A perceptual map is a market research tool that can assist you to determine where there may be an opportunity for a product idea that you are contemplating.
You use the tool to compare products or product ideas against the main perceptions of your customers. First you determine what you believe to be the primary requirements of your customers. Next you plot them on an X-Y axis.
Trying to explain with a somewhat simplistic example… say you had an idea for a new kind of vehicle and that you decided that the main requirements for such from your customers are price and miles per gallon (MPG). What you can do is systematically plot where you’re other products fall or where your customer’s products fall within that axis.
Like I said, this is a somewhat simplistic example and therefore I’m not going to attempt to plot where all vehicles fall nor am I sure that MPG and price are the main requirements of a vehicle purchase, but you should get the basic idea.
From the map that you create specific to your idea or product you might be able to spot an unserved segment.
For example assuming the map above was a complete picture of all vehicles and that MPG and price were the most relevant, then you might decide that there is a market for an upscale (pricey) vehicle that also has excellent MPG. This gets you asking the right questions i.e. would people pay more for a vehicle that is more environmentally friendly in terms of it doing more MPG and I guess the answer to this is probably yes and is now being served by hybrid vehicles.