perceptual-mapping

Perceptual Mapping In A Nutshell

Perceptual mapping is the visual representation of consumer perceptions of brands, products, services, and organizations as a whole. Indeed, perceptual mapping asks consumers to place competing products relative to one another on a graph to assess how they perform with respect to each other in terms of perception.

Understanding perceptual mapping

For businesses, a clear understanding of how they are perceived by consumers is crucial to their success.

So too is the perception of a business relative to its main competitors.

These insights help businesses understand their target consumers and create useful products accordingly.

These insights can also extend to identifying gaps in the market and staying ahead of market trends.

Perceptual mapping asks consumers to place competing products relative to one another on a graph. Examples of metrics that may be analyzed include:

  • Price vs quality.
  • Price vs functionality.
  • Tastiness vs health rating.
  • Safety vs price.
  • Performance vs price.

Creating a perceptual map

Most perceptual maps are two-dimensional charts displaying two axes – with each axis serving as a scale from low to high and representing one metric.

Let’s assume for this example that the two metrics being analyzed are price and quality.

Once the metrics have been determined, the following steps include:

  1. Brainstorming a list of products in a market. This allows businesses to identify the most common products and avoids bias.
  2. Placing each product on the map according to its price and quality values. In other words, a low quality, low price product will occupy a vastly different position than a higher quality, higher-priced product.
  3. Having marketers prepare a report on the outcomes to share with relevant stakeholders. Ideally, some products and companies will be judged on various attributes over multiple conceptual maps. This gives a more comprehensive view of the market and is of particular importance in highly fluid and dynamic market environments.

Perceptual mapping using qualitative and quantitative data

Perceptual maps may represent either qualitative or quantitative data, with each serving a different purpose.

Qualitative

Qualitative performance maps illustrate consumer perceptions of a brand, product, or service.

Indeed, the attributes chosen for appraisal must come directly from individuals in the form of interviews and surveys.

If, for example, WordPress customers were interviewed about the attributes they valued most, they might consider user-friendliness and support to be the most important.

A map could then be created to show how WordPress is positioned for these attributes when compared to main competitors Squarespace and Weebly.

Quantitative

Quantitative performance mapping deals with objective and measurable statistics.

Here, attributes are based on empirical evidence and not on the subjective thoughts, feelings, and emotions seen in qualitative research.

Consider the example of a gas station trying to increase market share. It might determine that in-store discretionary purchase amount and average distribution cost per gallon are important competitive metrics. 

In both qualitative and quantitative analyses, the business must understand the why of its positioning on the map.

A business that ranks highly in certain attributes should double down on the strategies that got it there.

Conversely, a business that ranks lowly should devise a strategy for improvement by looking at the strategies of relevant competitors.

Perceptual mapping examples

Let’s take this opportunity to list some of the varied ways perceptual maps can be used in real-world situations.

The Coca-Cola Company 

Suppose a marketing team within The Coca-Cola company wanted to use perceptual mapping to become better acquainted with the beverage market and some of the main competitors.

In the first analysis, the team assesses the metrics of beverage fruitiness against beverage energy content:

  1. High fruitiness/high energy – sports drinks, juices.
  2. High fruitiness/low energy – some soft drinks, flavored mineral waters.
  3. Low fruitiness/high energy – energy drinks, cola drinks.
  4. Low fruitiness/low energy – bottled water.

For a more complete overview of the market, the team then created another perceptual map to analyze the main competitors of cola beverages according to their sugar content and how traditional they are:

  1. Traditional/high sugar taste – classic Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Jones Soda.
  2. Traditional/low sugar taste – Diet Pepsi, Coke Zero, Pepsi Max. 
  3. Modern/high sugar taste – Pepsi Next.
  4. Modern/low sugar taste – Diet Coke.

The chocolate snack food industry

Now let’s consider a company with the gargantuan task of establishing a presence in the crowded chocolate snack food industry.

To understand the market and identify a niche where it may be able to enter and turn a profit, a perceptual map measuring quality and price is created:

  1. Low price/low quality – M&Ms, Cadbury Freddo Frogs, Kit-Kat.
  2. Low price/high quality – Hershey’s, Lindt, Toblerone, Dove. 
  3. High price/high quality – Ferrero Rocher, Godiva, Guylian, Richart.
  4. High price/low quality – Reese’s Pieces, Mars, Twix, Butterfingers.

The automotive industry

Similarly, existing vehicle manufacturers can also use perceptual mapping to identify underserved areas of the market and increase revenue.

In this example, a car brand maps the consumer perception of car brands based on the metrics of sportiness and practicality:

  1. Sporty/practical – Honda, Volkswagen.
  2. Sporty/classy – Mini, Audi, Porsche, BMW.
  3. Conservative/practical – Kia, Toyota, Renault, Ford, Citroen, Volvo, Nissan.
  4. Conservative/classy – Mercedes-Benz, Rolls Royce, Infiniti, Bentley.

From the above, we can see that there may be a potential opportunity in the market to develop and sell a car that is both sporty and practical.

Beachside hotels

In the final example, a market research firm wants to create a perceptual map of existing hotel options at a popular coastal travel destination.

The firm starts by collecting consumer survey data based on the quality level of the hotel (from 3-star to 5-star) and the proximity of each to the beach.

The data are then plotted on the map to yield the following results:

  1. Close to the beach/5-star hotel – Hilton, Four Seasons, Marriott. 
  2. Close to the beach/3-star hotel – Quality Inn, Best Western.
  3. Away from the beach/3-star hotel – Holiday Inn.
  4. Away from the beach/5-star hotel – Sheraton, Park Hyatt, Mandarin Oriental.

While proximity to the beach and quality are both subjective metrics, they are nonetheless important to brands in the area as they are important considerations for consumers when selecting accommodation.

Key takeaways:

  • Perceptual mapping is a graphic illustration of where a brand, product, or company is positioned with respect to its competitors.
  • Perceptual mapping makes value judgments about certain attributes that a business deems relevant to market competitiveness.
  • Perceptual mapping may analyze qualitative consumer sentiment over a product, or it may also utilize the empirical hard data found in quantitative market research.

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