JUNE 3 : SEMIOTIC INSIGHT FOR BRAND INNOVATION

How to embrace the emergent cultural trends in branding and marketing communication? Ten case studies from all over the world to showcase the relevance of semiotic insight for brand innovation. Before concluding the day with Semiofest birthday party, we’ll have a a Boot Camp where forty eminent semioticians will craft solutions for three public interest / social innovation initiatives in Estonia.

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09:00-09:30   :   Registration

09:30-11:00   :   Session 4 – Embracing the emergent

Welcome address for the day

“Grasping the New – The Capacity of Semiotics to Embrace Emergent Culture”
Mark Lemon, UK
Senior semiotician at Sign Salad

“Coming of Age – semiotics, innovation and the 55+ market”
Peter Rock; Dr Malcolm Evans, UK
Co-Owner of ARKA Ecopod / Principal of S-Foundation & Co-Founder of Semionaut

“A Clash of Codes: Innovation vs. Luxury – How will brands resolve their differences?”
Louise Jolly; Charise Mita, UK
Managing Director of Culture & Curiosity, FLoC Industries LLC

“Semiotic analysis of online conversations”
Ximena Tobi, Argentina
Owner of Semiotica Studio, Semiotics lecturer at University of Buenos Aires, Faculty of Social Science

11:00-11:20   :   Break

11:20-12:40   :   Session 5 – Branding insights

“What Applied Semiotics can do for footwear retailers? A Brazilian case”
Mariane Cara, Brazil
Semiotician and Cultural Analyst at Comunicara

“Culture and Rhizome: A Dynamic Framework for Culture Mapping”
Hamsini Shivakumar, India
Director, Leapfrog Strategy Consulting

“How to win your consumers’ hearts with semiotic branding. Methodological and planning approach based on semiotic analysis combined with qualitative research”
Vaula Norrena, Finland
Marketing semiotician at Valores Consult

“Hybrid Collaborations: Commercial innovation using semiotics and ethnography”
Al Deakin; Dr. Robin Pharoah, UK
Director of Insight, Space Doctors / Anthropologist and Ethnographer, Future Agenda

12:40-13:40   :   Lunch

13:40-14:40   :   Session 6 – Branding insights

“Do you know what your brand sounds like? Musical Navigator – A Semiotic Tool for more Strategic Use of Music in Branding”
Chris Arning, UK
Founder-Director of Creative Semiotics Ltd.

“Nation branding through sports mega-events: an experience of networked research”
Andrey Makarychev, Alexandra Yatsyk, Estonia / Finland
Guest Professor at University of Tartu / Guest researcher at University of Uppsala

“Semiotics applied to the analysis of the political campaigns: the case of the 2014 Brazilian presidential elections and their outcomes”
Ricardo De Castro Monteiro, Brazil
Laureate International Universities – Universidade Anhembi Morumbi

Creative inspiration
dot to dot semiotics
Thierry Mortier, Belgium
semiotic architect, semiotic.tv

14:50-15:20   :   Break

15:20-17:30   :   BOOT CAMP

Client’s address

Ideation

Boot camp conclusions

18:30 – 22.30   :   Party

We celebrate semiotic thinking and 5th birthday of Semiofest. It’s an easygoing birthday party with friends of Semiofest rather than a formal event. We’ll have a cake, paella cooked on spot and DJ playing world music from around the world.

 

ABSTRACTS

09:30-11:00   :   Session 4 – Embracing the emergent

“Grasping the New – The Capacity of Semiotics to Embrace Emergent Culture”
Mark Lemon, UK
Senior semiotician at Sign Salad

Under threat from the growing Neuromarketing discipline of research, commercial semiotics is suffering from a lack of coherent self-definition. This presentation uncovers shared threads between the practice of commercial semiotics and Juri Lotman’s model of the semiosphere, and in so doing identifies the defining characteristic of the semiotic method as its ability to embrace cultural change.

