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How Brands Can Bridge The Gap Of Meaning: Using Semiotics Systemically To Measure Cultural Complexity And Transform It Into Value

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The rapid evolution of the market research industry and the new complex problems brands and organisations are facing today call for the development of new types of solutions to solve these challenges. Locally applied insights are no longer enough to produce ground-breaking results. Instead, we must apply insights holistically to respect the true nature of brands as ecosystems of cultural meaning. The answer to fixing problems in a lasting way that allows for a real transformation and creation of new value lies in adopting the systemic perspective. This means that we need to combine the detail and the high-level view, the outside-in and the inside-out perspective at once to understand these complex challenges in their real time and real world context.For this, we need to reframe how semiotics is used in the industry and what problems it serves to fix for clients. What semiotics lacks is a master narrative in business: what it does, what it’s used for and why, with what results and how else can it be applied to maximise value. The absence of a more systemic approach to meaning-making is the reason why semiotics is often relegated to the ad hoc/niche market research box, instead of being viewed as ‘the highway of meaning’ or ‘mental superstructure’ that cuts through all business, brand and organisational decisions – a position semiotics truly deserves as the meta-science of human cognition. To unlock the true power of semiotics, we much apply it systemically. This way, we can help clients bridge the gap of meaning between brands/organisations and culture/society where value gets lost once and for all.In this talk, I’ll demonstrate the systemic view on semiotics and meaning-making by showcasing several recent examples of brands misstepping their cultural mark, and thus eroding/distorting social relevance of important cultural concepts, such as diversity, masculinity, femininity or unity. I will also explain how a quantified cultural semiotics tool developed by Signoi now makes it possible to apply semiotics in such a systemic way to help clients transform their meaning and make sense of the cultural complexity they operate in daily.The goal of this talk is to illustrate the deepening divide between corporations and society today and explain how semiotics can fix this disconnect as the method to redefine and reframe meaning, which is – as we already know – what people actually consume in brands and what they value in their lives.

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How Brands Can Bridge The Gap Of Meaning: Using Semiotics Systemically To Measure Cultural Complexity And Transform It Into Value

  1. 1. Dr. Martina Olbertova Meaning.Global How Brands Can Bridge The Gap Of Meaning: Using Semiotics Systemically To Measure Cultural Complexity And Transform It Into Value Festival of #NewMR 2019
  2. 2. Dr. Martina Olbertova Founder & CEO, Meaning.Global How Brands Can Bridge The Gap Of Meaning: Using Semiotics Systemically To Measure Cultural Complexity And Transform It Into Value
  3. 3. Because of meaning – the most valuable business currency of the 21st century. Most brands and organisations today are not fit for purpose anymore. They are buried in data but lack sense and meaning to make their operations strategic and purposeful. Semiotics studies and analyses how meaning is created, consumed and reproduced in our culture and society and how brands reinforce meanings to create new social realities. Meaning is what people actually value and consume in brands – it’s the inner value of all things. But, when brands don’t make sense anymore, they can’t hold their value. Which is where semiotics comes in play as an approach that helps to restore and/or inflate inner value again. However, the biggest blind spot, and therefore the biggest liability – meaning – is also the biggest untapped resource and biggest opportunity for value creation in business today. WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT TO TALK ABOUT SEMIOTICS TODAY?
  4. 4. •  That semiotics is not just for brands and marketing.... but it’s also a powerful resource for businesses and organisational change as meaning is at the core of any purposeful communication, transformation, value creation or organisational, social and political change. •  That semiotics is the inner structure of our world as everything in our lives is signified, everything around us communicates and everything conveys meaning. Symbols are above the physical tangible reality as everything we see around us today was first an abstract idea that later manifested in the material form. •  That semioticians are the Culture Hackers: they are the real Neo’s of this world fixing errors in the system (business, brand, society...) and tracking them back to their original source code – the Culture. Hacking culture systems allows organisations to see where the real value is. This way, semioticians can become the hackers of value creation and growth for businesses. We just need to start seeing meaning as the self- organising principle for culture change. •  To do this, we need to redefine semiotics as the ‘Cultural Systems Thinking’ for businesses and brands to allow for a systemic view of the meaning patterns across brand ecosystems and fix complex problems on accurate levels of the cultural system. Today, we can actually do all these things. I’ll tell you how... LAST YEAR, I SPOKE HERE ABOUT MEANING ARCHITECTURE ––
  5. 5. SEMIOTICS NEEDS A NEW MASTER NARRATIVE FOR BUSINESS USE ––– We need to reframe how semiotics is used and viewed in the industry and what problems it serves to fix for clients. Semiotics lacks is the master narrative: what it does, what it’s used for, why, with what results and how can it be applied to maximise business value. The absence of a more systemic approach to meaning- making is the reason why semiotics is often relegated to the ad hoc/niche market research box, instead of being viewed as ‘the highway of meaning’ or ‘mental superstructure’ that cuts through all business, brand and organisational decisions – a position semiotics truly deserves as the meta-science of human cognition. To unlock the true power of semiotics, we must learn to apply it systemically.
