Perceptual Maps, also known as Multi Dimensional Scaling (MDS) is a tool used to map consumers perceptions based on the key attributes of a product or service. Consumers perceive a product or service in terms of the benefits or value it provides them. A car is not merely an automobile; rather it is a combination of tangible and intangible attributes – size, color, engine, comfort, safety, prestige, pride etc. Fortunately, however, only a few product or service attributes are sufficient to predict consumer choices. The task of the marketer thus is to decide how many attributes need to be incorporated into the product, the level of priority to be given to each attribute and how to put the attributes together to gain a competitive advantage.
Perceptual maps are of two types:
- Attribute based – In this case, the attributes are known to the researcher. The disadvantage of such a method is that the researcher may miss out on some important attribute.
- Overall similarity – Here, the perceptual map is formed not based on any explicitly mentioned attribute but on an overall perception of the consumer. This method is more popular and the advantage of such a method is that it is possible to come across an attribute that was not initially known.
When reading a perceptual map it is important to remember:
- To keep the Objective Function Value (error value) to the minimum.
- The closer the score is to the arrowhead, the better the product/service is doing with respect to that attribute.
- If the vectors of two different attributes are close to each other and pointing in a similar direction, it means that the attributes are similar to each other; the opposite is true if the vectors are facing in opposite directions.
So, what is the importance of Perceptual Mapping?
- Perceptual maps reveal the most important attributes that a consumer includes in his/her decision making process. This enables companies and marketers to focus on these attributes for product design and advertising.
- Perceptual maps indicate where in the consumers mind, the firm’s own brand and competing brands score.
- It indicates the strengths and weaknesses of the brand.
- Perceptual maps also tell a company/product/service who its close competitors are.
- Perceptual maps suggest possible opportunities in the market (i.e. segments where players are absent or empty spaces). However, whether this segment is really a viable market depends on two factors:
a) The firm’s ability to produce a product or deliver a service that will meet the attributes of that segment.
b) The number of consumers in that segment.
- A segment in which no players are present could mean:
a) That it is untapped.
b) That players have entered the segment, failed and thus left.
c) That there are no consumers present in that segment.
- Perceptual maps can also predict the future by revealing how the market is changing. This can be done by tracking consumer perceptions over time and comparing perceptual maps developed at each point in time.
a) Consumers’ Ideal points may shift as their preferences change (e.g. Consumers may come to expect higher levels of quality at lower prices).
b) The most important attributes may change over time. (e.g. fuel efficiency is a major attribute that consumers look for in a car today).
- Perceptual maps reveal areas of change. Managers' conceptions of how their products are differentiated in the marketplace may not accurately reflect consumers’ perceptions.
Perceptual maps are used for brands, products, services, corporate positioning etc. Thus, it is an extremely useful tool in creating a unique positioning and then testing to see whether that unique position has indeed been created in the minds of the consumers.
Author: Makushla Marian Santimano
Group: Marketing - Group 4