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Perceptual maps to differentiate your brand

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In a culture saturated with selfies and likes, it’s clear that on some level people care about how they’re perceived. It isn’t any different for businesses. Understanding how your products or services are perceived by consumers can give you the advantage of determining how well your business measures up to the competition. 

While a savvy marketing strategy is key to collecting data needed to make such an assessment, the output of the data also plays a crucial role according to how it’s interpreted. Marketing research is key to collecting data needed to make such an assessment, the accuracy and volume of information you collect can affect your insights.  Supplementing data with charts and graphs is sure to improve data assessment because imaging can play a powerful role in communication.

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Perception is important and a key business driver. You need the right type of research to determine how your customers and markets perceive your brand. But it can be difficult to analyze and understand large amounts of this data. For this, perceptual maps can help you and can be a key part of differentiating your brand.

Some of the most informative articles and instruction manuals are supplemented with images. That’s because pictures tell a story. Visuals also make it easier to interpret text. This same concept can also be used for business. In relation to marketing research, charts and graphs can be presented on a perceptual map. So, what is a perceptual map?

What is perceptual mapping?

Perceptual mapping, also referred to as positional mapping or brand positioning mapping, is a chart or graphical representation of how consumers perceive your product or service within its respective industry based on selective attributes. It doesn’t however, necessarily provide insights into whether your product is better than the competition. Perceptual maps highlight the attributes that influence a customer to choose your product. It’s also worth noting that while perceptual mapping reflects buyers’ perception, it doesn’t necessarily reflect the truth. Still, having a good grasp of consumer insights can help you create informed decisions for marketing and product positioning.  

What does a perceptual map look like? 

Perceptual maps are actually quite simple. It’s a two-dimensional graph with two intersecting horizontal and vertical lines on X and Y axes creating four quadrants. The end of each intersecting line represents an attribute of a high and low value. Some of the most common attributes are as follows:

  • Price vs quality
  • Quantity vs quality
  • Quality vs price
  • Price vs functionality
  • Functionality vs reliability
  • Reliability vs price
  • Price vs safety

Remember, perceptual mapping is simply a visual representation of how your brand is perceived. The attributes should help answer questions you have about your product or service. Here are some examples:

  • Is my product priced to sell?
  • Do consumers value quantity or quality when it comes to this kind of product?
  • Do consumers prefer price over quality for this service?
  • Is functionality more important than the price for this product?
  • How well does this product perform in regards to functionality and reliability?
  • Where does our service rank in reliability and price?
  • How does our product compare with competitors in price and safety? 

Any question can be turned into an attribute. Likewise, any attribute can answer a question.  

How can a perceptual map be used

Perceptual map positioning can be used to collect qualitative and quantitative data. Qualitative data will deal with consumers’ thoughts and feelings about a service or product while quantitative data provide the numbers. For instance, with qualitative data, the attributes you might want to use will be relevant to the consumer’s perception to your brand in regard to taste, price, style, scent, and service. 

Quantitative data is where you’ll be able to acquire statistics for currency, number of customers, products, employees, stores, and more. The quantitative data and qualitative data you collect can be used to map customer perceptions, digital customer engagement, product management, marketing, and sales. 

Mapping customer perceptions 

To get the best possible results for mapping customer perceptions, use attributes that influence customers to buy your product. For the food and beverage industry, attributes like, “more healthy” to “less healthy” and “high carbs” to “low carbs” can be used. Cleaning products might have attributes like, “eco-friendly” to “non-eco-friendly” and “high-priced” to “how-priced.”  For instance, if your vertical axis is high carbs and low carbs, then your perceptual map could have quadrants with these attributes:

  • High-priced and eco-friendly
  • Eco-friendly and Low-priced
  • Low-priced and not eco-friendly
  • Non eco-friendly and high-priced

You can get this data in two ways: collecting from statistical databases or from your market research campaign. Both options have their pros and cons. It’ll be faster to get your attributes from a database, but it’s not going to always be specific to your marketing needs. Launching your marketing campaign will take a bit of time, but the data you collect will be tailored to your business needs. Also, you’ll own the data you collect through your marketing research efforts. 

Perceptual map example:

You can measure consumer perception through product comparison. When it comes to personal computers, you can distribute a customer survey asking what brand they use for desktop and mobile devices and why. You may discover consumers use an HP for a desktop, but an Apple iPad for mobile devices because of affordability, or they use Apple devices for both because of quality, or they don’t use Apple products at all because of price. Information like this can tell you a lot about the survey taker which can then help you position your business in a way that can meet consumer needs. 

