Developing a perceptual map is an important element in determining marketing strategy for your firm, especially when it comes to finding the optimal positioning for your brand. 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, we’ll talk about a paired-down perceptual map graphed on 2 dimensions for clarity and simplicity.
Next, why would you want a perceptual map?
Perceptual maps help you understand what consumers think about your brand and how that brand fits with perceptions of other brands that compete with yours.
Thus, a perceptual map helps you understand what consumers think about your competitor’s brands along dimensions (or attributes) they use to decide which product to purchase.
Perceptual maps help you build an effective marketing strategy, especially determining how you will position your brand. What attributes are most important for guiding purchase? What visual elements help translate your message effectively in a way that resonates with consumers? Normally, positioning involves answering these questions relative to a specific target market, or segment of consumers.
- maps help you build a competitive strategy
- maps help you build a communication strategy
- maps help you identify potential new products
- maps help you build a 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.
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 as I do.
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 manufacturers, who need to go back to the drawing board, er, the marketing research firm and redo the questions based on these new dimensions.
Now that we understand what a perceptual map is and why we should want one, let’s talk about constructing one. Here are the 5 steps, in order, necessary to develop a perceptual map.
This is going to be a function of your market, so the attributes 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) and the price might have no impact on purchase decisions. 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.
In the digital world we live in, social media might give you all the insight you need into which dimensions or attributes of the brand determine product purchase decisions. Software easily scrapes social media posts from your market (consumers who buy products in your product category), then use NLP (natural language processing) to count how many times words reflecting product attributes are mentioned.
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, across these hot buttons. 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 to determine whether there are some segments with different importance values or evaluations of your brand ie. different segments generate different maps and you can use this to reach the segments better with unique brands.
3. Graph results
Computer programs 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. Or you can buy SPSS, which is more expensive but you can use it for lots of analysis projects besides perceptual mapping. 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 the 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.
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