When you are developing and implementing a B2B strategy, you need to know where you are going, the lay of the land, and how to get where you want to be. What you need is some sort of map. For building the brand, a useful guide is the Brand Positioning Map; it helps you focus, guides you to where you want to be and tracks your progress towards your ideal brand position.
What is a Brand Positioning Map?
A Brand Positioning Map is a chart used in brand positioning that plots the market positions of a brand and competitor brands against key attributes.
The terms Brand Positioning Map and Brand Perception Map are often used interchangeably, but there is a subtle but important difference. Although the two are almost identical, you can think of a brand perception map as being the background on which you plot your brand’s position, which turns it into a brand positioning map.
A brand perception map plots an audience’s perception of a brand or brands against two axes.
As an example, let’s take two typical attributes of quality and price and make these your axes. Based on market data and research, you map out where your audience sees you and your competitors’ brands on those two axes.
Are you high quality, high price? Or low quality, low price? Or maybe you are high quality, medium price? And where do your competitors appear on this map?
Figure 1: An example Brand Perception Map (aka Brand Perceptual Map).
In the example above, figure 1, Competitor A is perceived to provide the best quality at a premium price. Our brand is currently perceived to be relatively expensive and low on quality. Currently, Competitor B is perceived as better quality, for a lower price, leaving our brand in a difficult position. (Remember, this is measuring perception and may not reflect reality – you may have a high-quality offering, but you haven’t communicated that effectively).
This brand perception map only shows you the current state of affairs — it does not guide you or show you how to make changes. It can surface some useful information, but it is only the starting point for a brand positioning strategy.
For that, you need a brand positioning map. On this map you could plot where you wanted your brand to be against those same axes - where your ideal audiences' perception of your brand would lie.
Figure 2: Target position – how you want your brand to be perceived.
On its own, this tells you nothing, so add in the brand perception map – and you can see the gap between your audience’s perception and where you want to be, along with your competitors’ positions. This then informs your marketing efforts.
Figure 3: Brand Positioning Map.
From this, you can see that a perception map and a positioning map share similar characteristics. However, a brand perception map shows you where you are now, and a brand positioning map shows you where you want to be and how to get there.
In our example here, figure 3, the marketing strategy for the brand would be to increase the audience’s perception of quality, so the brand is perceived as an equal (or better) quality than Competitor A, but at a better price.
Note that, if your brand is high quality, but you have not communicated that, then this strategy becomes a marketing strategy to better communicate the quality of your offering.
If however, the reality does not match the brand position you are aiming for, you can still try a marketing campaign, but this may backfire and lead to a loss of trust in your brand. Another solution would be to alter your business strategy to dedicate resources to improving your offering’s quality, combined with a marketing campaign when ready.
As with any model, it is what the model means to you and how you use it that’s important.
For some attributes, there may even be a real-life value that you can measure against perception.
For example, you may have just three customer service centres – two in the South and one in the Midlands. You could create a map with an axis which is country coverage and set that up against customer service performance.
You could plot the level of branch coverage on that map which shows the actual situation – a Brand Reality Map, if you like.
Then you could look at your customers’ perception of your coverage – maybe they only think you cover the South?
Your customer’s perception may be that you have excellent customer service, whereas you have the true figures from your customer service department KPIs, which indicate that it is failing. (Which means that your customers' positive perception is likely to disappear over time).
Finally, you have targeted a brand position where you want to be perceived as serving the entire country with a high level of customer service.
Figure 4: Brand Reality Map
It might be possible to improve your brand’s perception over the reality with extensive marketing campaigns, but there is a danger that this will lead to a loss of customer trust as they experience the reality of poor customer service and incomplete coverage.
This demonstrates that:
- brand perception does not necessarily relate to reality
- your brand positioning goals can be unrealistic
- some perception gaps are just too big to be closed with marketing alone
Having a Brand Reality Map can be a useful check on your brand aspirations and can help sound an early warning on things like customer service – giving you time to address the issue before your brand perception suffers.
Bear in mind only certain attributes can be mapped in this way.
Maps, not Map
Another potential confusion is that there is very rarely just one brand positioning map. There’s likely to be a set of maps showing your perceived and targeted brand position across a number of attributes.
How to create Brand Positioning Maps
From your business strategy, you need to identify the key attributes that you want your brand to be known for. These might be based on actual capabilities – you have specialist production lines that can produce products cheaper than anyone else, so that becomes a key attribute for example, or they could be based on aspirations – you may want your brand to be seen as the greenest on the market, even though your current perception in this area is average.
You will want to focus on those attributes that make a difference to the buyer, those attributes that they are looking for and value when making a purchasing decision.
That’s not to say you can’t educate your market if you feel an undervalued attribute is actually important and should be highlighted more (especially if that is something you excel at).
Unfortunately, there is no list of definitive attribute pairs you should be using on your brand positioning maps, as these attributes will be unique to the market you are in and your brand.
You then need to pair these attributes up in a logical way and these pairs will become the axes of your brand positioning maps.
From customer research and existing data, you will plot your current position on these axes, giving you your audience’s perception of your brand. You can then add where you want to be on those axes.
You would want to add in your competitors’ data too.
And like many types of analysis and planning, you would want to repeat the exercise on a regular basis so you can see how perceptions may be changing and how you are progressing towards your ideal brand position.
What do they tell you?
These maps can help you in a number of areas.
- They help monitor the perception gap between an audience’s perception of your brand and what you would like that perception to be. Over time, they can show you just how well your marketing is doing in closing that gap.
- They can help uncover areas where you didn’t know you were strong in the eyes of your audience.
- They can show you where your competitors stand.
- If there are many competitors all fighting over the same attribute, you may want to consider highlighting niche areas, or areas where you know you are strong, with your marketing.
- If the gap between your brand’s perception and where you want to be is too large, then you may want to reassess your goals and strategy to be more realistic.
How to use it to position yourself in the market
Using the brand positioning map, you can:
- Spot potential gaps in the market and then position your brand to take advantage of those.
- Identify areas where you are strong and areas where you are weak, allowing you to position your brand to make the most of your strengths.
- See how much work there is to get you to the brand position you want to be in, versus where you are now.
- Highlight unrealistic brand positioning.
- Identify areas where competitors are weak so that you can target them in those areas.
- Monitor progress towards your ideal brand position.
A Brand Positioning Map is a useful visual model that helps with your strategic marketing decisions. It can help you plan a strong brand positioning strategy that will resonate with selected target markets. Ultimately, it can help you out manoeuvre competing brands in the bid for relevance and attention.