KS&R Blogs


I am totally smitten with coffee table books. Luckily, I received several new ones for Christmas. (My favorite is Pilgrimage, by Annie Leibovitz, a collection of photographs of places associated with people who mean something to her a big departure from the Gap ads and celebrity photos she is known for.) For me, there's no better gift than a book, and no better gift book than a coffee table book. The Sierra Club is usually credited with inventing the coffee table book in 1960, with the publication of Ansel Adam's, This is the American Earth. The guiding principle for that book was "a page size big enough to carry a given image's dynamic".

I love looking at oversized, high quality, powerful images on beautiful, expensive paper. You can't get that experience with a Kindle or a Nook. These books sit on my coffee table precisely because they are designed to be picked up by anyone looking for a quick, easy read and to inspire discussion.

The Perceptual Mapping techniques KS&R employs in qualitative research have a lot in common with coffee table books. They both:

  • Provide a hands-on activity for a participant that is fun, engaging, and energizing.
  • Provide stimulus for discussion and debate.
  • Display data (real time and in reporting) in a way so that the viewer instantly sees the power of the information.
  • Are easily grasped by multi cultural audiences.

Of course, qualitative Perceptual Mapping techniques are not meant to substitute for quantitative perceptual mapping, but rather to offer a starting point for discussion about how a product, service, or brand relates to the competition. They are also highly effective in identifying which attributes are important; and any unoccupied "white space" where distinctive positioning and a meaningful value proposition can be developed.

We use a variety of qualitative perceptual mapping techniques, depending on the research objectives, but in each technique the moderator identifies the relevant attributes and participants sort items accordingly.

In a global study KS&R conducted to understand how several prototype mobile devices would be perceived amidst their competitors, participants engaged in Perceptual Mapping using a one-dimensional continuum, or a "Line Up" exercise:

  • The opposite ends of the focus group table were labeled "most likely to purchase" and "least likely to purchase".
  • Prototype mobile devices and competitor devices were placed in the center of the table.
  • Participants were instructed to work together, talking aloud, to sort ("line up") the devices on the continuum.
  • Participants then discussed the "map" they created, and why the devices were so placed, including strengths/drivers and weaknesses/barriers.

Qualitative Perceptual Mapping is flat-out cool, and opens your mind to new possibilities for uncovering and presenting information and insights in dynamic ways. Just like a coffee table book.