The commercial semiotic notions of dominant and emergent codes (bundles of signs, or narratives), are equated to the centre-periphery dichotomy found in the semiosphere. As such, the emergent is located near the boundary space, and is the heterogenous result of intersemiotic translation. In revealing this, the capacity of semiotics to explore emergent/peripheral cultural codes is explained, along with how the limitations of other qualitative research methods (which focus on consumer explicit and implicit responses, not cultural action), prevent them from meaningfully engaging with this territory. As such the emergent/periphery zone near the border site of intersemiotic translation is claimed as the specialist preserve of the commercial/cultural semiotician, and semiotics as such is shown as the most, or indeed only, effective tool for true, enduring brand innovation.

Improved awareness of the semiosphere, is shown to allow commercial semioticians to more closely align with academic practitioners, achieve a cohesive self-definition, and celebrate the unique strength of the field.

Takeaways:

1. Juri Lotman’s model of the semiosphere provides an all-encompassing description, and rationalization of the endeavours of commercial semiotics.

2. The semiotic methodology is the best placed qualitative research method to apprehend emergent cultural codes, found at the peripheral regions of the semiosphere.

3. Neuromarketing and qualitative research findings will often lead to a rejection of emergent cultural material, due to consumer discomfort and unfamiliarity with the cultural periphery.

 

“Coming of Age – semiotics, innovation and the 55+ market”
Peter Rock; Dr Malcolm Evans, UK
Co-Owner of ARKA Ecopod / Principal of S-Foundation & Co-Founder of Semionaut

The first media guru, Marshall McLuhan, speculated in the late 1960s on why TV news focused almost exclusively on bad news. His answer was that the monopoly on good news was held by advertising, which, gliding effortlessly from problems to solutions, lived in a world of unrelenting consumption-driven optimism. This utopian world has tended to focus on youthfulness for obvious reasons. Ageing and end of life never really felt at home here – except, with some nervousness, as a challenge for beauty brands and pension providers or an opportunity for old age and death-related care services, promoting themselves with such discretion that an anthropologist from another planet might imagine this fate befell only a tiny and unfortunate minority of earth-dwellers.

In recent years it has dawned on marketing people that their largest and, in developed markets, wealthiest demographic – previously characterised in internal marketing-speak as Oldies or Wrinklies and officially through a variety of terms preceded by the adjectives ‘grey’ or ‘silver’ – consists of people with whom marketers in their 30s or 40s have no real idea how to communicate. So what’s the problem? A failure of empathy or, to be more controversial, professional competence. And the solution? A productive dialogue between semiotics and hands-on innovation to determine ways forward.

This presentation puts seasoned brand semiotician Malcolm Evans together with Peter Rock, experienced innovator in ecological coffins, natural funerals and online resources to help people and communities engage with mortality in more positive ways. It outlines their work applying semiotics and cultural analysis to help brands engage more effectively with older consumers. And to tap into the power of a culture already engaging creatively with mortality, leaving brand communications some way behind. With an increasing tilt in the balance between older and younger in populations worldwide, the importance of this as an area for future innovation can only grow.

Takeaways:

1. Why applied semiotics and cultural analysis are well placed, among consumer insight methodologies, to illuminate the cultural blind spots of the dominant marketing discourses.

2. How discourses around mortality and ageing are changing in popular culture and how these can be mobilized for brand and product innovation.

3. How semioticians can learn from working with hands-on brand/product innovators (and vice versa).

 

“A Clash of Codes: Innovation vs. Luxury – How will brands resolve their differences?”
Louise Jolly; Charise Mita, UK
Managing Director of Culture & Curiosity, FLoC Industries LLC

Today, luxury can’t ignore innovation and innovation can’t ignore luxury. But the relationship between them is uncomfortable – and there are long-standing cultural and historical reasons for the situation at hand.

The long history and cultural codes of luxury are steeped in excess, in power, wealth, indulgence and the aristocracy, in access to scarce materials, special craftsmanship, and an everlasting-ness that enables luxury creations to continue to be treasured, even hoarded, in the face of future innovations.

