Semantic Differential Scale: Measuring Perceptions and Attitudes of your Brand

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Posted Feb 06, 2018

Developing relationships with customers and cultivating a brand image are important steps in a company’s growth. While customers own the brand perception of a business it’s important to make yourself aware of the attitudes and feelings a customer has for your brand. The first step, market research!

You can use a Semantic Differential scale to measure your customer’s feelings, perceptions and attitudes during your research. Semantic Differential is a rating scale designed to measure the connotative meaning of objects, events, and concepts. It’s often used to measure subjective and nuanced perceptions of a brand, logo, product or service, character, experience, or a situation.

When to use Semantic Differential Scale

Imagine your company has developed three new logos and you want gather people’s attitudes and perceptions about them from your customer base. By using a Semantic Differential scale in your research, it will allow you to ask your customers if your logos are relatable, modern, offensive, boring or any bipolar adjective combination you can imagine. Still wondering why a semantic differential question versus a Likert Scale? Let’s break them down.

When you use a Likert Scale you are asking: This logo is modern. Disagree/Neutral/Agree

When you use a semantic differential scale question you are asking: This logo is, Modern………….Old Fashioned

The Likert Scale defines the logo while the semantic differential removes the survey author’s opinion. While there is nothing inherently wrong with using a Likert Scale a semantic differential scale in this instance it will help guide respondents without introducing bias. Allowing them to express individual feelings and attitudes.  

Using Semantic Differential Scale in a Survey

Semantic Differential scale is a powerful tool providing you the flexibility to create an infinite number of bipolar adjective combinations. Sometimes referred to as a bipolar scale, semantic differential questions ask a respondent’s position between two bipolar adjectives such as modern/old fashioned or boring/engaging. While you can create an almost infinite number of adjective combinations we recommend scaling that back to 5-7 combinations in a single question to prevent respondent fatigue.

When you add a semantic differential scale question (known by AYTM as a Polarity Scale) to your survey you can create your own list of bipolar adjective combinations or use a library of predefined combinations. Respondents are shown each bipolar adjective combination and are asked to indicate their position using a sliding horizontal scale. Thinking about the logo example from earlier, you would create a semantic differential scale questions using the same set of adjective combinations for each logo being tested. This will allow you to collect data on each logo individually and compare data across all three logos. Visually you will be able to quickly view in aggregate what resonated with your respondents. You will also want to spend time digging into the story as the goal of a semantic differential question is understand your individual customer’s attitudes and perceptions.

The Takeaway

In market research you have an endless list of scaling options. Using a Semantic Differential scale allows you to collect quantitative and qualitative data for nuanced perceptions. While this article in particular focused on logo testing, you can apply a Semantic Differential scale to any methodology in which you want to collect attitudinal data. The results will provide those deep consumer insights you need to focus on business decisions that align with your customers.

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