The Appreciative Discovery®

How to make a positioning map and why it matters.

How to Make a Positioning Map

Appreciative Discovery Sessions typically range between 3 - 4 hours.

Effective marketing begins with getting your positioning right. How is your company, product or service differentiated from your competition? How do you express this difference to get your idea into the minds of your customers and prospects?

Companies need positioning — a strategy for meaningful differentiation — today more than ever. Few markets are virgin. For most marketers, the only way to grow is to take business away from the competition. Without a differentiated idea, most people will stick with what they know. If you don’t stand out, you lose.

This is why mapping the positions of your competitors and your organization is vital.

The world’s top marketing companies know the secrets of how to make a positioning map. As a result, they have seen robust growth, incredible brand value (as much as 70% of their total capitalized market valuation on average) and continued success as leaders in their categories. The principles used by brands like Xerox, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Apple, Nike, Honda, Uber and Tesla are universal and therefore transferable to any business, even yours. 

Inside every business is a differentiated advantage that unlocks the secret to profitable growth. Positioning is the art and science of finding your differentiating brand idea. The ultimate goal of positioning is to plant this differentiated idea in the mind of customers. 

Find Your Differentiated Idea

We use two positioning maps to help you find and test your positioning idea: the 4-Square Positioning Map and the X/Y Axis Positioning Map.

1. How to Make a 4-Square Positioning Map

The 4-Square Positioning Map is used to determine the strength of a positioning idea relative to how well it satisfies four criteria: Competitive availability, Customer relevance, Company fit and market Context (the filter for timing). The Four Cs. No C taken alone is more important than another. Ideas that rate highly in all four quadrants present the greatest opportunity.

The First C:


Filter for differentiation -
Does the idea maximize the perceived distance between you and competitive offerings? The more incomparable the better.
The Second C:


Filter for relevance/meaning -
Does the idea maximize the fit with the target audience? The tighter the fit, the better.
The Third C:


Filter for identity and alignment -
Does the idea fit with the organization's core identity? (The aspiration, reason for being beyond making money, purpose, core values and enduring beliefs).
The Fourth C:


Filter for timing/sustainability -
Does the idea fit with what's going on, the changes and trends that are taking hold?
The First C:


Competition is the filter for availability. In this quadrant, we map the degree to which your positioning idea separates you from competitors. The goal is to maximize the distance between your idea and competitive ideas. As a rule, two companies cannot own the same idea in the mind of the prospect. Minds don’t change easily. If a competitor already owns an idea in the prospect's mind, you are better off mapping a new positioning idea you can own. It is easier to displace a competitor with a new idea than dislodge one with a "me-too" idea. It costs less too.

The Second C:


The next filter is Customer relevance. Here we ask if the idea is innately valuable, meaningful and desirable to the target customer. Does the idea offer a noticeable and obvious benefit? Customers have to find the idea naturally attractive to stimulate sufficient demand. In other words, they have to want it! 

The Third C:


The positioning map filter for Company helps to determine how well the idea fits your organization's DNA, core values, mission and purpose. The tighter the fit, the stronger the commitment. Here we ask the tough questions: Is the position credible? Can and will the organization commit to it long-term? The positioning idea has to be true to who you are, what you value and where you want to go (vision). It must be something the market at large can trust in you to deliver. And the idea must be something you can and will commit to at every level of the organization.

The Fourth C:


Slow adoption cycle increases the risk of an idea becoming leapfrogged. The PC leapfrogged the electric typewriter. The mobile phone leapfrogged fixed-line technology. On-demand streaming internet TV leapfrogged DVDs, traditional linear TV and TiVo. As Tom Peters wrote in his book, Thriving on Chaos, “The champ to chump cycles are growing ever shorter.”

Equally, if not more problematic than an idea being too soon, is an idea that is too late. Very often, the best thing to do if you miss the market timing is to beg out and cut your losses.

While all four Cs are important, how well an idea maps to customer relevance comes first. A difference that is not valued or considered important to the target customer results in a meaningless difference. An idea that is not strongly desired will create low demand and therefore most likely produce little value for your company. And if you can’t OWN the difference, then the idea will be an also-ran, which won’t get you very far.

2. How to Make the X/Y Positioning Map

Another tool we use in our Appreciative Discovery is the X/Y Positioning Map, sometimes referred to as a Perceptual Map.

Thinking in pictures is the most used form of non-verbal thought. Our visual system is hardwired to discern the differences between the things we see, starting with the biggest differences down to the small. It looks for contrasts. It recognizes differences between subject and ground, big and small, dark and light — then the brain takes over and begins to make meaning. When you learn how to make this positioning map, the picture that reveals itself has the potential to transform your business.

Below is an example of the X/Y Positioning Map we develop with your leadership team during the Appreciative Discovery.

The steps are as follows:

  1. Create a quadrant, as shown in the diagram below, with an X (horizontal) axis and a Y (vertical) axis.
  2. Choose the two attributes you feel are most relevant and important to your target audience, such as design and performance, function and beauty, low and high price, or health and taste, as shown in the below example. Notice that each end on the positioning map represents the extreme. More Taste at the top and Less Taste at the bottom, More Health to the far right and Less Health to the left.
  3. Place a circle to represent where you think each competitor is best represented in the minds of their (and your) customers. It is sometimes helpful to use circles to represent each competitor on your positioning map, with larger circles representing market share. The bigger the circle, the greater the market share.
  4. Finally, plot your own brand’s perception on the graph, including the size of the circle to represent your market share relative to the competition.

More Taste


Map Arrow Top
Map Arrow Left

Less Health

More Health











Map Arrow Right
Map Arrow Bottom


Less Taste

The resulting positioning map above is a powerful visual tool. It helps remove some of the fog in your competitive standing and presents a clear visual.

One caution — at this stage, your positioning map only shows what you assume your customers are thinking relative to your brand and competitor brands. Secondary (searchable) research can help validate the assumptions. Primary quantitative research will provide statistically reliable validation of your positioning map idea.

Moving the Idea from the Board Room to the Marketplace

An Appreciative Discovery Report is the deliverable from the process. Since every Appreciative Discovery is customized to each particular client's need, specific outputs can vary. It is fairly standard for reports to include:

  • A high-level summary of the positioning idea with supporting positioning maps
  • A strategic overview of why the proposed idea will work and how it informs all expressions, behaviors and activities of the brand
  • A communications action plan with strategies, tactical mix, investment guide and the timeline for implementation of the positioning idea
  • A creative strategy outlining the visual and verbal elements required to dramatize the brand to gain the attention of prospects

The Appreciative Discovery Positioning Report is a dynamic tool. In collaboration with the agency, it enables you to:

  • Implement the positioning idea internally and externally
  • Align all activities and behaviors around the differentiated brand meaning
  • Execute marketing communications with a focus on the differentiated idea
  • Manage budgets and timelines
  • Establish metrics for measuring long-term and short-term success, considering both transactional activities and value creation
  • Manage the agency relationship

For your team, the Appreciative Discovery is a fast-paced, inclusive ride that involves stakeholders making one of the most important business decisions your company will make. Many clients tell us how the process and decisions made have re-energized their people and transformed their businesses.

Positioning is How You Win the Battle for the Mind

There is no greater feeling in the world than helping clients make the right decision for how to play to win in competitive markets — winning the battle for the mind of customers, creating more demand, closing more sales and earning higher operating earnings and profits. It all begins with mapping your position. If you want to learn how to make a positioning map, contact us to learn more about the Appreciative Discovery.

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