What is Perceptual Mapping?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Perceptual mapping is a technique used by marketing professionals to visually demonstrate the ways in which the products of a company or industry are perceived by consumers. This can include current customers as well as consumers who could potentially be attracted to a product or company. Marketers use this technique when they are in the process of developing new product campaigns and also when they want to improve existing marketing. Visually representing consumer opinions can help marketers more clearly identify areas in which a company needs work or sectors of the market which are relatively free of competition and thus could be convenient niches.

Perceptual mapping is a technique used to visually demonstrate how the products of a company or industry are perceived by consumers.
Perceptual mapping is a technique used to visually demonstrate how the products of a company or industry are perceived by consumers.

To use perceptual mapping techniques, marketers use survey data which can include a number of questions which are designed to provide information about perception. For example, if marketers are working for an alcohol company, they might want to ask questions about price, smoothness, taste, and quality. They can gather data on a number of brands and products to see how consumers perceive the overall market.

These data points can be plotted along axes which also rate them by importance. For example, people may consider quality the most important attribute and smoothness the least. A series of plot points are generated, with each point representing a rival product or brand. Laying out this information with perceptual mapping will allow marketers to see areas of the market which it might be possible to target with a good campaign.

Perceptual mapping can be done with an existing product to see if there is a technique which might be used to distinguish it from competitors. This might include changing packaging, developing a new tagline for the product, or altering the thrust of an ad campaign. Companies developing new products can also utilize perceptual mapping for the purpose of studying overall consumer perceptions of the market for products like the one under development, so that a tailored advertising campaign can be developed.

This graphics technique to improve product positioning is most effective when the marketing research is conducted with care. For example, a company making a high end product might be most concerned with the perceptions of wealthy consumers in the high end market. The survey would have to be conducted in a way which would reach those consumers, as consumers at the low end of the market might have very different perceptions and very different views about what is important.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@NathanG - Yes, that kind of marketing is brilliant in my opinion. I think that when you connect with customers in that way you build a unique rapport that helps the consumer give you a second chance, especially when you know you’ve delivered a substandard product.

Some companies use perceptional mapping marketing in a way that turns weaknesses into strengths. One example I recall had to do with a car rental place that occupied the number two position in the car rental market.

Normally you’d think that being number two in the car rental sphere would not be a good thing. How could you spin that into something positive?

But this company did, with a brilliant slogan, “We’re number two; we try harder.” Immediately they won the coveted underdog status, with all that goes with it, and boosted their sales and their perception in the public eye.


I think that one of the greatest discoveries that companies make in perceptual mapping is that people may view their products in a way that they had not realized before. Once companies find out just what those perceptions are, they can hone in on these perceptions rather than recoil from them.

For example, recently I’ve seen television advertisements for a pizza chain that has had a reputation for delivering poor quality pizzas. Customers often described them as “cardboard” like, which as you know is the worst thing you can say about a pizza.

Rather than get defensive, this company actually built a series of marketing campaigns where they acknowledged this reality, even going so far as to mention the specific criticisms of its pizza.

They then went on a quality control overhaul and completely re-branded their image, inviting customers to provide consistent feedback along the way. By all measures, their marketing campaign had succeeded.


@indemnifyme - That makes a lot of sense. I think it's also helpful to see how consumer perceive your product versus the competitors product. If you know that people view you a certain way and your competitor another way, you can play that up with your marketing.


My office uses perceptual mapping in order to hone our sales skills. It really helps us sell people certain products if we have some idea of what their perception is.

It's much easier to draw conclusions when all the information is visually at your finger tips. You can see on a graph how different demographics view things. Then when you're talking to say, a retired person, you can focus on the things they perceive as important.

We've definitely seen a rise in sales since we started doing this.

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