Measuring Brand Strategy with C-D Maps

brand strategy C-D map

In today’s competitive marketplace, understanding how consumers perceive a brand is crucial for success. Traditional brand positioning often relies on “perceptual maps” where consumers rate products based on two opposing dimensions, such as budget vs. premium. These maps, however, separate brand perception from business performance metrics like market share or profitability.

What if we could close this gap? Introducing the Centrality-Distinctiveness (C-D) map, an effective tool linking brand positioning with concrete business results. Created by Charan K. Bagga and Niraj Dawar, the C-D map assists companies in understanding their market position, efficiently allocating resources, and tracking performance over time.

Table of Contents

Perceptual Map Brand

Traditional Perceptual Mapping Techniques – Outdated?

Traditional perceptual maps have been the go-to for understanding brand positioning. However, these maps often fall short by not linking perception directly to business outcomes. They provide a static view of the market without considering the dynamic nature of competition and consumer preferences.

Centrality Distinctiveness CD Map

C-D Mapping

Charan K. Bagga and Niraj Dawar’s C-D map addresses this shortfall by linking a brand’s position (centrality and distinctiveness) to its business performance. This dual perspective allows marketers to plan strategies that align both value and brand positioning.

Mapping Your Brand’s Position

The C-D map identifies two critical dimensions:

  • Centrality: How representative a brand is within its category. Is it the first that comes to mind?
  • Distinctiveness: How unique and differentiating a brand is compared to others.

Using business data points like sales volumes or pricing, brands are plotted on a 2×2 matrix. For example, Louis Vuitton might be both central and distinctive, while Nike is highly central but less distinctive. Brands like Rick Owens are distinctive but not central, whereas brands like Fashion Nova are neither central nor distinctive.

Key Concepts of the Tool

Increased distinctiveness typically drives a higher price, while increased centrality boosts sales volumes. The map’s four quadrants are:

  1. Mainstream Brands (Lower-Right Quadrant):
    • Tend to be the first that come to mind when consumers think of the category, recognizable brands like Uniqlo and H&M.
    • Mainstream brands are popular choices, but their lack of distinctiveness limits their pricing power.
  2. Aspirational Brands (Upper-Right Quadrant):
    • Premium brands like Chanel or Prada are highly differentiated but also have wide appeal.
    • Command higher prices due to mass appeal and strong reputation. They face the challenge of fending off competitors from the more distinctive unconventional quadrant and must ensure their distinctive features are mainstream enough to appeal widely without losing their uniqueness.
  3. Peripheral Brands (Lower-Left Quadrant):
    • Substitutes like Fashion Nova and Primark, provide benefits similar to those of central brands usually due to their lower prices or the consumers’ limited engagement with the category.
    • Despite their low prices and lack of distinctiveness, many peripheral brands succeed with cost-effective strategies. Since they spend less on marketing or innovation, they don’t require the high sales volumes of central brands or the premium prices of distinctive brands.
  4. Unconventional Brands (Upper-Left Quadrant):
    • Brands like Maison Margiela and Rick Owens have highly unique characteristics that distinguish them from traditional products in the category/industry.
    • High distinctiveness isn’t particularly central, thus garner lower sales volumes but higher profitability through premium pricing. These brands may aim to increase sales volume by making the brand’s unique features more mainstream or adding mainstream features.

Business Applications: C-D Maps for Fashion Brands (Luxury and Athleisure)

Using the fashion market illustrates how the C-D map works.

To create these maps, the x-axis represents distinctiveness, and the y-axis represents centrality. Brands like Louis Vuitton and Gucci score high on both axes (upper right quadrant). Brands such as Uniqlo and H&M have high centrality but low distinctiveness (lower right quadrant). Conversely, Rick Owens and Alexander McQueen score low on centrality but high on distinctiveness (upper left quadrant). Brands like Shein and ASOS score low on both measures (lower left quadrant).

 

*Sales volumes and retail prices are approximations based on recent financial data and industry reports. Distinctiveness and centrality ratings are subjective, based on perceived brand positioning in the market. The ranking combines estimated sales volumes, retail prices, and the perceived distinctiveness and centrality of each brand within their respective quadrants.

Impact on Sales and Pricing

Understanding a brand’s position on the C-D map has significant business implications. This mapping helps strategists understand their current position and devise plans to move to more advantageous quadrants. For example, a highly distinctive brand might aim to become more central to boost sales volumes.

Higher centrality correlates with higher sales volumes but moderate prices. Higher distinctiveness allows for premium pricing. For instance, a brand like Nike, with high centrality, enjoys substantial market share, while Hermes leverages its distinctiveness for higher prices.

Boosting centrality even slightly can dramatically increase sales, while enhancing distinctiveness can justify higher prices. This insight helps brands like Vetements strategize to become more central, thereby increasing sales volumes while maintaining distinctiveness.

Exploring the Versatility of C-D Maps: Applications, Insights, and Considerations

C-D maps are complex. There are numerous variables that must be taken into consideration when mining the data that they produce for better market insights and strategic adjustments to increase sales or enhance brand perception.

National vs. Regional Target Market: Dawar and Bagga found significant differences between national and regional survey results. Instead of targeting the entire global market, focus on core customers. For instance, Subaru may score low nationally on the C-D map but ranks high in regions like the Northeast and Pacific Northwest due to its all-weather features, placing it in the aspirational section. Your map placement should align with your business model and target demographic.

Global Appeal of Apparel Fashion Brands:

  • China: Louis Vuitton is highly popular, symbolizing luxury and status. Gucci attracts younger consumers with bold designs and a strong digital presence. Nike is widespread due to the growing interest in sports and fitness.
  • US: Uniqlo’s affordable basics and innovative fabrics appeal to a broad audience. Levi’s remains iconic due to its heritage and timeless designs. Ralph Lauren’s classic American style is well-regarded across age groups.
  • Australia: Uniqlo is appreciated for its functional yet stylish clothing. Levi’s fits well with the casual, outdoor lifestyle. Ralph Lauren is favored for premium, timeless fashion.

The US and China generate significantly higher revenues than other countries, playing crucial roles in international trade.

Luxury vs. Sportswear: The apparel market is dominated by major companies like Nike, valued at $75 billion in 2023, and Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH), with a market capitalization of $400 billion. The line between luxury and sportswear is blurring, as seen in the Louis Vuitton and Nike collaboration. This partnership shows how brands can merge prestige with popularity to appeal to a wider audience.

Conclusion

Mapping brand strategy with the C-D map bridges the gap between brand positioning and business outcomes. It provides actionable insights for refining strategies, increasing sales, optimizing pricing, and driving profitability.

C-D maps provide a comprehensive view of the market, enabling brands to:

  • Assess Brand Strategy: Ensure alignment between brand strategy and business outcomes.
  • Monitor Competition: Concentrate on actual competitors and improve strategies accordingly.
  • Oversee Brand Portfolio: Distribute resources effectively among various brands.
  • Comprehend Regional Variances: Adjust strategies to suit diverse market conditions.

While the C-D map is a powerful tool, it should be used alongside other methods to get a comprehensive understanding of brand performance. Whether aiming to be an aspirational powerhouse or a distinctive niche player, the C-D map is essential for navigating the complex landscape of brand strategy.

By understanding and applying the principles of centrality and distinctiveness, brands can make informed decisions that drive growth and success in the competitive market.

References

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