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Move Your Business Forward By Drawing a Perceptual Map

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There's no such thing as standing still or remaining flat. If you aren't moving your forward, then you are going to very quickly be falling behind.

Such is the way of life in business as we know it, whether you are managing a Fortune 500 company, a small consultancy, or a community business. It is certainly true for any startup.

If you are not moving forward, then you are falling behind.

But as an entrepreneur and small-business owner, it's almost impossible to think about how to move your business into the when you are spending so much time dealing with today, and the day-to-day demands of the daily grind.

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Well you have to think about the future -- there's no other way to say it.

But there are a few tools that you can use to at least put some priorities around how you can move forward, and where you should put your time, energy and resources so that they can be the most productive.

One of the tools I teach in my class at is the classic perceptual map. If you are going to only use one tool, this is the one to use!

Perceptual maps have been around for ages, but I'm a firm believer that some old school tricks never lose their effectiveness.

A perceptual map allows you to quickly, and visibly, assess the competitive landscape of your business along with your customers' needs and wants. It's a mashup of supply and demand in your industry, and it highlights where there are gaps that you can fill to keep your business moving forward.

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There are many ways to build a perceptual map, and there are now multi-dimensional programs that will plot your business and its competitors on a variety of dimensions. For our purposes, we'll keep it simple and two-dimensional, making the decision process much more focused.

You start a perceptual map by identifying the range of your customers' needs and wants in your industry.

Needs are functional benefits while wants are emotional benefits. You need to look at both if you want a really clear picture of what's going on with your business. Another way to think about is that needs are the product attributes while wants are the emotional benefits.

A perceptual map literally plots competitors based on how well they fulfill those needs and wants. When plotted correctly, the perceptual map will show you those areas that are currently unfulfilled, creating a new business opportunity for the future of your business.

I generally teach that the perceptual map should have one axis be the functional attribute and one axis be the emotional benefit, and that works well. But I've come to realize that you really should have two perceptual maps: one for your product that just focuses on multiple dimensions of the functional benefits in the category and then another perceptual map for the that just focuses on the emotional benefits in the category.

Combined, these two perceptual maps (and you can do more than two depending on the complexity of your category) will give you a full picture of the potential product and brand gaps in your industry. You'll be able to uncover opportunities that your business can offer on both the product and brand side, with a combination of functional and emotional benefits that have been untapped by your competitors.

Where do you start? Pull out a piece of paper and draw the two axes!

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