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Perceptual mapping is a graphics technique used by marketers that attempts to visually display the perceptions of customers or potential customers. Typically the position of a product, product line, brand, or company is displayed relative to their competition.

Perceptual maps can have any number of dimensions but the most common is two dimensions. Any more is a challenge to draw and confusing to interpret. 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).

PerceptualMap1
Perceptual Map of Competing Products

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 respondents 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.

PerceptualMap2
Perceptual Map of Ideal Points and Clusters

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.

PerceptualMap3
Perceptual Map of Competing Products with Ideal Vectors

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 judgement. 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.

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