On the other hand is Innovation or to innovate, with its origins in the Latin innovare/innovatio, a term coined to identify behaviours and ideas that were heretical to the authority of governing bodies, most notably the 13th-15th century church in Europe. Innovators were silenced, exiled, even put to death. But the momentum of innovation – or these heresies especially in science and art – could not be stopped. Through the Renaissance and Enlightenment, the semiotic codes of innovation slowly evolved away from heresy to be dominated by creativity, genius and invention. Fast-forward to the Industrial Revolution with its steam engines and electricity all the way through to today’s global tech innovation fetish with the new, the updatable(!) and ideals about access for all. Here we find ourselves witnessing innovation’s very real impact on many, especially European, luxury brands.

We will examine the differences in these foundational codes of luxury and innovation and apply them to the tensions we are witnessing in the global luxury watch category. We will look at 2 European luxury watch brands taking different approaches to ‘coping’ with the rise of the ‘smartwatch’ – specifically the Apple watch, with its range of offerings in stainless steel to 18 carat gold. Is a gold Apple Watch still too practical to be a ‘timepiece’ because it does so much more than indicate the time? Does it matter if you are a luxury watch brand? Can your business survive without acknowledging these changes? How can a semiotic analysis like this help these indulgent, everlasting brands face, or even embrace, this disruption?

Takeaways:

1. Luxury and innovation belong to very different worlds, culturally and symbolically.

2. New, converging technologies are pressuring them to forge a relationship, which means overcoming these differences.

3. Semiotics is a brilliant tool to understand and ease this process.

 

“Semiotic analysis of online conversations”
Ximena Tobi, Argentina
Owner of Semiotica Studio, Semiotics lecturer at University of Buenos Aires, Faculty of Social Science

To analyse people’s conversations is something quite standard in the market research industry. These kinds of studies are not innovative at all: they use traditional ‘focus groups’ techniques from qualitative research. However, in recent years, many conversations are taking place in the most popular digital environments: social networks, especially Facebook. This has become a public space to make statements, express opinions and feelings or just have casual conversations.
We could say that focus groups are not needed anymore, because people are already talking in the digital world about extremely different topics; they may even be talking more spontaneously, openly and honestly than in an artificial situation, such as a focus group.

Although it is not that easy. The first difficulty to analyse digital conversations arises when we, as analysts, have to deal with quantity: large amounts of data available to collect and analyse overwhelm us.

In this situation, we have the methodological challenge of articulating our qualitative analytical approach with a never-ending corpus. In this way, semiotics can make a very useful contribution to build an analysis matrix, which may be used for exploratory studies as well as a key input to construct quantitative data collection tools.

What I would like to present in Semiofest is the first stage of an action research project that involves the semiotic analysis of the Social Science Faculty students’ conversations in the Facebook groups that they have created. For this purpose I have defined a set of semiotic variables to explore and decode the meaning of posts and comments. This set of variables conforms to an analysis matrix specifically designed to conduct social network studies from a semiotic point of view.

The findings of this analysis will guide the second stage of the project: to design communicational strategies for an environmental awareness campaign regarding uses and practices on the faculty building.

Takeaways:

1. The key points of the discussion about semiotics and big data taking place inside the semiotics community.

2. First-hand experience of a semiotician trying to deal with data analysis software. Some thoughts about the required skills and knowledge to manage them.

3. An analysis matrix developed from a semiotic point of view to analyse Facebook conversations.

 

11:20-12:40   :   Session 5 – Branding insights

“What Applied Semiotics can do for footwear retailers? A Brazilian case”
Mariane Cara, Brazil
Semiotician and Cultural Analyst at Comunicara

During the period of 2003-2013, especially between 2009-2012 the Brazilian economic take-off gave rise to unprecedented economic growth, when millions of people moved from poverty to middle class, bringing the emergence of new patterns of consuming. Despite the apparent “economic miracle”, since the end of 2013 Brazil has fallen from grace, with the inflation coming back in the middle of a devastated corrupted system. In this scenario, we are seeing some remarkable changes in the consumption sphere.

Considering the Footwear retailing market, the domestic players are facing difficulties to sell shoes/accessories in order to remain competitive in the new paradigm. To get a better understanding about the current meanings related to the footwear market and also to find out the reflected meanings of a specific retailer brand, Applied Semiotics was the methodology chosen by one of our clients in the interim of a market research process in 2014.

