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What are brand perceptual maps, and why should you have one?

With the clutter of brands in the market today, one of the biggest challenges that a brand faces is positioning itself distinctly in the minds of the consumers. Brand Positioning is a strategy that brands utilize to differentiate themselves from other brands and create the most unique impression in the minds of the consumers. Certain factors such as the brand logo, colors, packaging, visual appeal, etc. also help the brand determine its positioning and understand where it “fits”.

For the other factors that create a distinction for the brand, such as product cost, quality, usage, centrality, category, assets and strengths, the marketer does some extensive market research which helps him understand how their brand is projected, as compared to their competitors. This very positioning is based on the influence that the brand has on the consumer, or simply their “perception” about it and its attributes such as product offerings, quality, benefits, etc.

To have the best understanding of what the consumers think about the brand and the market scenario, marketers have started using “Perceptual Maps”.

What are Brand Perceptual Maps?

A perceptual map, also called a positioning map, is a visual representation of how consumers perceive your brand, which is in the form of a graph.  This graph is designed in such a manner, that marketers understand the average responses of the target market about their own brand, along with all the competitors. In short, a perceptual chart helps the marketer to “map” the consumer’s perception and your brand’s influence on the target market.

A perceptual map is plotted using the nearest competitors, or the brands that are important to consumers currently, and their attributes along the X and Y axes. It gives a complete visual summary of the brands, their current positioning and also explains their relative position considering how consumers favor their attributes.

The data for the graph is collected by means of primary research by the marketer. He conducts a qualitative survey amongst his target audience, where they have to answer the questions that pertain to the brand’s attributes. The collective representation of this data is the perceptual map that clarifies the brand’s market position.

Benefits of brand perceptual mapping

Better understanding

A perceptual map is the best qualitative method to understand how your brand is performing in the market, and what the consumers feel about it. Furthermore, it gives you the most accurate summary of your competitors’ positioning and strategy, and at times even helps you forecast future strategies. This understanding of your brand and its competition is essential to have a competitive edge in the market. The attributes that the marketers choose to plot on the axes, are the direct reflection of the brand’s growth in that area and explain the gaps between competitors. (E.g. high quality, low quality, price, genre)

Gaining a competitive edge

For a brand to differentiate itself emphatically, the process requires the marketers to segment their target market based on factors such as demographics, geography, consumer behavior, etc. This segmented audience is the best fit for the brand, and the perceptual map shows the characteristics and preferences of this group. Because of this, it has become easier to track the ever-changing consumer behavior and stay well prepared. The perceptual map clearly gives a brief idea of why, what, when and how the target consumer reacts to the competitors, which helps the marketer fill in the gaps that the competitor does not. This gives your brand an advantage over others as you essentially fill in where they don’t.  This same understanding of the gap can help your brand introduce new products and services as well.

Effortless introduction of new products or services

An efficient perceptual map clearly defines the gaps between the competitor’s brands, their offerings and their attributes against the consumer’s preferences. This helps you identify the key elements to evoke interest and desire within the target group, and understand what is currently “missing”. With the knowledge of where the competitors stand in the market, you can easily introduce new products of the same segment. For example, if a competitor’s brand is perceived as low quality and high cost, the map will help you understand exactly what you need to do while introducing new products of the same category. If you identify what is missing from the map, and deliver the same, consumers are more likely to choose your brand.

Correct brand positioning strategies

Perceptual mapping helps the marketer to make brand positioning strategies. These maps are the most important piece of information when the brand thinks of positioning itself within a certain market segment.

Every brand, while integrating these positioning strategies that are based on the primary level research on the consumers’ choices and preferences, must ensure that they aren’t under positioning, or over positioning themselves:

a.) Under-positioning: When a brand fails to communicate its positioning due to sharing too much information about the product, vague messages and weak approaches that confuse the consumer, they have under-positioned themselves. This generally happens when the brand has failed to successfully communicate the key-points of difference in their product, as compared to their competitor’s.

b.) Over-positioning: Over-positioning occurs when a brand over-emphasizes specific factors of the product offerings. Instead of communicating all the key-points of difference that help the consumer to clearly differentiate the product, they highlight just one distinct feature or offering, which creates a narrow perception of the product in the consumers’ minds. Due to this, the consumers believe that the product has a very specific use, and reduces the mass appeal of the target market.

Perceptual maps clearly define what the brand needs to do in order to perfectly position itself within the target segment. Marketers use these maps to develop a strong brand positioning strategy, which helps communicate the quality and offerings of the products more efficiently and distinctly.

How to create a perceptual map?

There are certain steps that a marketer has to follow to make a successful brand positioning map.

Narrow down the attributes:

It is important to understand what attributes of your brand are to be compared against the competitors’ in a single perceptual map. For example, if you are a brand that offers sports shoes, the attributes you can use for the comparative study can be price, comfort, style, durability, etc.

Study the competition:

Make an index of your nearest competitors and their products that are currently in the market. The only way to distinctly position your brand is to know where the competition stands. Once you have this information, narrow down the competitors’ list to 4-5 only, depending on where you want to position your brand, your closest competition or their market value.

Market research:

You need to develop a survey that will give you only informative and qualitative responses. These questions need to be very easy to answer or let the consumers just tick one option. Example: good, bad, average, satisfactory, etc.

To encourage your target group to participate in the survey, you may offer them time-sensitive benefits such as discounts, add -ons, vouchers, etc. By doing this, you get a chance to have a word with them personally and get an even better understanding of the market perception.

Make the map.

Using the qualitative data from the market research, create a perceptual map considering the specific attributes that you initially decided to use for this map. There are several types of maps you can create, based on what you require, and you can also make use of perceptual map applications or online tools.

As you can see, perceptual maps are the key to brand positioning strategies. They give you the best qualitative summary of the perception that the consumers have about your brand as well as your competitors and help you get an edge in the market. It also helps you continuously improve your product offerings and adjust to the changing trends in the market.

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