Correlating electromechanical and dielectric properties with nanometre-scale order is the defining challenge for the development of piezoelectric oxides. Current lead (Pb)-based relaxor ferroelectrics can serve as model systems with which to unravel these correlations, but the nature of the local order and its relation to material properties remains controversial. Here we employ recent advances in diffuse scattering instrumentation to investigate crystals that span the phase diagram of PbMg1/3Nb2/3O3-xPbTiO3 (PMN-xPT) and identify four forms of local order. From the compositional dependence, we resolve the coupling of each form to the dielectric and electromechanical properties observed. We show that relaxor behaviour does not correlate simply with ferroic diffuse scattering; instead, it results from a competition between local antiferroelectric correlations, seeded by chemical short-range order, and local ferroic order. The ferroic diffuse scattering is strongest where piezoelectricity is maximal and displays previously unrecognized modulations caused by anion displacements. Our observations provide new guidelines for evaluating displacive models and hence the piezoelectric properties of environmentally friendly next-generation materials.