To be brief, the main objective of the applied semiotic analysis was to bring insights and interpretations to reduce the uncertainty about the targeted group and also to find new cues about the decision-making process at the point of sale. To do so, we decided to use a visual semiotics approach, focusing on images and their representational power.

In the first phase, we collected references and impressions coming from images as mental and immaterial representations, using pictorial cards to bring out intuitions and imaginative thinking coming from the interviewed consumers. Here, we saw the representation as Vorstellung*.

In the second phase, we compiled images as a material representation: photo shootings of the everyday routine of each store, façades, surroundings, competitors, consumers in action, and so on. Here, we saw the representation as Darstellung*.

With these two representations, we started the interpretations of signs. At the end of the analysis, the results were very satisfactory and we aim to present them, along with the principles of this methodology, at Semiofest 2016.

* Vorstellung and Darstellung are German words and also two concepts present in Kant, Benjamin, Reinhold, and Bühler, among others scholars and philosophers.

Takeaways:

1. Representation being one of the seminal principles of Semiotics, it will be interesting to see how it can be useful through an immaterial and a material point of view.

2. As an emergent market, Brazil shows how signs and codes can be volatile and changeable, especially in a consumption field.

3. The audience will be able to see a real case using an innovative approach of Applied Semiotics and how the results impacted the brand management.

 

“Culture and Rhizome: A Dynamic Framework for Culture Mapping”
Hamsini Shivakumar, India
Director, Leapfrog Strategy Consulting

The best practice in culture mapping has so far been based on identifying codes, mapping them on the Square and identifying the R-D-E. However, this framework of culture has specific limitations. It views culture as something out there that companies need to adapt to. The best they can do as innovators is to challenge the codes. It views culture as being quite fixed with a specific direction of change, from emergent to dominant to residual. For countries like India that are changing rapidly in some ways and slowly in others, where there are many new ideas and ideologies shaping consumer viewpoints, we felt a need to identify a new model of culture that can be studied semiotically. After some searching, we identified the rhizome concept as defined by the French thinkers, Deleuze and Guattari. They describe the rhizome concept as below:

“As a model for culture, the rhizome resists the organizational structure of the root-tree system which charts causality along chronological lines and looks for the original source of ‘things’ and looks towards the pinnacle or conclusion of those ‘things.’ A rhizome, on the other hand, is characterized by ‘ceaselessly established connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles.’ Rather than narrativizing history and culture, the rhizome presents history and culture as a map or wide array of attractions and influences with no specific origin or genesis, for a ‘rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo.’ The planar movement of the rhizome resists chronology and organization, instead favoring a nomadic system of growth and propagation.”

Based on the rhizome concept, culture was defined as a dynamic interaction between value nodes and beacon concepts. Value nodes are the values that govern the culture. Beacon concepts are new ideas with high significatory potential that shape cultural expectations and values. Culture changes through a dynamic interaction between the beacon concepts and the value nodes.

Two studies were carried out using the Rhizome framework, a study of the staple foods category in India and of Indonesian Fashion Culture. The paper will present a few highlights from the two studies and demonstrate the usefulness of the framework for innovation and for aiding companies to think as market shapers.

Takeaways:

1. A new and different approach to mapping cultural complexity and dynamism.

2. Usefulness for structuring brand portfolios and for segmentation.

3. A springboard for shaping culture, not just adapting to it.

 

“How to win your consumers’ hearts with semiotic branding. Methodological and planning approach based on semiotic analysis combined with qualitative research”
Vaula Norrena, Finland
Marketing semiotician at Valores Consult

his is a way to position and communicate any product, any brand in a such way that it hits its target audience.

At first, you have to understand some basic visual drivers and emotional interests your target consumers have. Such as:

  • Do they wish for more harmony or more excitement in their life at this moment?
  • Are they more fond of natural, organic visuals or rather urban and industrial looks of things?
  • Do they look for simplicity and everyday – or a luxurious and pampering experience when consuming these kinds of products?
  • Are they more inclined to factual and informative or mythical and story-telling communication , when choosing these kind of products?

Of these drivers you can make a semiotic map and – with the help of statistics and research – find out where your target consumers stand – what kind of values, appearances and communication they most like when consuming these products.