  6. 6. There is a deepening divide between brands/corporations and society today. The symbolic gap between our lived social reality and the simulated reality portrayed by brands and corporations is widening year by year. There is an urgent need to reconceptualise how brands manage and produce meaning as their messages influence how we see and understand our own social reality and what cultural meanings we take for granted when it comes to important social concepts, such as manhood, womanhood, diversity, inclusion or unity... WHY WE NEED TO APPLY SEMIOTICS SYSTEMICALLY –––
  7. 7. GLOBAL BRANDS ARE INCREASINGLY IRRELEVANT AND OUT OF TOUCH WITH THE REALITY BUT RELEVANCE IS TIED TO VALUE –– H&M product photo, 2018 Prada keychain, 2018 Gucci sweater, 2019 Puma’s House of Hustle, 2018 Dove body diverse product packaging, 2017 Gillette, The Best Men Can Be, 2019 Pepsi Kendall Jenner ad, 2017 #FEMALE_BODY_DIVERSITY #PROGRESSIVE_MASCULINITY #DIVERSITY_UNITY #ACCIDENTAL RACISM #GLORIFICATION_OF_POVERTY Cultural irrelevance is a systemic problem. These brand fails show a systemic inability of brands to reflect reality as is and create diversity as an output. Brands misstepping their cultural mark are eroding/distorting social relevance of important cultural concepts, such as diversity, masculinity, femininity, unity...
  8. 8. Traditional market research and consulting models fail to provide us with sufficient answers anymore because they don’t see the big and small in its immediate context. Systemic problems require a different kind of logic and a new type of contextual thinking to prevent lapses and optimise solutions for how humans actually behave, value things and create meaning. Brands need to find a new mechanism to accurately portray a lived human experience to maximise value. Semiotics can fix this symbolic divide as it’s a method that redefines and reframes meaning, which is what people consume in brands as it’s the essence of what they value. CULTURAL IRRELEVANCE IS EVERYWHERE AROUND US THESE DAYS AND IT’S THE PRIMARY REASON WHY BRANDS CAN’T GROW AND LOSE SIGNIFICANT VALUE IN BUSINESS TODAY... -$
  9. 9. We bridge the gap of meaning between brands/organisations and culture/society to maximise value creation and cultural relevance. Meaning.Global
  10. 10. WHY DO GLOBAL BRANDS KEEP FALLING INTO THE GAP OF MEANING? –––––––––––– For The Lack of Their Symbolic Coherence: •  The gap of meaning is a ‘symbolic trap’ that makes things look good on the surface (as a form) but doesn’t quite add up or make sense on the inside (as a substance). •  These mental disconnects can occur between meaning intended and meaning created, between ideas and their form of execution or between brand values and the real-world behaviors of brands. •  Marketers cannot create strategies in a vacuum from the real world as if they do, the reality portrayed will not resemble to how people look and behave in reality, and therefore will fail to resonate with them and create new value. March 2019
  11. 11. FOUR GAPS OF MEANING: The Gillette Example
  12. 12. 1 The Gap ____ of Culture Brands & Organisations VS Culture & Society   Organised sameness is neither diversity, nor is it a desired social ideal of manhood. The lead image shows a gap between the imagined reality and the social reality of ’real consumers’. –– Key question: Is what you’re saying and doing culturally relevant anymore? Here, we look at the legacy values and behaviours versus what is relevant in our culture and society today. This is the meaningful and valuable versus irrelevant, redundant and obsolete exercise that affects the brand’s future relevance, meaningful-ness, value creation and growth. familiar/unfamiliar & progressive/traditional new social values vs. culturally residual behaviors
  13. 13. Cultural strategy without relevant commercial execution is nonsense. Gillette aimed to present a beautiful uplifting message executed in a very disempowering way. It sounded patronizing, talking to men and boys as if they all were predators-in-the-making. Not a good message to send out to your male audience, especially if the brand’s equity was built on the concept of traditional masculinity. Brands should communicate to everybody with respect. To reinforce the message in the right context, you need to know what these ideas and cultural concepts mean to you as a brand first, then to your customers and lastly in the context of culture. 2 The Gap ____ of Context Big Idea VS Creative Execution & Brand Experience Cultural strategy alone won’t save brands, it must be contextualised with brand’s business. The task at hand is not about what masculinity means in culture today, but what the new meaning of mascu-linity means for Gillette and its core audience. –– Key question: Is what you’re saying and doing contextually relevant?   Here, we look at the creative and cultural ideas versus their framing and execution which together create final meaning and brand experience. This is the intended versus unintended meaning exercise that affects the brand/corporate image and the future perception of brand’s key attributes.
