Semiotics is simple, it’s context

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AQR Breakfast Bites North – 2nd May 2018

It’s a cold and wet Wednesday morning in Manchester. A group of 25 eager qual researchers gather at Aspect Viewing Facility to hear Dr Nick Gadsby from The Answer demystify the world of Semiotics.

Dr Nick explained eloquently that Semiotics is not a mythical practice or ‘a number of codes’. It is a tool that can help researchers, brands and organisations to understand why people think and behave. As a result, Semiotics is best used to answer strategic questions, particularly when used alongside qualitative methodologies.

By using semiotics, you will gain a greater understanding, centred on the visual codes relevant to the category you are studying.

One word sums Semiotics for me: context. Two words would be: cultural context.

So, how do you think like a Semiotician? Dr Nick’s hints and tips:

1)      Open your eyes: look for clues, the answers are all around. Stores, blogs, the news, cultural narratives, and simply observing behaviour.

2)      Think social, not individual: people learn behaviour and they copy one another. Think herd mentality that then leads to an echo chamber. Listen and observe. Body language can help you understand the wider meaning in the social context, e.g. social media.

3)      Look for patterns: consumers love stories. Stories can help us navigate through the daily chaos of life to find safety, familiarity.

4)      Think like a Martian: researchers like any group or clique, are exposed to the same cultural patterns and learned behaviour. We can too have biases. To combat this we should assume nothing and start from a blank sheet of paper. Challenge what you believe to be the current truths.  

There may be a client brief on your desk that is right for semiotics. Again, look for the clues. Client questions such as:

  • ·         To what extent does the current packaging appeal to shoppers?  
  • ·         How can the brand develop a strategy to ensure it meets the needs of our target audience?
  • ·         What do shoppers/target consumer expect from our brand/service?

Or, when clients say things like: “we are keen to keep an open mind here, we want to challenge our existing habits and hypothesis.”

Go on. Be bold, go for it but remember, keep it simple.

By Becki Jarvis, Research Director

Katie Grundy