Then you can decide, where you should position your product or brand.

After that you can – with the help of semiotics – choose exactly the right colours, shapes and typographies for your brand – and the right stories, archetypes, myths, surroundings and lifestyles for the advertising of your brand. Semiotic branding.

In my presentation I will make a synthesis of seven studies on seven fields of Finnish print advertising.

A new qualitative-semiotic method was used, combining in-depth interviews and semiotic analysis of ads, that had already been statistically proved to be most influential in their field. Altogether some 420 ads were studied on food, fashion, cars, cosmetics, wellness, interior design and travel advertising between 2012 and 2015.

A side-effect of finding why and how the best ads are the best, was finding a general semiotic model for positioning products or brands so as to trigger different consumers’ mindsets with different visual designs and communication. That I will present to you.

The seven studies can be found in English, too, here.
The synthesis will appear on the same page in April 2016.

 

“Hybrid Collaborations: Commercial innovation using semiotics and ethnography”
Al Deakin; Dr. Robin Pharoah, UK
Director of Insight, Space Doctors / Anthropologist and Ethnographer, Future Agenda

Our paper will explore how semiotics and ethnography can work together to drive innovation in customer experience and new product design. It will draw from a series of commercial projects which the presenters have conducted for clients including the Intercontinental Hotel Group, Virgin Atlantic and Tesco to will show how the synthesis of the two methodologies can:

  • reveal opportunities for innovation that are inaccessible to traditional commercial research techniques
  • define experiences that respond to consumer needs which are notoriously hard to satisfy, including those for status, community and a good night’s sleep
  • rovide the insight that can encourage multinational organisations to take innovative leaps and see them through
  • guide the successful implementation of initiatives derived from the insight by working closely with product designers and other creative teams

It will make the case for semiotics as a methodology that is uniquely placed to reveal innovation opportunities, but that its contribution to commercial projects is at its most powerful when collaborating with other specialisms like ethnography. We will argue that this has to be a fully realized, hybrid relationship rather than the focus of separate workstreams or contributions that are somehow “synthesized” towards the end of a project. We will be cautiously anti-purist.

To help both clients and practitioners, we will share details of how the two approaches work most successfully together and will recommend how to avoid some common mistakes.

Takeaways:

1. Understanding of the optimum role played by semiotics and ethnography respectively in global innovation projects.

2. Examples of how to work with clients and creative teams to translate initial semiotic insight into concrete innovation initiatives.

3. Recommendations for best practise based on our experience.

 

13:40-14:40   :   Session 6 – Branding insights

“Do you know what your brand sounds like? Musical Navigator – A Semiotic Tool for more Strategic Use of Music in Branding”
Chris Arning, UK
Founder-Director of Creative Semiotics Ltd.

Have you ever wanted to describe piece of music but struggled as how best to describe it? Rock star Elvis Costello once remarked that “talking about music is like dancing about architecture.” It is certainly hard to describe exactly, but is it so purely subjective? After all, music can be used to convey meanings to a mass audience. If you’ve ever been moved by a film soundtrack or non-diagetic music on TV you’ll know it is possible. How can this emotional idiom add value to brands? This study hopes to enlighten you.

Creative Semiotics conducted a project called Strike a Chord, on behalf of RadioCentre, the trade body that represents commercial radio stations in the UK, to encourage media owners to use sound and music more effectively, and purchase more radio advertising! Neuroscience results show that ads which use music strategically score more highly across a range of measures than ads that do not feature any music and those that use music tactically. These results beg questions: 1. why is music not taken more seriously as a brand equity and 2. how can agency creatives approach music more strategically?

