Perceptual Maps: Best Practice

Free Download of this Perceptual Maps Best Practice Guide

1. Make several perceptual maps using different axis attributes

Why? Because a key aspect of perceptual map is to analyze and understand the market. If we pick two attributes and only map those, then we are imposing our view of the market on the final map and we are not guided by the perception of consumers.

Let’s compare the following two perceptual maps – they are both for the soft drink market. The first map uses the attributes of fun/serious image and sweet/not sweet taste, while the second map uses the attributes of high/no sugar content and strong/no caffeine. And, as you can see, the positioning of the competing brands differs in both maps.

Which one is better? Well, they are both useful and give you some insight into the market, consumer perception, and competitor intent – but the more helpful map is the one that uses the key attributes that we are positioning our brand upon (provided that these attributes are important to consumers in their decision-making and purchase choice).

 Check out our list of possible axis attributes.

Example soft drink perceptual map
Example soft drink perceptual map

Another example perceptual map for soft drinks
Example perceptual map, but with different attributes

2. Use determinant attributes for the map – not the most important attributes

A determinant attribute is the product feature or benefit that determines the final choice between competing brands – and it may not be a significant attribute.

For example, we may choose an airline for a long flight because they have more in-flight food choices. This then becomes the determinant attribute – read more about determinant attributes here.

Check out this ad for Air New Zealand – they are promoting the quality of their in-flight food. How do you choose between competing and similar priced airlines?

determinant attribute example

3. Make different maps for different market segments

Market segments have their own needs, preferences, and perceptions – that why we have undertaken the segmentation process. So, where possible, it is a great idea to construct a perceptual map which shows each segment’s view of the market and the competitors.

Marketing plans are typically built around target markets – so our perceptual maps should take the same view. Whatever your segmentation approach, make sure that you produce maps that reflect the perception of your target markets – not the view of the overall market (or average consumer).


4. Include both key and indirect competitors

We tend to usually only include our direct competitors in our maps. This is because they are top-of-mind to us as marketers.

However, is that how consumers think? For example, is a consumer considering going to McDonalds for lunch only choosing between fast food options, or are they thinking about grabbing a snack, a coffee, or even making food at home? Check our our article on using perceptual maps to understand competitor sets.

Check out the next two perceptual maps – the first one shows indirect competitors (or substitute products). The color codes show the direct competitors and we can also drill down to those brands in the second map (shown underneath).

Looking at indirect competitors is extremely useful, as often these alternate product categories pose the biggest competitive risk. In mature markets, market shares tend to be relatively stable due to brand loyalty and established and somewhat repetitive consumer behavior. But new players and substitute products can have a major, and sometime disruptive impact on the market and change consumer behavior.


Perceptual Map higlighting competitivesets
Perceptual map showing product category competitors placed in related sets

Perceptual Map highlighting direct competitors
Perceptual Map highlighting direct competitors

5. Use time-based perceptual maps

Perceptions change over time because brands develop, competitors evolve, new players enter the market, and even consumer needs change in the long-term.

That’s why, where possible, we should also map the position of key brands last year to see how they have evolved. This approach will provide valuable insight into competitors and their likely marketing strategy.

In this simple perceptual map, you can see that our firm (US) is now in a much stronger place than our key competitor (THEM) on a before and after position. Although this is quite a simple map, it is a powerful piece of communication to demonstrate that our positioning strategies are working well.

time in a perceptual map

6. Be realistic about positioning goals

The top-right corner of the map is not always the best positioning approach, nor it is always achievable. When setting long-term positioning goals, be realistic about what is possible, especially if our competitors have similar plans!

Here is the map that Steve Jobs used when launching the first iPhone in 2007. Apply went straight for the top right hand corner as a later entrant into the smart phone market. And, for them, it was a huge success and transformed Apple into one of the most successful firms in the world.

But… most firms are not Apple. They do not have their level of innovation, skills, resources, and brand equity – so, unfortunately, for most firms we need to be a little less ambitious and a little more realistic in most cases.

7. Never put price and quality on the same map

As a marketing lecturer, I know that this is a common map configuration provided by students. But it is a quite unhelpful map.

Why? Because consumers usually connect price and quality in their minds, especially for product categories that they lack experience with. This means that you will end up with a highly correlated map, as essentially you are mapping the same attribute twice.

As you can see in this map, the brands are mapped in a diagonal pattern. This means that the two axis dimensions are strongly correlated in the mind of the consumer. When this happens, look to replace one of the attributes in the map to provide more insight.

price quality perceptual map

Tools and Resources

To make a map quickly and easily, get our Free Download Excel Template for Perceptual Maps

And if you need to review and analyze dozens, or even 100’s, of different maps following a brand image survey, then check out our Premium Fast Mapping Excel Template – where you can review lots of map really fast!

And if you want to take your maps to the next level and map multiple attributes (not just tow attributes) at the same time, along with all the competing brands (like shown in this map) – then check out our Multi-Dimensional Map Excel Template.

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