Perceptual Mapping: Beyond the BasicsI get lots of comments and questions about an old post on perceptual mapping. I think this is great. It means folks are using these predictive analytics to optimize their business. But, it makes me realize there’s a lot I left out of that original post on perceptual mapping. So, here’s the continuation of that post.

Variables for perceptual mapping

Literally, you can use any factors important for your target audience. But, don’t guess which factors have the most influence over consumer decision-making. Ask. And, it may be that different market segments within your target market have different variables that influence buying decisions.

While new perceptual mapping software allows you to build maps on more than 2 axis, you still need to pick those factors that have the most influence on buying behavior. It means doing some preliminary research before you even start collecting data for your perceptual map.

Perceptual mapping

Once you’ve identified the most influential factors, you’re ready to start collecting data regarding those variables from your target audience. Remember, you not only want their perceptions of where your brand fits in the multi-dimensional space of your perceptual map, but where your competitors fit. In some cases, you’ll also want perceptions about close substitutes for your brand.

I commonly use a Likert-type scale to collect data because it’s richer than a bi-polar scale and easier than a semantic differential scale. But, any type of data will do, as long as it represents your entire target market. Here, the biggest problem is getting biased data because of problems with your sample.

Visualizing your perceptual map

Maybe the best feature of perceptual mapping is the data visualization — being able to see the data graphically helps in making appropriate decisions. Depicted in this map is the positioning of your brand relative to its competitors.

Good software for perceptual mapping generates a figure like the one above that clearly models where your brand fits in the minds of consumers, as well as where your competitors fit. Good software also displays brands in sizes relative to their existing market share — with brands that sell more displayed larger than brands that sell less.

Making decisions based on your perceptual map

First thing, your preliminary research tells you what’s important to your target market (or target markets) — if you didn’t already know.

Next, you want to avoid head-to-head competitions, if at all possible. So, if your brand is perceived as too similar to a large competitor (for example if you’re Cadillac, you’re too much like Lincoln and Mercedes), think about re-positioning your brand to fit on the perceptual map where there’s little competition. Cadillac did a good job of this with its redesign of the CTS as both a high performance and sexy automobile, while Lincoln and Mercedes stayed in the same space.

If you’re working on a new product, try to find one where there’s a free quadrant ( or part of one) on the perceptual map. But, you also need to consider WHY there’s no one in a blank spot on the perceptual map. Maybe that area is not possible — such as a cheap luxury car. More likely, the space is empty because consumers really don’t WANT a product in that space.

Pitfalls in perceptual mapping

Two big pitfalls to perceptual mapping lie in wait of the unwary or unschooled.

First, market research is complicated and expensive. Done wrong, market research is less than worthless. Market research relies on doing a good job of sampling your entire target market, avoiding bias, and the reliability and validity of your measures.

Second, interpretation can be a little tricky, especially given the politics in some firms.

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