Visualise your market with C-D mapping

A 5 minutes read
Visualise your market with C-D mapping
Ross Haddow

Use this tool to map your current and desired positioning within the context of your market

The tool

The C-D mapping tool is a positioning tool that has been highlighted in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) as ‘a better way to map brand strategy’ thanks to the critical insight it can provide companies about where their brands sit in the marketplace.

According to the HBR:

‘Using the tool, managers can determine a desired market position, make resource allocation and brand strategy decisions, track performance against competitors over time, and evaluate strategy on the basis of results. In the process, they will find that centrality and distinctiveness need not be contradictory goals; companies may choose to pursue both—and benefit substantially.’

C-D maps link perception and performance. They can show brands’ relative position in the market place according to two key metrics:

  • Centrality - how representative a brand is of its category
  • Distinctiveness - how well it stands out from other brands.

They can also show performance in terms of a given known metric e.g. sales volume or price.

On a C-D map, centrality is plotted along the horizontal axis, distinctiveness is plotted along the vertical axis. Brands are positioned in quadrants according to how customers perceive them. Brands are represented by circles which represent their performance in terms of financial metrics such as sales volume or price.

This means that the map has four distinct quadrants in which companies of four types fall. Each quadrant carries strategic implications for sales, pricing, risk and profitability. The distribution of brands across the map offers insight about competitive opportunities and threats.

  • Upper right: These companies are very distinctive (i.e. highly differentiated) but also have significant appeal and are very representative of brands in their category. They are often termed ‘aspirational’.
  • Lower right: These companies don’t stand out from the crowd, but are popular. These are mainstream brands and companies.
  • Upper left: Brands and companies in this quadrant have unique characteristics that set them apart. They are not like traditional products in their category. They are ‘unconventional’.
  • Lower left: These brands do not stand out and are unlikely to be what consumers think of when they think of companies or brands operating in this sector. They are therefore ‘peripheral’.

Why use it

C-D mapping allows marketers to determine a brand’s current and desired position, predict its marketplace performance and devise and track strategy and execution. It can also be used to keep track of competitors and can offer insight about competitive opportunities and threats.

If you are developing your brand strategy then it is vital to position your brand in the right place in customer’s minds. The C-D map highlights brand distinctiveness and links this to performance.

The position of your brand on the C-D can provide really valuable insight for brand strategy development. It can show the direction in which it may make strategic sense to shift the way a brand is perceived – for example, to become more unconventional and so stand out more in people’s minds, or to become more mainstream and attract more market share.

If it is used as part of an on-going optimisation programme, a C-D map can also give you an excellent indication of how your brand strategy is performing and highlight if things are going off-track.

C-D Mapping Template

Download our template to use as part of your session.


How to use it

The C-D map tool can either be used as a group exercise, or smaller groups can break off, develop their own C-D maps and then compare them.

Get a mix of the right people together in a room (ensure that between them they know about all key aspects of your business) and set aside round two hours for the exercise. You’ll only need the C-D map template, notepaper and pens and someone to facilitate the discussion.

  • Identify the market and customer segments you are interested in.
  • Think about your consumers’ perceptions of your brand’s and your competitors’ brands’ centrality and distinctiveness (or, if you have the time and resources, conduct a survey to collect the necessary data). You can score each on a 0-10 scale.
  • Use these ‘scores’ to plot where you and your competitors’ brands sit on the C-D map. Use a ‘bubble’ to show the market performance of each brand (based on metrics such as unit sales volume or price).
  • Review the C-D map and discuss where you would like to see your company sit on this visual of the market in the future.