How and When to use Semiotics in Brand Research
Semiotics works by identifying links between deep emotional consumer needs and the signals used in branding, advertising and other media to convey them. It looks from the outside-in, exploring the context in which consumers operate, looking at the culture which influences consumers. In this way it can access insights which are not directly available to consumers themselves.
If you get the symbolism right in your communications, you can achieve your desired impact on people’s emotions – even if they are indifferent or hostile to the content of your message. For example, in the last US Presidential Election Barack Obama sold a reforming liberal agenda to a conservative US electorate by tapping into a personal transformative religious discourse that they recognised and understood. The result: an unlikely election victory.
But get the symbolism wrong and you’ll fail to have the desired effect on people’s emotions. Your communication could even have a counterproductive effect. Captain Bligh is a notorious example of this. Bligh was not the cruel ogre depicted in films about the Bounty. He was in fact very enlightened for a sea captain of his time. But his enlightened outlook meant that he failed to observe a whole series of traditional navy practices which he saw as superstitious and failed to take the appropriate paternalistic tone with crewmen when giving orders. The result: mutiny!
In marketing, semiotics provides an excellent way of looking at the visual aspects of marketing connected with brands, marketing communications and product design. It is a highly effective way of providing context in a shifting environment. It can be used for generating hypotheses for testing in qualitative research and can provide a rich source of branding and advertising symbols that can be used to brief and inspire creative development work.