Q&A: What Are the Benefits of Perceptual Mapping?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published July 21, 2021

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.

Marketing and product design teams often seek ways to improve communication with their audience and identify how customers view their products, services and brands compared to their competitors. Perceptual mapping is an effective way to gather data about consumer perceptions of products, services and brands based on key attributes that motivate purchasing behaviors. Learning about perceptual mapping can help you decide if creating and using these diagrams is the right choice for your team. In this article, we discuss what the benefits of perceptual mapping are, why it's important and provide tips for improving your use of it.

What is perceptual mapping?

Perceptual mapping is a visual technique that marketing and product design teams use to plot consumer perceptions and motivations about their products, services or brand on a diagram. Such diagrams often compare two attributes, placing one attribute on the x-axis and the other on the y-axis. Many of these diagrams ask consumers to compare competitor products, services or brands to gauge their perceptions of the different brands in relation to particular attributes. Consumers often record responses related to the brand and the two attributes on the diagram until the perceptual map is complete.

For example, a sports drink business may conduct a survey using a perceptual map that includes "sweetness" as the x-axis and "price" as the y-axis, asking consumers to plot all the sports drinks they know on the map. The plots may show a consumer believes some sports drinks aren't expensive but are sweet, while they may perceive others to not be sweet but also not expensive.

Why is perceptual mapping important?

Perceptual mapping is important because it can help businesses analyze their industry and customers in various ways. For instance, target customer groups can help guide businesses to implement changes within their product design and functionality to meet their interests and needs. Perceptual mapping is a way to create a direct communication channel with these target customer groups in order to receive feedback. The data businesses receive from perceptual mapping may help them make subtle or drastic changes to their products or services in order to increase the positive perceptions of customers or market their brand more effectively.

Related: How To Gather Customer Feedback

What are the types of perceptual mapping?

Besides the traditional method to create a perceptual map, using two attributes as the x and y axes, there are a few common alternative types of plots that businesses use. Here is a description of these types:

Joint perceptual maps

A joint perceptual map plots two distinct types of information on the same two-attribute diagram. One type is the consumer comparisons of competitors within a market relating to the two attributes, and the other type is the average responses from different target audiences of the business's products or services.

For example, a joint perceptual map for a coffee company with "strength" and "price" as the axes, may plot consumers' perceptions of various coffee brands in terms of their strength and price as well as plotting the average preferences of the different age groups that drink coffee. People age 15-25 may enjoy weaker coffee for a lower price, while people that are age 50-65 may enjoy stronger coffee for a lower price, and people age 35-45 may enjoy stronger coffee for a higher price.

Several attributes perceptual maps

This more complex version of a perceptual map involves plotting various attributes and specific brands within an industry as they correspond to those attributes. For instance, this kind of perceptual map for a bicycle company may include attributes scattered throughout the diagram such as weight, price, stability, speed and safety. In this type of plot using this example, consumers place the names of brands near the attributes they associate most commonly with that brand of bike.

What are the benefits of perceptual mapping?

Here is a list of some potential benefits of perceptual mapping:

Plots qualitative and quantitative data

By asking consumers to plot their own comparative perceptions, businesses are able to analyze both qualitative and quantitative attributes. For example, the comparative saltiness of potato chip brands is a qualitative attribute that consumers may be able to plot on a perceptual map. This gives businesses the ability to analyze attributes that may be difficult to study or measure using other methods.

Related: Guide to User Feedback and Why It's Important (With Tips)

Provides competitor comparisons

Understanding the reasons consumers may purchase a competitor's product or service can give businesses valuable insight into how to become more competitive within their own markets. For instance, a perceptual map that reveals consumers prefer sweeter kettle corn brands over saltier kettle corn brands can help a business change its recipe to be more competitive within the kettle corn industry. Perceptual maps can also indicate which of a business's competitors consumers are aware of and which ones they may not be.

Is easy to interpret

The perceptual map is usually a simple plot with two variables and axes. Due to this simplicity, both consumers and businesses usually have no issues recording or interpreting data within these diagrams. This allows businesses to more easily come to clearly defined conclusions after analyzing the plots. If a business designs a perceptual map that is more complex than the simple two-variable plot, there's also an increased potential for analysis.

Encourages subjectivity

As these diagrams plot perceptions, businesses encourage consumers to be subjective in their responses. This may give access to more true feelings and thoughts of consumers regarding a specific industry, which can be immensely helpful in product design and marketing processes. For example, a pizza company may create one of these maps to see which frozen pizza brand consumers perceive as the overall best, which is an entirely subjective attribute.

Related: How To Ask for Feedback from Customers

Tips for improving perceptual mapping

Here are some tips for improving perceptual mapping:

Use multiple maps

Instead of asking consumers to plot competitors on a single perceptual map, create multiple maps that compare different attributes. For instance, if you're creating perceptual maps for a water bottle company, you may create one comparing size and durability and another comparing size and price. This can help increase the amount of analysis that you can do using the same consumers at the same time.

Use determinant attributes

Including attributes that consumers use when making purchasing decisions can help more closely identify the motivations behind consumer purchases of particular brands. For instance, consumers may be more likely to buy a drink because of its flavor than because of its color. In this case, creating a perceptual map that includes attributes relating to flavor may be more useful for identifying why consumers chose certain drink brands.

Repeat similar processes throughout time

Creating the same perceptual maps multiple times throughout a period using the same information-gathering techniques can help provide further insight into how consumer's perceptions change throughout time. For instance, consumers may perceive one brand as more expensive during one sampling period, but a few years later, as other brands increase their prices, they may perceive the same brand as having an average price. This can help businesses maintain their competitive advantages throughout time, adjusting their products, services or brands as consumer perceptions change.

Related: Customer Satisfaction: 70 Questions for Feedback

Analyze target audiences

When seeking consumer responses to perceptual maps, targeting a specific core audience can help businesses categorize consumers more accurately according to their perceptions. For instance, young people may view one service as useful, while older people may view the same service as non-essential. This may help businesses better identify target audiences or alter their products or services to appeal to different audiences.

Include indirect competitors

Some perceptual maps can include businesses that are indirect competitors, depending on the attributes and industry. For instance, a juice company may compare different brands of juice based on their sweetness and sourness but also ask consumers to list other brands of drinks on the same plot. Consumers may end up listing types of sports drinks, iced teas and coffee drinks that they categorize as sweet or sour. Such information can provide brands with insight regarding competitors they may have been unaware of, and other products or services they may want to sell in the future.

Read More: What Is an Indirect Competitor?

Gather data directly from consumers

In order to maintain the accuracy of consumer perceptions, plot data is best received directly from consumers. This helps ensure that any conclusions drawn from comparisons of competitors have a basis in reality. Customer surveys, interviews and polls are all great ways to gather data for perceptual maps.

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