Mapping digital customer engagement

Having an insight into customer engagement can make a positive impact on your business. Customer engagement is related to customer perception. However, when it comes to potential customers, the consumer might be familiar with your online product, service, or brand, it doesn’t guarantee he or she will engage it. This is why it’s important to also map digital customer engagement. Getting an idea of how consumers navigate through your website can reflect quantitative data. If consumers find it difficult to find a product or check out, they could abandon the sale and go to a competitor website that’s more user-friendly.  

Perceptual map example:

With cyber threats, consumers are becoming more hesitant to provide sensitive information like their credit card numbers. It takes time to punch in those numbers, and it’s time that allows a consumer to change his or her mind. With alternative payment options—Apple Pay, Google Pay, Zelle, Venmo, PayPal, and Cash App—your customers can purchase your product with one click of a button. The challenge is finding out which app your customer base prefers. This way, you’re providing them with a better customer checkout experience without overwhelming them with too many options. So, the perceptual map quadrants might have attributes like this:

  • Trust and security
  • Security and uncertainty
  • Uncertainty and instability
  • Instability and Trust

Product management

Companies selling more than one product can certainly benefit from using a perceptual map. Here, you’ll be able to get a broader view of how your products are perceived within the industry compared to your other brands and especially with competitors. You can create two perceptual maps that will tell you about customer perception and customer engagement, and then compare those two maps. The takeaway from both maps is to assess how close and how far each brand is from the attributes you’ve chosen. Proximity relates to product similarity, distance relates to brand differentiation, and blank spots found within a perceptual map may convey a demand the industry isn’t meeting. 

Perceptual map example:

Companies in the confection business can use a perceptual map to see exactly where their brand stands in the global marketplace. Hershey can see how each of their products is perceived along with competitors like Mars and Nestle. In terms of quality, they can also use Lindt and the Ferrero Group as attributes. A perceptual map can help businesses determine if they need to invest more marketing in one of their products or whether they need to rebrand or improve the quality. In other words, a brand perceptual map can show you which product is working well and which is not. Find out where you stand relative to competitors in places such as "Quality," "Price," "Availability" and more. 

For for chocolate, let's use "Quality" and "Price." You may find that Nestle scores lower on price and quality, Mars scores low on price and high in quality. Lindt scores high on price and quality. Ferrero scores high on price, low on a quality. Any blank space on the map is an opportunity to insert your product.

In this case, your perceptual map quadrants might be:

  • Quality and availability
  • Availability and uncertainty
  • Uncertainty and limited
  • Limited and quality

Marketing 

Good product management should direct your marketing strategy. Customer perception, customer digital engagement, and product management all play a part in how you market your business. Seeing exactly how your product or brand is perceived and engaged within your industry will help you assess how to execute your next marketing campaign. To be effective, it’s recommended to plot a perceptual map before and after a marketing campaign. This strategy will provide real-time feedback on how successful your marketing campaign is. 

Perceptual map example

If you’re planning to introduce a new product into the market or rebrand an existing one, a brand perceptual map can help you identify gaps within the industry. Those gaps represent attributes competitors aren’t meeting. This is where you can tailor a marketing strategy to meet those needs. The food and beverage industry is a great example of how perceptual mapping can help market a product better. With consumers being more health conscious, the demand for low-sugar and keto-friendly products has increased. This is supported by the number of brands that have popped up on grocery shelves with packaging that reflect this like breads, ketchup, and even candy. 

The quadrants in your perceptual map might look like this:

  • Premium costs and healthy
  • Healthy and affordable
  • Affordable and convenience foods
  • Convenience foods and premium costs

Sales 

Quantitative data will reflect sales in perceptual mapping. To strategically track business sales effectively, it’s recommended to plot out perceptual maps on a monthly, quarterly, and biannual basis. You can also do an annual basis, but it might be more challenging to track the performance of a new product or service that’s been rebranded and identify any shifting trends in the industry. 

Perceptual mapping can help you monitor sales due to unforeseen events like natural weather disasters, public health crises, and industry changes. A competing company or product, seasonal events, or natural events impacting logistics can dramatically affect business sales. Such events might not be consumer or product-related. With this in mind, the data collected on a sporadic basis can still be helpful, but it can be better with frequent mapping.

A perceptual map is intended to give you more insight into why a consumer buys your product. The most common way a perceptual map can help sales is to tie customers to related characteristics so that you can talk to consumers about what is important to them. You’ll also be able to find any voids in the market and if there’s any wiggle room to adjust your pricing. 

Perceptual map example 

Perceptual maps can help you assess how buying preferences may have changed. 

