Perceptual Maps: Visualizing Worlds Between Words

A Perceptual map saved me, and helped my team to create a winning presentation to a highly valued client account. Here’s how it all went down. My meticulously prepared marketing strategy presentation, which no one in a million years would think of, was certain to win over the client in an upcoming meeting.

This certainty abruptly disintegrated at the Account Manager’s request of “Get to the point.” And if the Account Manager wasn’t impressed with my presentation, the client would feel similarly. I’m not one for long speeches but a few bullet points on a slide sure wouldn’t effectively tell the whole story I wanted to share. There had to be some way to get my ideas across, and fast. The starring role of Deus ex Machina was an afterthought in back of my color-coded cue cards, a perceptual map.

Perceptual Maps Defined

A perceptual map is a great way to get a snapshot of the tug of war in consumer perception of a brand and its competitors between two diametrically opposing ideas. This article shows how perceptual maps, a staple of the marketing world, can guide your SEO strategies and provide deeper insights.

Instead of a wall of coma-inducing text about keyword competition, website metrics, and product development strategy, a perceptual map tells the story and guides your answers to four key questions about the keywords used by your client:

  1. What is the consumer perception of your brand?
  2. What is the competitive landscape for these keywords?
  3. Is traffic being driven to your website by these keywords?
  4. What does this say about your keywords and brand strategy?

The Scenario: Message and Visibility

For example, let’s say a client has introduced an energizing and natural soda called Mantra to a test market, which is experiencing poor sales along with website traffic. The client would like to see how the name “Mantra” stacks up against their competitors in the market landscape. For example does the name “Mantra” send the right message and can they generate visibility and consumer interest leading to increased traffic to their website?  This is the perfect time to use a perceptual map!

The Setup: Keywords and Competitors

To create a perceptual map, you must first identify 2 keywords from the keyword set, and their opposite meaning (usually outside the keyword set) and 5 major competitors in this category. The keywords selected for this scenario are “energizing” and “natural” and Mantra’s 5 major competitors are (Fizzinga, Wowgo, Joes, eCO2, and ZenPop).

While traditional marketers use consumer survey data, for online marketing you can use SEO data. You can use impressions and clicks to calculate the click-through rate (CTR) and begin building your perceptual map.

  • Set the CTR on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being closest to a keyword and 1 being closest to its opposite.
  • Since the opposite of your identified keywords are outside the keyword set, you can deduce the antonyms for “natural” and “energizing” are “artificial” and “relaxing”.
  • Plot each keyword and its opposite on this scale either horizontally (x-axis) or vertically (y-axis).

There are specialized applications for generating perceptual maps, but you can use Excel as seen in this article on How to Build a Perceptual Map using Excel. For this example, I built the perceptual map in Spotfire and exported it to PowerPoint for labeling the axis.

Navigating the Map: Questions Answered and Issues Identified

Perceptual Maps

*Created in Spotfire

This visualization answers our four previously stated questions:

1. What is the consumer perception of your brand?

  • Based on the high CTR, Mantra is perceived as “natural”, however, it is not perceived as “energizing”.

2. What is the competitive landscape for these 2 keywords?

  • The absence of Mantra and competitors in the natural / energizing space is the most prominent feature of this visualization.
  • The keyword traffic puts Mantra in the crowded natural / relaxing field. This helps identify issues of brand-equity and missed opportunities.
  • With Fizzinga and WowGo nestled in the artificial / energizing section, you may need to figure out which keywords drive traffic to the Mantra website.
  • Consider using keywords to differentiate the energizing qualities of Mantra from caffeine based drinks.

3. Is traffic being driven to your website by these keywords?

  • There are a couple of different ways to look at this; if this were paid data, you could see if you’re getting your money’s worth with the keywords; while organic data offers guidance for areas to improve the perceived brand identity of Mantra.
  • It looks like “natural” is an effective keyword while “energizing” shows poor performance. Try mapping other keywords to see if they are more effective at driving traffic.

4. What does this say about your keyword and brand strategy?

  • These results lead to some questions about what is causing this current perception of Mantra.
  • Maybe the name “Mantra” is the wrong name for an energizing soda. Most people perceive “mantra” as a word such as “Om”, chanted during meditation.
  • Since there are no major competitors around the keywords “natural” and “energizing”, you could define other competitors in this space and explore what keywords drive traffic to these newly defined competitors.
  • You can plot a point to where the client would like Mantra to be positioned and how far it is from the current perception. Use this to gauge the progress of closing the brand equity gap in future reports.

Uncharted Territory

A perceptual map is only as good as the quality of the data and its analysis. This means some work on your part, such as research and product familiarity. It is critical to be able to determine the most important questions to ask about the performance of the selected keywords, qualities, and competitors.

Another strength of the perceptual map is its versatility:

  • You can use just one keyword or multiple keywords on a perceptual map.
  • Use plot-point sizing in the perceptual map.
    • For Organic data, you can size by the website rank.
    • For Paid keywords, you can size the plot points by the Cost Per Click to see if your client’s getting their money’s worth.
    • Test and use other keywords to further define what keywords are driving website traffic.

Getting There is Half the Fun

With the right data and familiarity with your client and product, a perceptual map is a valuable tool in telling the story of your client’s SEO and brand strategy in one easy-to-read chart. The perceptual map can be an invaluable tool and possibly a best practice when researching your client’s online performance.

While the perceptual map in this example raised more questions than answers, you are now asking the right questions. With this information in hand you can be sure to avoid the crowds and pitfalls, blaze your own path and most importantly, know where you’ve been and where to go to reach your goal.

Have you ever used a perceptual map when building or illustrating a marketing strategy?  If so, share you story in the comments below.

Want to stay up-to-date with the latest news, insights, & more from Catalyst?
Join our newsletter today!