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What is a perceptual map, and how can it help draw insights from survey data?

Last updated

25 May 2023


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Many successful businesses integrate customer perceptions into their planning efforts to identify their areas of strength and areas for growth. Perceptual mapping is the key to determining brand loyalty and seeing how consumers merit your products. This helps businesses understand their customers' viewpoints to help build new strategies that guide business decisions. 

Keep reading to learn more about perceptual maps, the different types of perceptual maps, why they’re important, and how to create your own.

What is a perceptual map?

A perceptual map is a diagram businesses and market researchers use to understand how customers perceive a given product or brand. These diagrams allow businesses to determine their products or brand competitive positioning. Perceptual maps build a viewpoint to show your principal consumers' important attributes and identify the open areas in the market.

Perceptual maps are plotted using data obtained from customer surveys to get their feedback on various product categories. The surveys get the respondents' opinions on product performance, price, size, packaging, and other characteristics. These qualitative answers are then transferred to the perceptual map, and the diagram gives insight into product improvement and development. 

Differences compared with positioning maps

Though both these maps help businesses understand their position in the market, positioning maps evaluate a brand or product's actual features and traits. 

Perceptual maps rely on a customer's perceived trait of a product, but customer perception can vary due to many factors and isn’t always technically correct. For example, a person buying a car may look at a car differently than a person who sells cars for a living. Even though they have the same view of the car, their perception is different due to their personal experiences.

The main types of perceptual maps

There are five main types of perceptual maps, namely:

1. Two-dimensional

This is a perceptual map with horizontal and vertical axes, each with different attributes. For example, suppose the map is used to compare the price and quality of multiple phone manufacturers. In that case, the horizontal axis (X) shows high quality on one section and poor quality on the other. The vertical axis (Y) reflects high prices at one end and low prices at the other. 

Marketers place these brands in certain areas on the map depending on how customers perceive the brands' products. If some phone brands are placed near each other, then customers consider them to have similar attributes.

2. Multidimensional

Multidimensional perceptual maps have multiple axes, each with various attributes. Items are plotted using a vector that represents specific brand or product features. A common method of developing these maps is using a self-organizing map (SOM), a machine-learning technique that reduces the map's data dimensions and reveals its similarities. 

The technique allows for adding more brand and product attributes and in-depth research on the factors influencing buyers' decisions. Marketers use maps to identify market segments by analyzing low-involvement purchases.

3. Spidergram perceptual map

Spidergram perceptual maps require the customers' rating for a specific brand or product. Customers provide this data using multiple attributes, which are analyzed and laid out on a radar chart. The customers' scores are spread over multiple dimensions to allow for thorough brand analysis at a glance. 

A spidergram map can also be used to compare product attributes between multiple brands, which might help reveal each company’s advantages and disadvantages at once. For example, spidergram perceptual maps effectively analyze consumer insights to develop an optimal pricing strategy

4. Joint perceptual map

A joint perceptual map is a two-attribute diagram that shows the customers' perceptions of the competition and the needs of the different customer segments in the market. The map uses customer survey data to rate brands or products for two attributes. 

Marketers use these maps for effective brand positioning and to understand the expectation of the various market segments.

5. Intuitive perceptual map

Intuitive perceptual maps, also referred to as consensus or judgmental maps, are made by marketers using their industry knowledge. Compared to other perceptual maps, these maps don’t attribute customer data. 

Marketers use intuitive maps to show biases in decision-making processes, though their judgmental value is debatable since they only confirm pre-existing conceptions.

Why use a perceptual map?

Some of the reasons why perceptual maps are important include: 

Insight into customers

With perceptual maps, you get to know your customers better and learn how they view your brand, products, or services. A perceptual map contains customer insights to help you enhance your marketing strategies. 

Perceptions tracking

Perceptual maps help track customer perceptions when introducing new products that may influence their sentiments. Perceptual mapping allows you to measure and track whether customer perceptions improve or remain favorable when launching new products.

Market research on competitors

Perceptual mapping helps you to learn more about your competitors through market research. By observing and tracking customer perception of competitor products, you can understand the market landscape from the customer's perspective and develop better marketing strategies to stay competitive.

Brand repositioning

Perceptual maps help brand repositioning by showing how customers perceive your brand compared to competitor brands. Brand repositioning improves the value and strength of a business, and perceptual maps help develop effective repositioning strategies.

Development of new products

Knowing your customers helps you determine what they like and want, which allows you to create products that address their pain points. The perceptual map data can guide your production cycle when developing new products and help you learn how the new product launch impacts your competitors.

Who would use a perceptual map?

Perceptual maps are essential tools in the business for comparing product attributes, but they’re also important for other fields like: 

Product management

Perceptual maps help product managers to pinpoint the market sections where they can capitalize on new products or features. By analyzing the gaps on the maps, they can determine which spaces are empty and see the features that need improving. 

Perceptual maps also help product managers compare their competitors' products and determine which features are least effective for their customers.

Marketing teams

Perceptual maps are very applicable in the field of marketing because it’s where customer perception is considered the gold standard of business performance.

Perceptual maps help marketers examine customer viewpoints and gauge the competitive landscape through customer engagement. Perceptual mapping provides a look into the way customers engage with specific products or features, information that’s crucial to marketing teams.

Sales teams

Perceptual maps are also essential to sales teams because they help show the perception of your target audience in relation to different product attributes. When developing sales strategies or conducting sales calls, it’s important to know what the customers want, and perceptual mapping is a great way to conduct research to gain insight. 

With research from a perceptual map, a sales team can conduct effective sales and highlight the elements that will convince customers to buy their products or services. 

How to create perceptual maps

It’s always a good idea to conduct market research to understand the competitors and products in the target market. One way of doing market research is conducting a customer survey focusing on the parameters you want to analyze. Based on the survey answers, you can build a perceptual map for your selected parameters using the following steps: 

1. Select attributes

Attributes are the variables that a customer considers before making a purchase decision. The attributes you select for your product or service will depend on their specific characteristics. For example, the attributes of a vehicle may be its price and type, while for a food product, they can be taste, smell, and texture. 

You should select the more prominent attributes for your brand or product and ensure they’re what your customers find important.   

2. Identify competition

The next step is to identify your competitors by researching the organizations and businesses that offer products and services similar to what you offer. It helps you build a perceptual map that shows your competition's rank in your customers' perceptions and thoughts, making focusing on your efforts much easier. 

3. Survey consumers

Create and distribute a customer survey to a representative sample of your target audience. The survey should question the customers on your selected attributes. For example, in food products, the survey could ask whether customers prefer bitter or sweet food or their preferences for chewy versus soft food. 

Your survey can ask customers to use a ten-point scale to rate your brand, products, and competitors.

4. Analyze survey data

Survey data analysis is a great way to see how your customers rate your business compared to your competitors. Reviewing customer preferences shows how they feel about your products and competing brands. Survey response data will show the customers' perceptions of your products and which ones they prefer.

5. Create your map

You can use the survey data and computer software to build your perceptual map. Software programs can create a perceptual map with an intersecting X and Y axis. With the brands plotted accurately, the map ranks your business against competitors to help depict customer preferences from attributes like trustworthiness and quality. 

Advanced software programs can develop complex perceptual maps that include multiple attributes and show how certain customer groups perceive your brand.


What is the best example of a perceptual process?

Recognizing products from advertisements is a perceptual process where we process visual information to match our stored memory and recognize products quickly. 

What is an example of perceptual positioning in marketing?

When you see or hear a product advertisement or touch or smell a product, you receive sensory information input, which you interpret based on past experiences, needs, and expectations.

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