How to Build Perceptual Maps

Perceptual maps are an important element in determining marketing strategy for your firm.  First, what are perceptual maps.  According to Wikipedia,

Perceptual mapping is a graphics technique used by asset marketers that attempts to visually display the perceptions of customers or potential customers. Typically the position of a product, product line, brand, or company is displayed relative to their competition.

Although perceptual maps (also called product positioning maps) can have any number of dimensions thanks to the wonders of modern computers, commonly perceptual maps are graphed on 2 dimensions for clarity and simplicity.

Next, why would you want to do perceptual mapping?

Perceptual maps help you understand what consumers think about your brand.

Perceptual maps help you understand what consumers think about your competitor’s brands.

Perceptual maps help you build an effective marketing strategy.

  • maps help you build competitive strategy
  • maps help you build communication strategy
  • maps help you identify potential new products
  • maps help you build brand strategy

I think it might help you see how valuable perceptual maps are by showing you an example.  Here’s one from Wikipedia, you can see more about how perceptual maps help build marketing strategy on their website.

alt text

This example maps automobile companies based on 2 criteria; sporty versus conservative and practical/affordable versus classy/distinctive.  Now, I would have preferred to have my axis a lot cleaner than fuzzy practical/affordable, but Wikipedia doesn’t have a PhD in Marketing.

The key element perceptual mapping, from the standpoint of marketing strategy, is the axis should measure attitudes related to something that determines which products consumers purchase.  So, if most consumers decide to buy cars based on American-made versus foreign and luxury versus economical, then the lovely map Wikipedia designed is totally worthless to auto manufacterers.

Now that we understand what a perceptual map is and why we should want one, let’s talk about constructing one.

1. Determine which characteristics of the product are consumer hot buttons

This is going to be a function of your market, so the characteristics that consumers use to determine which car to buy are entirely different from which doctor to use, where the criterion might be reputation (high versus unknown) and location (near versus far).   You can’t guess on this stuff, because if you have the wrong criteria, then the rest of your efforts would be wasted.  So ask your market what is important to them.  You can do a survey or a focus group to find those hot buttons that control consumer behavior.  There are also ways to use a customer relationship management system (CRM), if properly designed, to see what consumer hot buttons are based on actual purchase behavior.

2. Survey your market

Once you’ve identified consumer hot buttons, you need to find out how consumers rate your products, as well as how they rate your competitors.  My preferred way of doing this is to have consumers identify competing products, then rate them based on hot button criteria.  Its also good to get demographics, some geographics, and some psychographic information do see if there might be some segmentation value ie. different segments generate different maps and you can use this to reach the segments better with unique brands.

3. Graph results

Computer programs can make this a lot easier and if you’ve got more than 2 dimensions you want to graph, computers are necessary.  You can use Excel to do this, although there is special software for perceptual mapping and you can buy SPSS, which is more expensive, but can be used for lots of analysis projects.  Regardless, the map should not only display the position of various brands, but the size of the brand on the map should reflect its market share (so you’ll need to gather this info from secondary sources).

4. Interpret the perceptual map

This step is where you get strategic value from the  map.  Here are some things to look for on your map.

  • Do consumer attitudes toward my brand match what I want them to think about my brand?
  • Do consumer attitudes toward my competitors match what I thought about them?
  • Who are the competitors consumers see as closest to my brand?
  • Are there holes in the map indicating potential for new brands?

5. Make changes in your marketing strategy

If consumers don’t see your brand in a favorable way, you need to make changes.  If there’s really something wrong with your brand leading to poor consumer attitudes, then fix your brand.   If not, changes to your advertising and promotional campaign are needed to help moderate these attitudes.

If consumers view competitors as being very similar to your brand, think about how your brand can stand out — you really don’t want to go head-to-head with competitors and price is the last tool you should use to differentiate your brand.  If there are holes you think represent viable products that your company can produce, think about introducing a new brand or moving your brand into the unfilled position.

Need Help

We’re here for you. Whether you need a complete social media marketing strategy or some consulting to optimize your existing social media marketing, we can fill your digital marketing funnel. We can help you do your own social media marketing better or do it for you with our community managers, strategists, and account executives. You can request a FREE introductory meeting or sign up for my email newsletter to learn more about social media marketing.


  1. steve says

    The easiest tool for building perceptual maps is the correspondence analysis package in the open source statistical package R. It even graphs in three dimensions.

    • Angela Hausman, Ph. D. says

      Thanks, I’ve never used this package. Do you have a link where folks can download the statistical software. I’d like to try it myself with some of my clients.