Perceptual Mapping is the use of graphs to identify the positioning of products/brands that consumers have, and find their preference. The graphs lay out an X and Y axis with variables and ranges from the most desirable to least desirable. For instance, the far right may be listed as ‘Upper class’ while the left side will be ‘Lower Class’. This allows for the placement of business names to help find the position that consumers place these businesses in relation to the variables listed.
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Perceptual mapping is a diagrammatic technique used by asset marketers that attempts to visually display the perceptions of customers or potential customers. Typically the position of a product, product line,or brand, of a company is displayed relative to their competition.
Perceptual mapping enables companies to better understand their customers: the who, why, where, how and what of their behaviour. For example, Starbucks and T-Mobile.   If a business is perceived in a manner they find unsatisfactory, then they are able to go even further into research to see what they can do to change that. It also allows for businesses to see what consumers think of other brands, particularly their competitors. Regular uses of the maps can also help track the preferences of consumers, and see the changes as they happen. Perceptual Maps can help identify gaps in a market. If a business were to lay out a Perceptual Map with the biggest brands in an industry on it, they may be able to find an opening in the market where they can bring about a new product or service. It can also help define the markets segments, splitting off into different clusters of businesses where are able to recognise key attributes that differentiate them from one another (Higher Class, Amount of Restaurants etc.). Within the clusters found in Perceptual Maps of entire industries, a business can classify its potential partners or possible businesses to merge with. Reason being, the clustering of brands signifies the similarity in businesses, meaning they have corresponding attributes. It can also be used to help keep track of how a new product is being viewed in a specific market. For instance, the introduction of a new smartphone. It’s important to see that the way a business is marketing its product is not only successful, but successful in a manner that aligns with the business’s overarching goal for positioning.
There are innumerable companies that currently seem to have fallen out of favour in terms of public perception, e.g. Quicken Loans  and VW. Perceptual Mapping can help elicit the extent of the damage.
There are many limitations to Perceptual Mapping. The largest limitation is in terms of the amount of variables used. Traditionally, the map uses two variables. This means that the map sums up consumer’s purchase decisions to two possible influences, and doesn’t account for others. This assumption can hinder the reliability of results, as in some cases, it isn’t safe to assume that there are only two major factors influencing the decision of purchase for a consumer. For example, a graph may use quality of food, and pricing, but not take into account the amount of visits, different locations, etc. Also, there is often a blurred line between what a business can offer, and what a consumer thinks the business can offer. This could be due to miscommunication, lack of knowledge, impact from social media, and so on and so forth. These untruths can influence the result, creating a slight bias in the statistics. Another limitation would be that data gathering. The type of data needed to form a Perceptual Map is usually obtained through surveys, and the needed information can be quite difficult to attain. The range of behaviours that the map covers is also a constraint, as its application works mainly with purchase decisions made with little thought and effort. Those such as purchasing a beverage at a store, or going to a fast food restaurant. This is because of the map only uses two variables, meaning that there is a slight assumption that these purchases that are made are largely dependent on these two variables.
Other Types of Mapping
In order to tackle the large issue of the map only using two variables, the Multi-Dimensional Perceptual map was put in place.
Example of a Multi-Dimensional Perceptual Map
As shown, the map has more than two variables on different axis. This helps pin point more variables, allowing for further in-depth research to be done. The more variables let researchers identify the different behaviours of consumers, and broaden the idea on what influences the consumer. This means that the perceptual map can be taken out of just the low-involvement purchases, and find out why consumers purchase what they do, and rather than just cut it down to two variables, they can widen the scope. This also helps further the discovery of segments in a market.
Perceptual maps (otherwise known as market maps) can have any number of dimensions but the most common is two dimensions. The first perceptual map below shows consumer perceptions of various automobiles on the two dimensions of sportiness/conservative and classy/affordable. This sample of consumers felt Porsche was the sportiest and classiest of the cars in the study (top right corner). They felt Plymouth was most practical and conservative (bottom left corner).
Cars that are positioned close to each other are seen as similar on the relevant dimensions by the consumer. For example, consumers see Buick, Chrysler, and Oldsmobile as similar. They are close competitors and form a competitive grouping. A company considering the introduction of a new model will look for an area on the map free from competitors. Some perceptual maps use different size circles to indicate the sales volume or market share of the various competing products.
Displaying consumers’ perceptions of related products is only half the story. Many perceptual maps also display consumers’ ideal points. These points reflect ideal combinations of the two dimensions as seen by a consumer. The next diagram shows a study of consumers’ ideal points in the alcohol/spirits product space. Each dot represents one respondent's ideal combination of the two dimensions. Areas where there is a cluster of ideal points (such as A) indicates a market segment. Areas without ideal points are sometimes referred to as demand voids.
A company considering introducing a new product will look for areas with a high density of ideal points. They will also look for areas without competitive rivals. This is best done by placing both the ideal points and the competing products on the same map.
Some maps plot ideal vectors instead of ideal points. The map below, displays various aspirin products as seen on the dimensions of effectiveness and gentleness. It also shows two ideal vectors. The slope of the ideal vector indicates the preferred ratio of the two dimensions by those consumers within that segment. This study indicates there is one segment that is more concerned with effectiveness than harshness, and another segment that is more interested in gentleness than strength.
Spidergrams are an alternative to perceptual mapping that similarly are visual marketing tools, however spidergrams also request customers to rate attributes.
Perceptual maps need not come from a detailed study. There are also intuitive maps (also called judgmental maps or consensus maps) that are created by marketers based on their understanding of their industry. Management uses its best judgment. It is questionable how valuable this type of map is. Often they just give the appearance of credibility to management’s preconceptions.
When detailed marketing research studies are done methodological problems can arise, but at least the information is coming directly from the consumer. There is an assortment of statistical procedures that can be used to convert the raw data collected in a survey into a perceptual map. Preference regression will produce ideal vectors. Multi dimensional scaling will produce either ideal points or competitor positions. Factor analysis, discriminant analysis, cluster analysis, and logit analysis can also be used. Some techniques are constructed from perceived differences between products, others are constructed from perceived similarities. Still others are constructed from cross price elasticity of demand data from electronic scanners.
Marketers can reveal shoppers' collective perceptual map with ever more precision and detail by aggregating and analyzing their data (e.g. both to assist purchasers of smartphones and the firms themselves, and also in the laptop industry,. Furthermore, they can be used in non-commercial applications, e.g. identifying factors involved in dangerous driving ). The example below makes use of the tendency of people to compare cars online before they choose one or the other. By counting the number of times shoppers compared two different models, we can judge their similarity quantitatively.
Multidimensional Perceptual Map
Traditional perceptual maps are built with two visual dimensions (X and Y axis). Multidimensional perceptual maps are built with more dimensions visualized as profile charts in small map regions, and then items are mapped to the regions by their similarity to the vectors that represent the region. A common technique to construct this kind of multidimensional perceptual maps is self-organizing map.
- Product management
- Multidimensional scaling
- Discriminant analysis
- Marketing research
- Product life-cycle management (marketing)
- Diffusion of innovations
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