Semiotics is a different way of looking at the world to find hidden commercial opportunities. It's based on analysing signs - images, words, feelings, influences - within culture that hold collective meaning. Signs are are often taken for granted, yet vitally important. Here are some of the questions I'm most often asked:
What is semiotics? >
Semiotics focuses on how symbols carry meaning for people in culture. A symbol or 'sign' can be anything that people come into contact with that can influence their thinking or behaviour: language, visuals, packaging, logos, music, flavours, ads, movies, celebrities, online/offline or in-store experiences, historical influences or subconscious associations. Signs come together to create automatic associations and unconscious meaning. If your consumer interacts with it, it may influence how they think about your brand or the world it sits in.
How can you apply semiotics commercially? >
Analysing cultural context and deep-rooted associations builds up a rich and complex world that’s then translated into relevant opportunities. This can involve creating strong, relevant brand identities, getting language, communications, strategic ideas or positioning right, coming up with new product opportunities, relevant content or brand problem solving. It can be used to make sure your brand is communicating what you want it to on pack, in comms, through content or by association. Or it can be used to make sure your brand stays relevant and picks up on new opportunities.
How is semiotics different to trends and insight work? >
Semiotics often identifies how culture is evolving over time so it absolutely picks up on emerging trends and ideas. But it can operate at a more granular level than traditional trend methodologies, offering ways to directly connect emergent trends or 'codes' as semioticians like to call them, to your brand, or use them to engineer new meanings and positive associations. It provides insight: what’s happening now, plus foresight: where now is going, plus targeted inspiration: how to make this insight/foresight work specifically for your brand.
How does semiotics differ from traditional qualitative research? >
Semiotics gets to the deeply embedded cultural ideas that, often subconsciously, influence how consumers think and feel. These influences are often hard to reach through traditional consumer-facing research as people don’t articulate them directly. A consumer can tell you that they ‘like the blue one’ but they may not be able to articulate why or what that ‘blue one’ is saying within its market or cultural context. Semiotics can unpick this for you and pinpoint strategic ways to create relevance and momentum for your brand, service or industry.
What's the difference between semiotics and cultural analysis? >
Tricky question. Traditional academic semiotics is often highly structural and presented in a highbrow theoretical framework with lots of extremely clever concepts, words and ideas. Cultural analysis is often about a broader picture that a brand can tap into, but it can also offer excellent targeted detail too if that's what's required. Depending on the specifics of each brief, you can dial up the granular detail (when looking at pack or logo design for example) or the bigger picture (when looking for creative areas for new communcations campaigns or new product ideas to tap into). Usually you need to do both to some extent.
What type of semiotics do you provide? >
Google ‘semiotics' and you'll get a lot of very academic, theoretical analysis in fairly inaccessible language. Although fascinating, it can be impenetrable. Commercial semiotics evolved from the academic world and often uses academic ideas and frameworks to analyse culture. Semioticians can be academics and, as part of that world, tend to communicate in complex language. I am not an academic and don't believe in communicating in language that is difficult to understand. My job is often to translate clever-clever thinking into plain, understandable English that can inspire and be instantly applied to brands. I will never present jargon-laden head-hurting analysis that makes you go ‘WOW’ and then two days later ‘errr – what the hell do we do with this?’. I prefer to stick with actionable, inspirational insights. In plain English. And short sentences. With pictures. Lots of pictures.
What are the benefits of using semiotics over other research approaches? >
If you want deep cultural insight or an analysis of what your brand is really communicating/should really communicate and specific idaes on how to do this, semiotics is fantastic. Done well, it can be highly inspirational and unlock brands to exciting new opportunities. I LOVE it: do come and let me tell you why, and how it works.
Is there anything semiotics doesn’t really work for? >
Semiotics is fantastic for ideas and inspiration as well as brand positioning around visuals and language but sometimes you need to hear consumer voices to confirm, challenge or enrich semiotic findings. Consumer and cultural research work extremely well together.
How do semio-qual crossover projects work? >
For me, semioitics and qualatitive research complete the 360° circle by analysing both the cultural and consumer perspectives. I love helping to bring these two perspectives together in creative ways. I'm happy with stand-alone semiotic projects or can arrange semio-qual partnerships.