Perceptual Map: What it is & how to build it

Survey data collection can be used to measure many different things, and one of the most key measurements you can make is the perception of your customer base. Measuring customer perceptions is key to seeing how they value different features or determine their brand loyalty, and creating a perceptual map is a great way to visually diagram these opinions.

In this article, we will define perceptual mapping, talk about some of its best applications, and break down how to build one yourself.

What is Perceptual Map

A perceptual map is a diagram used by businesses to map out how their customers perceive different items, products, or brands. By gathering aggregate customer data, it builds a viewpoint for how your principal users understand the relative positioning of different products or brands within the greater ecosystem.

While some people compare perceptual maps to positioning maps, they’re actually very different. Perceptual maps only measure the perceived traits of a brand or product, while positioning maps compare the actual traits

For example, compare the viewpoints of a young adult analyzing a car’s safety and a veteran insurance salesman doing the same. The young adult might perceive based on commercials that Ford makes the safest car, while the insurance salesman knows through experience and data analysis that Volvo cars get in accidents less and boast better passenger safety.

This example helps demonstrate the key difference between perceptual maps and positioning maps. Perceptual maps only measure the customer’s perception of reality, and they might not reflect the truth.

Perceptual data mapping is still very helpful to businesses, and it helps create informed decisions about how customers view the general positioning of different brands. Depending on the data collected they can also accommodate different scopes of comparison, helping businesses compare specific attributes or advantages. 

This knowledge is critical to businesses because it helps create strong marketing campaigns based on the feedback you’re receiving from your customer’s journey.

How To Build a Perceptual Map

When building a perceptual map, the first step is deciding what factors you want to compare and focus on. These will be the variables in your map and will be placed on the X and Y axes. These variables will usually be determinant attributes.

Determinant attributes are features of a product/service that ultimately convince the buyer to choose that option. They might not be the most important feature, but they are important to the customer.

In our car example, some determinant attributes might be comfort, price, top speed, interior design, or safety rating.

Once you determine which variables you want to use, it’s time to distribute surveys and gather customer feedback. 

QuestionPro offers an incredibly easy way to distribute surveys to your customers and analyze their feedback. Check out our survey portal to learn more about how to create your own surveys.

Once you have your feedback and your variables nailed down, it’s time to build your map. The most common diagram for a perceptual map is a simple XY Matrix with the vertical axis representing one variable and the horizontal axis representing the other.

Usually, depending on these variables, the scale is from low to high on each axis which creates different general relations in each quadrant. The placement in the quadrant is important, but the placement relative to the other variables is equally as important. This way you can analyze your factor’s individual performance and their performance relative to their competition.

The final step of building your perceptual map is placing your factors in the matrix and seeing how they compare to one another. Online whiteboards make creating and analyzing a perceptual map incredibly easy while allowing you to manipulate it whichever way you need.

Going back to our car example, the perceptual map might end up looking something like this.

Perceptual Map Applications

Like we said earlier, perceptual maps are great tools for comparing any two variables in the eyes of a customer, but they have special importance for some fields.

Product Management

Perceptual maps can help product managers who are looking to identify some empty market share that they can capitalize on with a new feature or product. By analyzing gaps in the map, they can see what spaces are unfilled and can also look to see how poor performing features can be improved.

Not only this, but perceptual maps can help product managers compare different features of their competition and analyze which are most and least effective in the eyes of the customer. This helps prioritize future changes based on what is used the most.

Marketing Teams

Marketing is the field that perceptual maps are most applicable to because it’s a place that customer perception is the gold standard of performance. It matters less which product is actually better — what drives a purchase is which product your customer perceives to be better.

Survey data is so important to perceptual mapping because you get direct feedback on what campaigns perform best, the things customers want, and how you can meet these needs in the future.

Not only can perceptual mapping analyze the customer viewpoint, but it’s also a gauge for the competitive landscape in terms of customer engagement. Perceptual mapping helps provide a look into how your customer engages online and with what specific information, another thing that is critical to marketing teams.

Sales Teams

Perceptual maps are important to sales teams as well because they can help narrow down the importance of different variables to the customer.

When conducting sales calls and developing sales strategies, discovering what’s important to the user is critical, and conducting research through perceptual mapping is a great way to gain this insight.

When you complete your perceptual map you might find that functionality trends highly, or maybe price, or even unique features. Depending on this research you can conduct more effective sales calls and emphasize the elements that you know convince the user to buy your product/service.


These are just some of the applications of perceptual maps, and if you aren’t convinced, here are the biggest advantages to using them.

Perceptual Map Advantages

Perceptual maps have many different advantages, and as we’ve previously seen, they’re applicable to a ton of different scenarios. These are the biggest advantages of building a perceptual map.

Perceptual map

  • Gain accurate insights into the opinions of your customer base.
  • Understand the reasons customers choose the options they do related to your determinant attributes.
  • Track the perception of the competition and understand how people view them.
  • Gain an accurate understanding of how your brand is perceived in the ecosystem.
  • Visually identify market share and possible gaps to capitalize on.
  • Create new marketing strategies based on the relative success of other campaigns.
  • Track ecosystem evolution as time moves forward and different brands reposition themselves.


If you are interested in learning about the state of your professional ecosystem, perceptual mapping is a great option for you to choose. Hopefully, you liked this guide, and if you’re looking to learn about other brainstorming methods, check out our overview of mind maps on Fresco.

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