Semiotics: Decoding the Emotions
Semiotics is a rich and innovative tool for unpacking the emotions and for understanding culture, allowing us to discover the unconscious as well as the conscious factors that influence attitudes and behaviour. Here’s BGD’s explanation of how it works…
What is semiotics?
Semiotics is the study of how meaning is created, communicated and interpreted through signs and symbols (both visually and linguistically). Our actions and thoughts are predominantly governed by a complex set of cultural codes and conventions, and dependent upon our ability to interpret them instinctively and instantly.
For instance, when we see traffic lights, we instantly know how to decode the visual cues associated with the various colours (red, amber and green). But this process has been evolved from cultural conventions established over extended periods of time and requires a level of cultural knowledge to discern the meaning of each colour.
The discipline of semiotics revolves around decoding visual and verbal cues and providing a narrative for unpacking how these signs have been interpreted based on their cultural parameters.
How does semiotics relate to brands and emotional engagement?
Since brands are a palette of sensory signs, semiotics is a fundamental cornerstone for brand building, and a powerful tool for getting to deeper emotional truths for consumers. The discipline brings an analytical eye to the visual language of branding, and the culture which surrounds it, replacing intuition and instinct with a coherent visual decoding. Ultimately it’s this insight, centred around the emotions, which has the power to unlock and guide a lasting brand strategy.
Semiotics is a particularly powerful tool in relation to emotions because it taps into the subconscious part of our brain and allows us to go deeper, beyond rational responses to reveal subconscious perceptions, attitudes and beliefs, decrypting how subconscious cognitive processing works. It enables us to extend beyond consumer opinions to help understand how opinions derive, pinpointing and classifying various emotional states. Finally, it elucidates the cultural context, bringing cultural codes into sharp relief and revealing signs and signals which can be utilised to emotionally engage with consumers.
How can semiotic thinking be applied and how do we use it at BGD?
At Big Green Door, we combine semiotic analysis with traditional methodologies in order arrive at a deeper understanding. By integrating semiotic analysis into our methodologies, we can reflect the multifaceted way in which people process information, and how emotional processing occurs. We can also build a picture of the universal alongside the culturally specific codes – articulating the commonalities and the differences in one go.
We divide our semiotic analysis into three key areas:
- Brand analysis; revealing the meaning of visual and linguistic cues and how they are unconsciously influencing consumer understanding of the brand
- Category analysis; Revealing the codes at play within a specific category (i.e. norms & conventions) which points to potential white space opportunities
- Cultural analysis; gaining a deeper understanding of local market cultural conditions, rituals, etc. while tracking deeper cultural change
Across these three categories we have a specific tool-kit in place to unlock hidden truths and provide emotional compulsion. Here’s a snapshot of some of these techniques ‘in action’ on some specific case studies. If you are interested in learning more, please call/email Michael on +44 (0) 207 258 5000 or Michael@biggreendoor.com
Case study 1:
Understanding confidence and its relationship to sweat in order to increase emotional engagement for a deodorant brand.
For the semiotic analysis, imagery was used to understand how consumers code an emotion and how it’s described through the vehicle of the senses (ie. how does confidence feel, smell, sound and taste like?). This revealed deep, richer hidden associations that unlocked new ways to access and portray confidence.
Case study 2:
Understanding what ‘cool’ means to unlock how an alcohol brand can emotionally engage with young men.
Consumers provided us with video footage, images, drawings and descriptions which was then analysed semiotically to help generate an understanding of what ‘cool’ meant through understanding their emotional drivers.
Case study 3:
Identify emergent codes for the juice industry in order to inform creative development across consumer touchpoints (e.g. pack, comms, retail, etc.).
The semiotic perspective helped to uncover deep needs, anxieties and tensions and some societal shifts which helped to inform the emergent narrative for the juice industry.