Because of the 2020 Covid-19 Pandemic, many businesses had to adjust to new social distancing regulations. As a result, some e-commerce businesses did well, and others did not. In this case, businesses knew why sales shifted. Perceptual mapping can help you see how and where these products, services, and brands shifted within the marketplace. It can also reflect consumer buying behavior if the quadrants reflect the buying habits of people before and after the pandemic. 

In this case, the perceptual map quadrants might look like this:

  • Online purchase and accessibility
  • Accessibility and brick and mortar
  • Brick and mortar and availability
  • Availability and online purchase

Advantages of perceptual maps

Perceptual mapping helps you determine how consumers perceive something—price, ease of use, availability, etc. Those attributes should be poised to answer questions you have about your product, service, or brand. 

The data you collect can inform you whether your business trends on the high or low end of the selected industry attributes. You’ll also be able to see if your products or services are priced to sell or if you’re priced too low. 

One of the biggest advantages of perceptual mapping is being able to differentiate brand equity with brand positioning. Brand positioning relates to customer perception mostly determined from qualitative attributes. Brand equity relates to the monetary value of your brand determined by quantitative attributes. 

Using perceptual maps for brand differentiation

Brand differentiation is the difference between a consumer selecting your brand over competitors. That’s why it’s crucial to be as specific as possible when it comes to marketing your brand to stand out from the rest. Perceptual brand mapping can help you determine the strength of an attribute, compare the attributes and relationships of one brand to another. Assessing brand differentiation on a perceptual map can also help you easily identify potential opportunities to claim unclaimed attributes. 

  • The differentiating strength of an attribute - If there aren’t any brands populating near your attribute, such as affordability, that means that no one in the industry is providing affordable options in the market.. It might be worth considering switching an attribute for one that’s more poised to answer questions most beneficial to your business, such as “overall price.”  
  • The relationship of attributes to one other and to brands - With the right attribute, you’ll be able to assess consumer preferences better. You’ll also see which attributes hold more value among consumers and how they correlate with certain brands. 
  • The relationship of brands to one other - Attributes can show you what brands are most important to customers. Perhaps the brands in your industry position their product as price over quality. As a competitor, you might want to position your product as quality over price to see if that sways consumer buying decisions.
  • Potential opportunity for a brand in terms of unclaimed attributes - If there is a significant gap in the correlation of your mapping results, this could be an opportunity for your business. Market your product, service, or brand in a way that is positioned to fill that gap.

How to build a perceptual map

Learning how to make a perceptual map requires knowing what part of your product, service, or brand you want to focus on. It should typically relate to what’s going to influence consumers to choose your product. That information will be based on research and knowledge of your industry. The process of gathering information for building a perceptual map can be done in four steps: Set your determinant attributes, build and distribute a survey, score and position the brands in your market, and then create the perceptual map.

Step 1: Set your determinant attributes

Figuring out which attributes to choose to compare on your perceptual map can be challenging because there are so many variables. Decide what it is you’re trying to determine, then come up with a few areas to focus on.

Step 2: Build and distribute a survey

Survey feedback on consumer demographics is helpful for collecting attributes. They’re also helpful for gaining insight on buyer personas for competitive analysis. To optimize your market research, be consistent with building and distributing surveys for ongoing consumer feedback. Maximize the quality of your data’s potential with a survey platform built with user-friendly tools to customize. Set your determinant attributes to build, distribute, and then analyze results on our robust market research platform.

Step 3: Score and position the brands in the market

How do you score and position the brands in your market? First, you need to understand what scoring is. Scoring is when you attribute a score to customers based on buyer personas and habits. This information will help you focus on a potential consumer base that aligns with your existing customer base. In other words, you’ll be targeting consumers who might buy your product. The scoring should also represent how consumers feel about your brand. This information is typically a qualitative response based on open-ended survey questions. In this case, you’ll need a platform that makes it easy to analyze long-form responses. 

Step 4: Create your perceptual map

Once you’ve chosen your attributes and scored them, place them on each end of the X and Y axes on your diagram. The attributes will act as anchors on your perceptual map. The brands you’ve chosen to assess will populate according to buyer attributes. You’ll then be able to visually analyze how your brand and competitors’ brands are perceived by consumers based on those specific attributes. 

Note: Perceptual mapping can also be used to assess how your employees feel about your brand. Use perceptual maps to understand employee engagement while finding opportunities to understand company culture better. 

Differentiate your brand with perceptual mapping

Understanding how a perceptual map can supplement marketing efforts will improve your marketing strategy. Our solutions provide an all-in-one platform to help you build and analyze a perceptual map to see how consumers view your brand among competitors. Quickly gain a list of respondents and start collecting insights to see how your business is perceived in your industry. 

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