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What is a brand map?

Also known as correspondence maps or perceptual maps.

A brand map is a visual display of data that shows prospect or customer perceptions of brands, relative to their competition.

Several brand descriptors (or attributes) are used to build up these perceptions – these often differ by the type of brands and market. The maps are in effect 3D data displayed in a 2D format.

Brand mapping or brand maps are also known as correspondence maps, but the term ‘brand map’ is occasionally used by marketers and researchers to describe ‘perceptual maps’.

Why is brand mapping important?

Brand maps provide a myriad of information, which can be used to:

  • Identify perceptions about a brand
  • Understand how brands compare to the competition
  • Identify the closest competitor
  • Identify the biggest differentiating factor
  • Identify the extent of negative as well as positive associations
  • Find the areas of “white space” and “clear air” where brands can move in to, and stand out from the competition
  • Reduce data complexity (see table 1 below)

Knowing how a brand is perceived can help to understand:

  • Who the main competitors are
  • If current marketing messaging is having an effect on perceptions
  • What changes need to be made to messaging in order to differentiate the brand from competitors
  • What products or services a brand is most well known for

Brand maps (sometimes called Correspondence Analysis) can really help to bring to life data which can otherwise be overwhelming.  Their uses are manifold.  The information provided by the brand maps can then be utilised to provide actionable plans to move the brand forwards and cement their (new or current) position in the market.

On an ongoing basis, brand maps can be conducted at regular intervals (e.g. annually), or after major events within the brand itself (such as a large campaign) to track changes and assess the impact of the brand’s activities within its ever-changing landscape.  Brand maps go beyond auditing a brand in isolation and identify how it is perceived relative to the competition.

How to do brand mapping

A brand mapping exercise can be conducted in isolation, although it is usually included in a wider research project.  These are the typical steps required to produce a brand map: 

  1. First, the brands to be included must be agreed upon. The ideal number is between 5 and 10. It’s always worth prioritising key competitors.
  2. The list of brand attributes should then be decided, which should include both negative, positive and neutral attributes which are relevant to the brand and market in question. There should be more attributes than brands, so we would suggest between 8 and 15.
    Alternatively, when looking to test which services or products are associated with different competitors, then these can be included instead of attributes. We still suggest between 8 and 15 where possible.
  3. The questions can then be constructed, asking which attributes (or services / products) respondents most associate with each brand
  4. Put the questions into field
    1. 300 responses are a minimum, but ideally 1,000 responses would be collected
  5. Once finished in field, the data is cleaned
  6. Clean data can then be put into a suitable format for analysis
  7. Data is analysed to produce a brand map

A brand map example

The best way to demonstrate the benefits of a brand map and what it can show you is with an example.

Let’s assume that Brand 1 wants to compare itself to other big name competitors in the IT market.  Brand 1 wants to talk to IT decision makers to understand their position as B2B IT providers.  They have decided which brands should be included (seven in this case), and the attributes they want to measure against (we have ten here).

The brands and attributes are then placed into a questionnaire with questions such as “Which of these attributes (e.g. Reliable, innovative … etc.) do you most associate with Brand X”.  

The questions are put into field with IT decision makers.

Once sufficient number of responses are collected (300 in this case), the data is cleaned and tables are produced, such as the below.  

Brand 1 Brand 2 Brand 3 Brand 4 Brand 5 Brand 6 Brand 7
Reliable95%86%91%75%95%75%80%
Innovative90%70%86%70%85%74%73%
Focused on customer wants75%60%61%55%62%61%64%
Outstanding customer service87%74%86%74%85%76%76%
Good value pricing77%67%70%66%71%70%72%
Smooth sales process84%68%79%68%81%73%68%
Visionary thought leaders83%73%81%69%79%67%65%
Trustworthy93%82%89%80%89%79%78%
Essential for business growth87%71%82%69%80%67%69%
Great social responsibility80%71%78%62%76%64%67%
Easy to work with89%81%81%73%86%74%74%

Table 1 – Data showing brands and associated attributes

The data is then analysed, using correspondence analysis and a map is produced.
In some cases, there might be insufficient responses for certain brands (perhaps because they are just too niche) and the base numbers are too small to include them reliably in the brand maps.  However, a key benefit of a brand map is that it reproportions the data in such a way that brands are compared against each other equally.  For example, a very well-known brand might attract high percentages on all of the attributes simply because they are more well known and have in general more positive associations.  Yet the brand map will reduce this overdominance of larger brands and allows analysis of how smaller brands are performing alongside them.

How to read a brand map

Figure 1 – Brand map of seven brands against the ten attributes
  1. Differentiation: The longer the attribute line, the greater the importance of that attribute is in differentiating offerings in the market. Here we see that “Leading experts in CRM” has a relatively short line. This means brands scored similarly for this factor, so it’s not an important differentiator.
  2. Associations: The closer a brand is to the end of a line the more associated it is with that factor. For example, here we can see Brand F is strongly associated with ”Quality products and services” and Brand E is seen as having “Great social responsibility”. To determine how strong an association is (i.e. how far along the line a brand is), an imaginary perpendicular line can be drawn from any brand to any attribute. The associations also work in the opposite direction; if a brand is on the opposite side of the map to an attribute’s line, then we can say it is not associated with that attribute. For example, Brand A is not associated with “Outstanding customer service” relative to its competitors.
  3. Me too: The closer a brand is to the centre of the map, the more likely it does not have many differentiating factors compared to the competition. Brand C and brand D are the closest to the centre on this map.
  4. High competition: The closer brands are together, the more similar they are. For example, Brand A and Brand B are both seen as being somewhat “professional” and “understanding business”.
  5. Clear air messaging: If the list of brands is comprehensive, blank spaces on the map can show where no brands occupy certain characteristics. For example, no brand on our map is very strongly associated with having “outstanding customer service”. If a new brand entered the market with this attribute, it would likely successfully differentiate itself from the competition.

It is important to remember that just because a brand isn’t strongly associated with an attribute on the map does not mean that it lacks that attribute, rather if you asked someone to name a brand with that attribute, they would more readily associate it with another brand.

Complex brand map – associations with the most important criteria

We can go beyond the basic map depicting a brand’s association with any attribute and judge how strongly it’s associated with the most important aspects to customers. By understanding customer needs at the selection stage we can then judge the extent to which the brand is associated with the most important factors.

We can also overlay propensity to purchase or consideration figures onto each brand and add a future dimension.  So, the example below shows that Sony is in a very strong position;  it is the most strongly associated with the most important customer need, trustworthiness. 

Figure 2 – Complex Brand map of ten brands against ten customer needs, overlaid with their scale of purchase consideration

Conclusion

Brand maps are entirely customisable. It is possible to include a range of brands and attributes or even services/products. 
Brandmap customer research can be enhanced by asking the importance of each attribute, which provides another dimension to the map and allows decision makers to really understand which space they should be occupying.

They will give you a wealth of information on one concise slide.  A single brand map will tell you:

  • How your brand is perceived
  • How your competition is perceived
  • Messaging and attributes not currently “owned” by brands in the market

This insight gives you the ability to go away and confidently make decisions, build strategy and refine messaging.

Download Brand Map Explainer

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