Being One-Dimensional

In a positioning map there aren’t many absolute requirements. A requiremement that really must be kept however is that each axis represents a single dimension. If you try to have more than one dimension on each axis it isn’t so much a map as a mess dumped onto a page. “Practical” is not the same as “Lower Priced” as one can easily imagine extremely practical but higher priced products and services. For instance a daycare that stays open longer hours aimed at working parents.

You also must ensure that the terms at each end of the axis are opposites. Is “Sporty-looking” the opposite of “Plain”? What about a hippy’s psychedelic VW van? Not sporty but hardly plain.

Putting different terms on the same axis is wrong. “Conservative” and “Older-buyer” might be similar but they aren’t the same. With two different words on the axis then there are two possibilities.

  • If the two words always mean the same thing, then the second word is redundant.
  • If the two words can mean different things then having two words is confusing. Which do you mean, “Practical” or “Lower Priced”?

Students love to make the mistake but it is perhaps not too surpising given they aren’t alone. Managers, teachers and professors do it too. For instance Loudon, Stevens and Wrenn (2005, page 71) have a map similar to the one below.

Single dimension positioning map

They use three terms on each end of the horizontal (X) axis and two on each end of the vertical (Y) axis. This ensures they have a poly-dimensional mess. Why wasn’t one term enough to describe each axis? What if “Classy” is different to “Expensive” in a consumer’s mind? The words after all have different meanings. Is “Conservative” really the opposite of “Exciting”? Say what you like about US conservative politician Newt Gingrich but there was never a dull moment when he was in the news. Labelling a single axis of a positioning map with more than one term just leaves me confused.

Being multi-dimensional is usually a good thing in life. Positioning maps are one of the few things in life where being one-dimensional is absolultely compulsory.

Read: David Loudon, Robert Stevens and Bruce Wrenn, Marketing Management: Text and Cases, Best Business Books 2005.