightful perceptual maps.

But consumer surveys are expensive and online surveys may not be reliable due to sampling issues. This means that we may need to construct our maps based on our “guesses”. When we do this, we need to make sure that we “think like a consumer” – and ideally like a consumer in a specific market segment. And that’s where brand personas might come in handy.

Works Best with Low-Involvement Purchases

Positioning is a more critical marketing factor in low-involvement purchases. These type of purchases, such as those made in a supermarket or convenience store, are made quickly and with little evaluation. Typically the consumer relies on their own recall of the brand’s positioning.

This means that clear and distinctive positioning is likely to deliver good sales results in a supermarket-style shopping environment – making the tracking of consumer perceptions very important.

However, with high-involvement products, consumers spend longer in the information search and evaluation phases of the buying process. In these buying situations, they look beyond just the brand’s key positioning and consider the overall value proposition. Please see this artice on the difference between positioning and a value proposition.

Watch Out for Brands Always in the Middle of the Map

If you are reviewing several perceptual maps and you observe that one of the brands always tends to sit around the middle of all maps. This indicates a problem with the brand – that consumers do not have a clear understanding of it, so they will tend to give it a middle score on most attributes in a consumer survey. This branding problem is known as under-positioning.

Design the Map in Excel

The last tip – as we are mapping actual consumer survey data in most cases, then let’s treat it like data and map it precisely in an Excel chart (free template). By using Word or PowerPoint, which can work OK, we are approximating the map only and we don’t have a perceptual map that we can easily update and review over time.


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