Chris Arning will share the tools his team developed to help brands and agencies make more objective decisions about music. The semiotic team, including musicologists and sound designers, were tasked with correlating 24 brand values words with music across genre. A literature review and distillation of semiotic theory (from Peirce to Tagg) took us to 6 key parameters that determined the different ways in which music can lead to brand meaning and value. The presentation will focus, with examples, on how to harness the power of music as an emotional language that speaks to us at an implicit level, shaping consumer perceptions and behavior. Forum participants will leave more equipped to make congruent musical choices that align brand intent with consumer perception, resulting in a positive impact on ad effectiveness, recall, and engagement. This project is an excellent example of how applied semiotics can bring a needed inter-disciplinary scope and some rigour to carve meaning out of a messy, amorphous area. In order to get a sense of how this works, check out
the interactive music navigator tool

It is perfect for the culture and innovation theme because the navigator tool is a fresh, non-threatening way to learn more about the effects of music. It can lead to improved ad effectiveness and it allows us to develop more coherent and consistent sonic branding.

Takeaways:

1. Exposé into how sound and music can have meaning, with a quick review of theory and showing the use of semiotics in helping create more rigour in a less thought about area.

2. Shows how the use of a semiotic framework can bring clarity to briefing composers and sound designers and how it can open up the creative palette rather than circumscribe it.

3. Showing how clients have engaged with this tool with a practical client case study to be engaged in from March to May 2016 (TBC). Unilever and BBC have been approached.

And of course, it is expected to be the best sounding presentation of the conference!

 

“Nation branding through sports mega-events: an experience of networked research”
Andrey Makarychev, Alexandra Yatsyk, Estonia / Finland
Guest Professor at University of Tartu / Guest researcher at University of Uppsala

The presentation will provide a comparative analysis of post-Soviet countries that invested their resources and efforts in nation branding by means of sportive mega-events. Cases as different as Russia, Georgia and Ukraine will be discussed in more detail as pertinent examples of conveying important semiotic messages to the global audience, using the high visibility and significance of the sport-related events. The correlations between nation branding and nation building will finalise the analysis.

Takeaways:

Since this presentation will be based on a book to be published in a special series on sports mega-events with Palgrave Macmillan (June 2016), the audience will get first-hand knowledge about the networked experience of studying nation branding through mega-events and will learn how sports nationalism can be studied from a cultural semiotic perspective.

 

Semiotics applied to the analysis of the political campaigns: the case of the 2014 Brazilian presidential elections and their outcomes”
Ricardo De Castro Monteiro, Brazil
Laureate International Universities – Universidade Anhembi Morumbi

If the tools that Semiotics has to offer to the corporate
world have become more and more evident in the last three decades, its contributions to contests in the political arena and to the analysis of political scenarios as a whole have not yet become equally clear. In 2014, during the 12th World Congress of the International Association for Semiotic Studies in Sofia, we presented a paper entitled “Semiotics applied to the analysis of political campaigns: the usage and impact of rhetoric strategies in Brazilian presidential elections”. Besides the methodological proposals in the presentation regarding how to approach the semiotic apparatus mobilized by the different contenders in the campaign, a quite pragmatic result of our analysis was that it not only successfully anticipated the final result of the elections, but also pointed out some outstanding problems and contradictions detected in its values and rhetorical procedures that ultimately foresaw the extensive political crisis in which the country is now immersed. Thus, the proposal for the creation of a new branch of studies related to the study of political semiotics defended by Denis Bertrand in his book Parler pour gagner (Bertrand, Dézé & Missika, 2007) meets the needs not only of scholarly semiotic research, but also of the social sciences as a whole and even of the political actors of a society directly interested in the conducting and final outcomes of political campaigns.

Takeaways:

1. A methodological approach to the analysis of political campaigns.

2. The case study of 2014 Brazilian presidential elections.

3. An analysis of the contradictions in the symbolic apparatus mobilized in the campaigns as a possible source of political, social and/or economic problems in the aftermath of the victory at the polls.

 

Creative inspiration
dot to dot semiotics
Thierry Mortier, Belgium
semiotic architect, semiotics.tv

Dot­to­dot is a form of puzzle containing a sequence of numbered dots that, once connected with a line, reveal a picture. The phrase “connect the dots” is used to illustrate the ability to find the “big picture”. The presentation takes known visualisations such as Greimas’ semiotic square, Peirce’s triadic signs, etc., and starts connecting them in a bigger picture that will gradually show that the ancient symbol of the flower of life is the perfect pattern/habit finder tool of human semiosis.

Takeaway:

connect the dots

 

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