First, to answer the question of “what is brand mapping” – a brand map is a visual display of data that shows customer (or potential 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.

There is no one definition of brand mapping; 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 the perceptions of your individual brand
  • Understand how individual 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 could 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.  

Brand maps 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 or changes 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 8
  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 10.
  3. The questions can then be constructed, asking which attributes respondents most associate with each brand
  4. Put the questions into field
    1. 200 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 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
Reliable 95% 86% 91% 75% 95% 75% 80%
Innovative 90% 70% 86% 70% 85% 74% 73%
Focused on customer wants 75% 60% 61% 55% 62% 61% 64%
Outstanding customer service 87% 74% 86% 74% 85% 76% 76%
Good value pricing 77% 67% 70% 66% 71% 70% 72%
Smooth sales process 84% 68% 79% 68% 81% 73% 68%
Visionary thought leaders 83% 73% 81% 69% 79% 67% 65%
Trustworthy 93% 82% 89% 80% 89% 79% 78%
Essential for business growth 87% 71% 82% 69% 80% 67% 69%
Great social responsibility 80% 71% 78% 62% 76% 64% 67%
Easy to work with 89% 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 such as the below  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

Figure 1 - Brand map of seven brands against the ten attributes

  1. Differentiation: The longer the attribute line, the more of a differentiator it is for brands. Here we see that “focused on customer needs” has a relatively short line. This means brands scored similarly for this factor, so it’s not a 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 1 is strongly associated with being “essential for business growth” and Brand 2 is seen as being “easy to work with”
  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 5 is the closest to the centre on this map.
  4. High competition: The closer brands are together, the more similar they are. For example, Brand 4 and Brand 7 are both seen as having “good value pricing” and being “focused on customer needs”.  In fact they are so similar that their data points overlap completely.
  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 strongly associated with being “innovative” and providing “outstanding customer service”. If a new brand entered the market with these attributes, it would likely 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 lack’s 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 the customer needs at the selection stage for example 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 brand J is in a very strong position, not only is it the most strongly associated with the most important customer need, trustworthiness, it also has one the highest purchase considerations.  It might need to watch out for brand H though.

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

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

 

Conclusion

In effect brand maps are entirely customisable; it is possible to include any number of brands and attributes.  They 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.

Brand maps will give you a wealth of information on once concise slide.  This single 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.

 
 
 

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