Understanding Perceptual Maps

What is a Perceptual Map?

A perceptual map is a visual technique used by marketers to identify the positioning of their products or brands within the market, relative to their key competitors.

There are several variations of a perceptual map, but the most commonly used approach by marketers, and in marketing textbooks, a two-axis scatterplot chart, however there are also other formats (such as multi-dimensional attribute maps) that are sometimes used for deeper analysis.

Why are Perceptual Maps Used?

A perceptual map is an analytical tool used by firms for the purposes of:

  1. Market analysis = to help identify and understand their brand and/or product positioning in the marketplace, relative to key competitors
  2. Trend analysis = to track the changing consumer perception of their brand and competing brands over time
  3. An input into SWOT analysis = the relative positioning of their brands/products, as this is an indicator of strength or weakness in the marketplace
  4. Identifying competitive strategy = the competitor’s positioning, and their changing positioning over time, will usually give additional insight into their overall marketing strategy
  5. Greater understanding of consumers = by using a perceptual map, firms can identify the differing perceptions of the firm’s brand across different market segments
  6. Identifying opportunities for new products = perceptual maps can aid in the identification of “gaps” in the market, which the firm may be able to fill by developing a new product

For more information on the benefits and uses of a perceptual map, please see this article on the Benefits of Perceptual Maps.

How to Make a Perceptual Map

Ideally, a perceptual map should be based upon results from a consumer survey, where respondents have been asked about their perception of competing brands. The questions need to be asked on a scale basis, such as:

On a scale of 1 to 9, where nine is “very easy to use” and one is “very hard to use”, how would you rate Brand X, then how would you rate Brand Y, and so on…

Once we have this consumer survey data, we would then construct a series of scatterplots (or bubble charts) in Excel or similar software (we will usually review many maps based on this consumer data for analysis purposes).

Here is an example of a perceptual for competing hotels for a beach holiday destination.

perceptual map for hotels

In this hotels for a holiday example, we have used two attributes = their quality level from 3 star to 5 star, and how close they are to the beach. We had then use the perceptual data that we have obtained from the consumer survey and plotted each brand.

For example, Hilton Hotels has scored 9/9 for both being perceived as a five star hotel and as being perceived as being “on the beach“. Please note that we are using the word “perceived” carefully. A key aspect of the perceptual map is that it considers the PERCEPTION of consumers, not reality.

In this example, it is possible that the star rating and the proximity to the beach may differ from the above perceptual map in real life – but that does NOT matter, as we are only interested in consumer perceptions.

The two axes on the perceptual map should represent important attributes (sometimes referred to as determinate attributes) to the consumer. This means that the consumer uses these two attributes to frame their understanding of the product/brand, which in turn will affect their likelihood of purchasing that brand relative to competition.

In this case for a holiday choice, we have used two attributes of quality and location, which are likely to be important considerations to the consumer when selecting the hotel.

Please note that the above perceptual was constructed using an Excel template that is available for free download on this website. Click here for the download… free download of the perceptual map Excel template.

Using Perceptual Maps to Review the Perceptions of Multiple Market Segments

A perceptual map is designed to show how target market consumers understand the relative positioning of the competing products in the market.

However, we can also use these maps to analyze the perception of any market segment, or the overall market. While the perception of the overall market (that is, all consumers) is generally not helpful, comparing how different market segments perceive the brands in the market can be very insightful.

perceptual map by segment

As you can see in the above perceptual map for key fast food chains, the perceptions of two different market segments have been shown and they hold differing understandings of the key players. This is a helpful analytical technique that you can use with perceptual maps, as it uncovers additional market insights.

Please see this external article on Tips on Using Perceptual Maps.

Perceptual versus Positioning Maps

The word ‘perceptual’ comes from the word ‘perception’, which basically refers to the consumers’ understanding of the competing products and their associated attributes, on a relative basis.

In some textbooks, perceptual maps are referred to as positioning maps, but for our purposes they essentially have the same meaning. This is because we are asking consumers about their “perception” of the “positioning” of brands


Related Articles: For a Deeper Understanding of Perceptual Maps

Check Out this Entire Website Dedicated to Perceptual Maps – Designed for Marketers

For everything you need to know about this important marketing tool, please visit www.perceptualmaps.com