A positioning map should not be confused with a perceptual map. The first is the actual positioning of a brand within a competitive marketplace, while the second is the consumer perception of a brand within a competitive marketplace.
A positioning map is essentially part of a three-prong consumer-centric approach to marketing communications. "Marketing communications" represents how a brand communicates its value to consumers.
In the area of marketing communications, the STP approach is one of the most popular. "STP" stands for "Segmentation, Targeting, and Positioning."
Segmentation: This refers to the audience a brand is targeting. Target audiences can be segmented based on criteria that can be psychographic (consumer interests and preferences), geographic, behavioral (consumer response or attitudes towards a brand), demographic (age, gender, education, etc.), and more.
Target attributes: These can include brand characteristics or distinctive brand features that inspire consumers to pick one brand over another.
Positioning: Once a brand has identified the target segment and brand attributes, it can uncover marketing opportunities and "position" its marketing message to appeal to the target segment.
A brand may create one or more positioning maps to target specific segments. For example, a mobile phone company may wish to target millennials, as this audience makes up the majority of its market size.
In order to create a positioning map for millennials, the company would identify target attributes, or features that are most relevant to millennials: streaming and usage. These two attributes can be plotted on the x and y axes.
Using the positioning map, the mobile phone company can then identify an open-market opportunity by "positioning" its brand to deliver high-quality streaming and customized usage to millennials. To deliver high-quality streaming, for example, the brand can differentiate from other brands through optimal displays (or screen sizes) and robust processor speeds (to prevent lag).