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There is a tendency in marketing to think mostly about what customers care about. That is, what benefits customers really want.

But there is another important part that should be deeply appreciated by anyone who markets products, and that is customer perceptions, or how customers view (or perceive) the different products on the market. One technique that clearly depicts these customer perceptions is "snake-plot". It is a technique that falls under the umbrella term of "perceptual mapping."

The concept of a snake plot is simple. We first gather the benefits that customers use to judge the different products on the market. You can see a tutorial if you are unclear about these terms: Benefits vs. Attributes. Then place each benefit on a scale with the appropriate endpoints. Conceptually, we might think of this as a simple 5 or 7 point scale. An example is shown below for three benefits that might be applied to a pharmaceutical drug: efficacy (how effective it is), price/dose, and ease of application.

Notice that the so-called better things (like low price) are on the right hand side which aids in interpretation. The points where the red and black lines intersect the various benefit lines represent customer's perceptions of the products from Competitor A and B.

In this example, the product of Competitor A is perceived as relatively low in efficacy compared to the product of Competitor B. But, the price per dose of Competitor A's product is perceived as lower. Finally, Competitor A's product is perceived as relatively easier to apply than Competitor B's product. The difference between customer's perceptions of the two products represents a perceptual gap. Obviously you'd like the perceptual gap to be in your favor.

A number of of things to note about this snake-plot. First, not all customers will have the exact same perceptions, thus the intersecting points represent the average perceptions in the market. Second, one might think of the upper end of each benefit (i.e., the maximum perception) as nirvana, and rarely if ever do customers perceive a product's benefit like

that. The lower end might be thought of as pathologically bad (again, rare but certainly possible). Third, the exact point of the perception of a product is not as important as the relative distance between the perceptions of the various products. Finally, one might ask how we get data for this map. In fact, there are several ways to do this with real data and you will can learn this in another we tutorial will write shrotly. But for now, just think of this as a reasonable way to think about customer perceptions.

Now, take the same benefits and imagine a different situation. Here the two products of the competitors are switched around, and so the problems facing Competitor A are quite different than before.

But if Competitor A were to compete successfully with Competitor B, how could it do this now given the obvious problems with ease of application and its relatively higher price. You could try to lower price or you could look for ways to make the drug easier to apply. But which action would be best?

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image of Allen Weiss

Allen Weiss is the founder of MarketingProfs as well as the founding teacher and director of Mindful USC, and a senior teacher at InsightLA.org where he has taught mindfulness classes for the past 12 years. He started meditating in the mindfulness tradition in 2005 and in 2011 his Basics of Mindfulness class at InsightLA was noted the Best in Los Angeles by LA Magazine.