Perceptual Mapping: Definition, Benefits, and Tips

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published May 27, 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.

Businesses usually seek feedback to identify their strengths and areas for improvement. Perceptual mapping is a technique that enables businesses to understand their customers' perspectives better to make more informed business decisions. If you understand this technique, it makes it possible to consider greater innovation strategies based on customer opinions of an organization and its major competitors.

In this article, we explain what perceptual mapping is, state how organizations may benefit from using a perceptual map, suggest steps to create one, and discuss some useful tips.

What is perceptual mapping?

Perceptual mapping is the process of illustrating how customers perceive a brand or product through a chart or visual representation. The map quantifies customer attitudes and perceptions towards specific products or services to depict consumers' feelings and impressions, helping the brand understand their consumers' thoughts and opinions.

A perceptual map is typically a two-dimensional graph that depicts customer sentiment towards two product attributes. For example, a food production company might analyze food taste and texture. Perceptual maps can also reveal customer perceptions of brand attributes, such as the quality of its products and trustworthiness. Specific maps highlight customer perspectives on three or more attributes, while others illustrate how different demographic groups perceive a product or brand.

What are the benefits of using a perceptual map?

Some potential advantages of using a perceptual map include:

Creates graphs for qualitative and quantitative data

Perception mapping allows organizations to analyze qualitative and quantitative attributes by asking consumers to plot their own comparative perceptions. For instance, consumers may be able to plot the relative saltiness of a potato chips brand. This enables businesses to analyze attributes that may be difficult to study or quantify using alternative methods.

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Compares competitors

Understanding why consumers might purchase a competitor's product or service can provide businesses with valuable insight into how to improve their own market competitiveness. For example, a perceptual map indicating that consumers prefer sweeter kettle corn brands over saltier ones can assist a business in altering its recipe to increase its desirability within the kettle corn industry. Perception maps can also indicate which competitors consumers are aware of.

Offers easy interpretation

Typically, the perceptual map is a two-dimensional plot with two variables and axes. Because of this simplicity, consumers and businesses usually have no difficulty in recording or interpreting data contained within these diagrams. This enables businesses to reach more precise conclusions by analyzing the plots. If a business creates a more complex perceptual map than the simple two-variable plot, the potential for analysis increases as well.

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Tips for using perceptual maps

Some tips for optimizing perceptual mapping include:

Use several maps

Rather than requiring consumers to plot competitors on a single perceptual map, companies can create multiple maps comparing various attributes. For example, a company selling water bottles might create a perceptual map that compares size and durability, and another that compares size and price. This can help in increasing the analyses it can conduct concurrently with the same consumers.

Use determinant features

By incorporating features that consumers use to make purchasing decisions, companies can better understand the motivations behind consumers choosing to purchase specific brands. For instance, consumers may purchase a beverage based on its flavour rather than its colour. Here, developing a perceptual map that includes flavour-related attributes may be more helpful in determining why consumers choose particular beverage brands.

Related: A Guide on How to Make a Concept Map and When to Use It

Repeat similar processes throughout time

Using the same information-gathering techniques to create the perceptual maps multiple times over a period can provide additional insight into how consumer perceptions change over time. For example, consumers may perceive one brand to be more expensive during one sampling period, but as other brands increase their prices, they may perceive the same brand to be more affordable. This enables businesses to maintain their competitive advantages over time by adjusting their products, services, or brands in response to shifting consumer perceptions and demands.

Analyze target audiences

Businesses can more accurately categorize consumers based on their perceptions by targeting a specific core audience for creating perceptual maps. For example, younger generations may view a service as necessary, while older generations may view it as non-essential. This may assist businesses in defining their target audiences more precisely or adapting their products or services to appeal to a variety of audiences.

Include indirect competitors

Depending on the attributes and industry, certain perceptual maps may include businesses that are indirect competitors. For instance, a juice company may compare various brands of juice based on their sweetness and sourness but may also ask consumers to list additional brands of beverages on the same plot. Consumers may end up categorizing sports drinks, iced teas, and coffee drinks as sweet or sour. Such data can provide brands with insight into competitors they were previously unaware of and help them think of additional products or services they may wish to sell in the future.

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How to create a perceptual map in 7 steps

Businesses can consider the following seven steps to assist them in creating perception maps:

1. Prepare to gather relevant data

To gather data and information for a perceptual map, businesses can organize consumer focus groups and conduct in-person or virtual interactions with them. When recruiting participants, it's critical to include a diverse range of demographic perspectives to better understand the company's market. Coordinating focus groups may also require participant consent forms depending on the individuals involved.

This is often necessary when conducting focus groups with children. Businesses can also consider including consent forms regardless of participants' age to ensure that they have accurate documentation for each person.

2. Define the graph's dimensions

Companies can configure the graph on their map with defined dimensions to reflect customer perceptions of their brand and competitors. This step involves determining the number of numerical values to display on each axis. Additional options may result in more detailed mapping results.

For instance, dividing the map axes into twos instead of fives may give more precise results. Typically, this step also includes determining the metrics and comparisons for each axis, such as quality and cost. If the mapping includes multiple focus groups during the data collection stage, companies can collect additional information by using different dimensions with specific groups.

3. Engage focus groups in brainstorming

Organizations may invite participants to engage in critical thinking about their brand, products, and services while coordinating the focus group. They may employ traditional brainstorming methods using paper and writing tools or may consider using technology. This engagement may assist companies in effectively documenting the data and gathering information from focus groups.

They can ask participants to brainstorm a list of all the products and services their brand offers they're aware of. They can complete this process collaboratively or independently, but they're likely to get personalized data and more accurate results through independent brainstorming. For instance, if a participant brainstorms independently, their list may consist entirely of products or services associated with the brand. If a participant brainstorms with the group, the list may grow in size and variety, as participants may be familiar with various products or services.

4. Allow participants to express their ideas

Positioning occurs when participants in focus groups can place their brainstormed ideas on the perceptual map to illustrate their relationship to one another. This provides valuable insight into the products and services that consumers find most relevant. Businesses can ask participants to work collaboratively or individually on this step, but having them work collaboratively may provide more insight.

This is because when they collaborate to place their ideas, the placement reflects the group's norm or average rather than the perceptions of a single participant. Businesses can ask participants to place similar competitor products on the map during this step. It may take participants some time to consider which comparable products they're aware of and how they may classify them according to the axes criteria.

5. Examine and share data

After gathering information and data from their focus groups, businesses can analyze them and create reports to share with other company members. Depending on the number of focus groups they conducted, companies may present data from individual groups and aggregated data from all groups.

Companies can use this information to plan, make informed business decisions, and monitor the success of specific products and services. Businesses can include perceptual maps along with executive reports in visual presentations. The maps can aid in comprehending complex concepts through data visualizations. They can also serve as a convenient reference point for future focus group results.

6. Repeat as necessary

Repeating the mapping process may be beneficial in changing consumer markets, adapting to new market trends, or improving company products and services. This helps ensure that the information a company uses to make product and service decisions is current and accurate. Businesses can use notes or documents from previous focus groups to form similar groups to evaluate a graph's new or updated dimensions.

7. Combine the results

Combining mapping results over time can provide insight into how the average consumer perceives a brand. This may require identical dimensions, but it can provide valuable information about changes in engagement or brand loyalty. It's beneficial to mention the original map dimensions in relation to the average perception when explaining combined results in reports.

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