Perceptual Mapping: Definition, Uses and How to Build One

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 12 October 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Many successful companies incorporate customer perceptions and feedback into their planning and position efforts. Doing this can help them appeal to their target markets, gain a competitive advantage in their industry and identify areas for growth successfully. Perceptual mapping is one tool companies can use to build new strategies based on customer perceptions. In this article, we describe what perceptual mapping is, share who uses it, explain how it helps companies and list steps on how to create a perceptual map.

What is perceptual mapping?

Perceptual mapping is a process businesses use to visualise customer perceptions. Perceptual maps are diagrams that examine how customers perceive various brands, products and items. Businesses can compile customer data to get a comprehensive sense of sentiments and viewpoints. The result can make it easier to understand how customers might perceive a specific brand or offering.

Perceptual maps are often two-dimensional graphs that chart customer sentiments. They most typically review two specific product attributes. For example, a company selling a food product might map the taste and texture of their product. Maps can also evaluate less tangible attributes. A clothing company, for example, might measure brand credibility and quality. Maps can achieve different goals. They might examine more than two qualities or attributes. By looking at three or more attributes, they can gain a greater understanding of customer perceptions. Maps could also examine various demographics or audience segments in their analysis.

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Perceptual maps vs. positioning maps

Although both processes help companies understand their standing within their markets, positioning maps look at the actual traits of a product or brand. In contrast, perceptual maps rely on perceived traits. Customer perception can vary based on many factors. For example, a first-time homebuyer might look at a house differently than someone who performs home appraisals for a living. Even though they both might view the same house, their perceptions differ because of their unique experience.

Perceptions can be inaccurate. Sometimes, a perceptual map reveals a disconnect between a company's actual offerings and a customer's perceived understanding of their offerings. A positioning map wouldn't reflect these differences.

Who uses perceptual mapping?

Various businesses use perceptual mapping in their processes to better understand customer needs and sentiments. The criteria businesses use can differ drastically depending on their industry, goals and audience types. Car manufacturers might want to measure the perceived safety of their vehicles, for example. By understanding where customer perception is in line with company expectations and where it isn't, companies can adjust marketing and production efforts to improve perception. This helps them focus on their spending and strategies.

Institutions and organisations can benefit from this tool, too. For example, schools and universities might measure student sentiments. Political campaigns might wish to understand voter perceptions. It's a useful tool for anyone who interacts with the public and wants people to perceive their services or products in a specific way.

Benefits of perceptual mapping

There are many benefits to using it in your business processes, including:

Increased customer insight

Understanding the customer is a top goal of many organisations. When you understand your customer, you can better anticipate their desires and needs. This makes it easier for brands and organisations to create unique customer value and invest in worthwhile solutions. Perceptual maps offer insight into how customers view you and can reveal a lot about your standing amongst competitors. The insight can drastically improve marketing efforts and focus production strategies. Knowing how customers feel helps you invest time, energy and money where it matters most.

Improved metrics

It's a useful tool over time because it can help companies understand changes in customer sentiment. Comparing perpetual maps makes it easy to see which strategies are successful in altering consumer opinion and perception. Over time, companies can measure their initiative's success or see where they can still improve. Companies might also choose to compare maps if they introduce a new product or service. They can measure how the introduction affected customer opinions and feelings.

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Elevated competitor research

You can use perceptual maps to learn about your competition through market research by tracking and observing how customers perceive competitor products. Understanding customer perceptions of competitor brands and products can help you develop marketing strategies to better compete in your industry. Customers often make purchasing decisions based on preferences and perceptions, and knowing those preferences and perceptions can provide you with an opportunity to attract and maintain their patronage.

Related: What Is Market Research? Definition, Types and Examples

More purposeful brand repositioning

Perceptual maps can help you reposition your brand by letting you know what customers think of your brand versus competitor brands. Repositioning can help improve the strength and value of a brand, and perceptual maps can help you develop an effective repositioning strategy. As the brand changes, you can continue to use this method to monitor customer opinions and sentiments. This can make it easier to create a brand that registers authentically with audiences.

Enhanced produce development

Perceptual maps can reveal customer preferences, and knowing what customers like and what customers prefer can help you develop new products that align with their preferences. Data from a perceptual map can help you predict demand for a new product, which can guide you in the production cycle when developing and mass-producing a new product. You can use the data to create unique value statements and align your marketing strategies with customer priorities.

How to create a perceptual map

If you're interested in creating a perceptual map of your own, here are some steps you can take:

1. Select attributes

Attributes are the variables the customer factors into their decision to purchase a product or service. You can select attributes for your product or service by looking at the characteristics of the product. For example, attributes for a food product can be its taste, texture, smell and quality and attributes for a vehicle can be its price, performance and model year. You can select the most prominent attributes for your product or brand. The attributes can be at least two characteristics, and they can be attributes your average customer finds important.

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2. Identify competition

You can identify your top competition, which can be several businesses or organisations that provide similar products and services to what you provide. This step can help you develop a perceptual map showing where you and your competitors rank in the thoughts and perceptions of your customers. Choosing your top competitors makes it easier to focus your own efforts.

3. Survey consumers

You can create and distribute a questionnaire that surveys a group of consumers. The survey can ask questions related to the selected attributes. For a food product, your survey could ask consumers whether they prefer their food to be sweet or bitter and ask their preferences concerning soft food versus chewy food. The survey can ask consumers to rate your product or brand on a five-point scale and to rate your competitors according to the same system.

4. Analyse survey data

You can analyse the survey response data to see how the respondents rate your brand in comparison with competitor brands. You can review their preferences to see how respondents felt about your product or service and how they feel about competing brands. The survey response data can show the preferences and perceptions of consumers.

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5. Create your map

You can create your perceptual map using computer software and the survey's data. Basic software programmes can graph a two-dimensional perceptual map featuring an X-axis and Y-axis that intersect. The map can show where you and your competitors fall on the chart that may depict consumer preferences for attributes like quality and trustworthiness. Advanced software programmes can create more sophisticated perceptual maps that factor in consumer perceptions of multiple attributes and may showcase how different demographic groups perceive you and your competitors.

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