Semiotics is the study of sign processes (semiosis), or signification and communication, signs and symbols, both individually and grouped into sign systems. It includes the study of how meaning is constructed and understood.
Semiotics is frequently seen as having important anthropological dimensions, for example, the famous Semiotician and Author, Umberto Eco proposes that every cultural phenomenon can be studied as communication.
Semiotic analysis is used to get at cultural insights that consumers are either unwilling or unable to articulate. This is accomplished by using symbolic communication as data points, which include:
•Behavioral cues such as: rituals, social organization, and consumption of symbols (e.g. brand marks, instructional signs, use of space / environments and visualization of ideas and emotions)
•Communication representations such as: speech, music, imagery (literary, media), literature (i.e. mythology and lore), clothing and fashion, popular media (print, television, film, etc.)
Application of semiotic analysis as a part of a consumer anthropology process allows for identification patterns that lead to truly forward-thinking innovation
My goal for application of semiotic analysis is to help my clients understand the evolution of cultural phenomena that influence their category. Actual territory maps are produced that plot brands in comparison to the competition as well as providing innovation direction through functional and aesthetic design opportunities (strategic, packaging and creative)
To gain the data needed for semiotic analysis we utilize many tools and tactics:
•Ethnographic data capture: still photography and video footage of human behavior, product features and use (intended and unintended) consumer-oriented environments and actual human artifacts (a.k.a. their “stuff”)
•Media review: collection of current to historical media examples: film and television reels, print media and marketing materials
•Brand Audits: Identity, product, packaging, experience and life-cycle: assessment of sensory values communicated by the brand at all ‘touch’ points including during and after its intended life span.
•Decoding work sessions: immersive team work sessions where sensory cues from all stimulus are broken down and reconstructed into meaningful and actionable themes, focused on past, present and future expressions of cultural phenomena. (this is a great way to get stakeholders more rooted in the essence of the brand as well as great creative and bonding opportunity).
Semiotic analysis is used in many types of Journeys, providing valuable insight for initiatives like:
•Brand & Product identity development: understand current perceptions of your brand within it’s competitive space as well as opportunities for differentiation through all sensory touch-points: logo and identity (including color, shape, size, smell, feel, taste, etc.) retail environments, packaging and even post-lifecycle
•Communications strategy development: identification of future-focused communication themes, new media and creative executions for your brand
•Whitespace identification: identification of cultural territories within and tangential to your category that can lead to innovation opportunities for new products, product design, packaging, services or marketing
A well rounded journey means that your insight and strategy projects can do more of the legwork, both in the short term and long term, having implications for both the larger innovation vision and the smaller-but-important details. Semiotics can complement consumer qualitative in that it will allow you that future, big picture vision while keeping an eye on symbolic details that consumers cannot necessarily articulate.