Semiotics is not only an academic discipline with philosophical-linguistic roots but a discipline with important pragmatic implications for a multitude of other disciplines. The use of Semiotics in Marketing and Advertising, Design and Cultural Studies (e.g. to identify emergent trends) is representative of the future and effectiveness of this methodology of enquiry.
Within the field of Marketing and Market Research, our research practice has evidenced in recent years the great power of Semiotics, for its ability, as refined analytical tool, to identify meanings that otherwise would be hard to discover.
Let’s also consider the similarity, in some way, between Marketing and Semiotics: both aimed at understanding and creating the differential value, well aware that the value of an object (product, brand, ad, text) exists always and only when compared to other similar objects.
This article scope is to present an unconventional methodology, particularly innovative as it combines Semiotics with statistical tools and which finds its application in many areas of Brand and Marketing (e.g., consumer behaviour studies, pre-post researches on advertising, brand positioning, trend / cultural studies) This is first of all, an approach that allows to identify and understand the major themes deriving from consumers’ thoughts on products and brands, starting from a corpus composed of a multitude of spontaneous conversations dialogues, produced an environment as realistic as possible, a non-laboratory situation.
The great level of accuracy of this methodology, deriving from the combination of semiotics and statistics-based quantitative analysis, lead us to the definition of the differential gap able to establish the real Brand Identity.
Semiotics in practice: introduction to a concrete case-study.
Last year Ferrero SPA involved us in a cross-cultural Market Research project aimed at re-establishing the attractiveness of their Liqueur Chocolate Brand – Mon Chéri – through new communication concepts. We were asked to explore the meaning of innovative advertising ideas in order to:
– understand if – and which of the ideas – were able to penetrate into a younger target, while maintaining the current faithful older consumer base is two main countries considering the relative differences in culture and consumption habits;
– Identify and design – if necessary – a new ad concept able to communicate in a consistent manner within the two cultural landscapes
This exercise inevitably meant helping the Brand re-evaluate its identity and Positioning, in the light of what the new ads could signify . This was in fact the area in which Semiotics fully revealed its analytical, diagnostic and potential. As mentioned we adopted a hybrid methodological approach, combining semiotic analysis with a lexicographical software for textual analysis.
The research has been carried out using an ad-hoc blog, where selected individuals were free to talk about the brand / product, interacting and sharing their thoughts. Their conversations were extracted and converted into a corpus. The fact that people were involved in a co-creation process was essential in order to reduce the researcher’s intervention so that a spontaneous sharing of ideas could take place. Furthermore, the non-synchronic communication was designed to stimulate deeper thoughts and meanings, also by generating socio-cultural levelling (participants could have time to go in-depth while not feeling socio-cultural differences within the group).
Since the beginning of those meaningful interactions (first were days spent talking and co-creating on the product) a renewed Brand Image emerged as a significant wish: the brand would have to acquired up-to-date, innovative values, while maintaining its invariable DNA elements (classical and traditional symbolic values). The following figures show what emerged from the co-creation work done in Italy: people developed different semiosis for Mon Chéri, preserving the centrality of the connotative tradition (fig. 2), enhancing the mythological discourse (fig. 1) and introducing the rhetorical aspect (passion-hot-fire).
A new semiotic path of signification, a pioneering IC (connotative index, chains of meanings that product is capable of forming) to be applied to the brand: from a product linked to intimate moments and contexts (relax, personal pleasure, intimate moments) to a product related to erotic atmospheres (something more transgressive; a pleasure inside intimacy); a renewed role beyond the limit of emotional reassurance; a new actor inside the communication process.
Semiotics in practice: balancing the meaning of brand in different cultures.
During the construction and re-construction process(the typical semiotic way of analysing)we had to reflect, on the two different cultures and the meaning of their relative brand perception :
– in Italy the brand was perceived as having a full-of-charme, emotion-stimulating Personality;
– in France as reassuring, tender, intimate brand.
Let’s consider the two paths of signification as the following opposition:
|Stimulating Product(connotation: charme)||Tender Product(connotation: harmony)|
Considering this cultural gap in decoding, what would happened after submitting the two ad concepts? As imagined: two dissimilar reactions. As we had to balance the brand communication we needed to discover the right, coherent, path of signification, finding homogeneous connotative values.
It was clear that the use of Semiotics would help us in understanding the phenomenon in a deeper and more detailed way to guide advertising concept planning.
People spent the remaining days watching, talking and co-creating on the ad concepts (textual and visual stimuli). All the texts (free dialogues inside the blog) were then collected and subjected to initial thematic analysis, through the use of the lexicographical software in order to identify undiscovered meanings, open new hypothesis and validate the semiotic axiology of signification.
Semiotics in practice: scientific validity of the results.
The argument for a statistics-based semiotics as a new opportunity for brand and Marketing, requires not only a theoretical exposition but also an additional demonstration of the processes .
In Market Research we are often asked some hard questions from our Clients, often concerning the validity of Semiotics, like how can you demonstrate your results? Even if the demonstrationis inherentin aformal logical system of interpretation we also must prove that Semiotics is a highly objective discipline; in this sense the support of lexicographical tools is of great help in demonstrating quantitative outcomes of semiotic analysis and making semiotics better understood for its unparalleled use in branding and marketing.
Going back to our case study. The following map shows the “surgical accuracy” of combining a scientific discipline, like Semiotics, with statistical techniques making us ponder what the future of semiotics in Marketing Research may be.
Let’s remember the initial project objective: to understand the effectiveness of two advertisements aimed at “revitalizing” the Mon Chéri Image.
The study guided us in understanding the possible product image switch. By considering consumers discourses when subjected toone or the anotheradvertising campaign idea and, the thinking new needs expressed by participants (more passion, more transgressive connotations) and the differences in cultural decoding, we were able to identify and plot new ad concept able to balance the desire for a stronger Image (in Italy) with the desire not to lose the quieter and reassuring connotative elements (in France).
In conclusion dealing with brand positioning essentially means managing the Marketing Mix complexity, and the most efficient way to produce effectiveness is to transform the complexity in simplicity. The success of a Marketing Strategy is a central issue for any Market Research and effectiveness means above all production ofcongruous effects of meaning, perfectly suited to the established objectives of Marketing and Communication.
We hope that innovative Market Research methods will be able to build guided itineraries for Marketing, that could lead the transition from analytical interpretation – attribution of meaning to the results and drafting of the interpretative reports – to the productive interpretation – intended as the practice of scientific representation, of mathematical calculation, out of the dichotomous logic between Qualitative and Quantitative.