  14. 14. A brand advocating social inclusion, gender equality and a new inclusive world cannot charge a pink tax on female products. Brand purpose was wrongly relegated to a quick consciousness Band-Aid without carefully thinking through the implications of such strategy onto the world at large to be carried through by the brand’s corporate behaviours. Purpose needs to guide not just brands, but organisational behaviour. 3 The Gap ____ of Trust Brand Image, Values & Ideals VS Corporate Behaviors Perhaps the biggest gap of meaning is between what brands say & stand for and what they do. Lack of accountability for brand’s own actions creates a toxic veil of illusion and deception. –– Key question: Is what you’re saying relevant and trustworthy, given that it’s you saying it?   Here, we look at the total sum of brand and corporate ideals (values, mission, vision, purpose) versus how well they are being translated into the real-world actions via corporate behaviours, policies and customer experience across touchpoints. This is the intangible to tangible exercise that affects the brand’s future integrity and purpose.
  15. 15. Brands don't have the political mandate to tell people what is right and wrong or how to behave in society. It’s not their role to police social conduct. And to assume that they do is deeply disturbing. Brands can guide our actions by inspiring us, by giving us ideals to desire and by emulating values worthy to aspire to, but not explicitly through norming social conduct. Gillette missed the mark by overestimating the its own importance in people’s lives. The ad conveyed a well-motivated and important message spoken by the wrong entity, which ultimately distorted its cultural validity. 4 The Gap ____ of Social Impact Role & Identity VS Message & Tonality Purpose serves as a moral compass to guide brand’s own actions, not to position brands in a role of a social watchdog to guide ours. –– Key question: Do you have the mandate to be saying what you’re saying in the first place?   Here, we look at who the brand / organization is (identity, values, worldview, actions and the role in lives of customers) versus the message the brand intends to communicate in the world (what and how you want to say it). This is the accountability exercise that affects the brand’s future trustworthiness and customer loyalty.
  16. 16. BRIDGING THE GAP OF MEANING ––––– OLD REALITY NEW REALITY
  17. 17. We need to start seeing and managing brands as dynamic ecosystems of cultural meaning –– IN THE NEW REALITY : Brands need to adapt and constantly evolve to align with the cultural fabric of our society. But to be able to do that, they need to first know how to navigate it.
  18. 18. MAKING THE THEORY A NEW REALITY: THE ART AND SCIENCE OF MEANING-MAKING
  19. 19. SIGNOI: MEASURING MEANING AMIDST CULTURAL COMPLEXITY = Signal out of Noise Signoi is a quantified cultural analytics tool that makes it possible to apply semiotics systemi- cally by helping clients measure meaning to make sense of their everyday cultural realities. Signoi is a tech start-up using smart technology and automated analytics to decode cultural signals from the noise of unstructured data – text and imagery – and help clients analyse, measure, interpret and transform meaning at speed and scale, in an intuitively human way. Started collaborating with Signoi last month as a Strategy Consultant and a core part of the Signoi team to strengthen the strategy and cultural foresight proposition, help build the Consulting & Advisory layer and develop new frameworks for measuring meaning to help clients maximise value creation and navigate sense amidst global cultural complexity. 
  20. 20. SIGNOI: DELIVERING A NEW “MEASURED REVELATION”
  21. 21. THE ART AND SCIENCE OF MEANING ––––– Meaning is a complex discipline. We are reimagining how organisations make meaning in the digital age by merging the two sides of meaning- making: The Analytical/Process-Driven and The Cognitive/Creative side. Data side (Outside-in) Without the ability to make sense of these vast amounts of data, brand and business leaders are suffering from the analysis paralysis. This psychological state is when inertia kicks in, which further disables people to make informed decisions to optimise future strategy. Human side (Inside-out) It is deeply personal, human and natural for us to make meaning as that is how our minds are wired – we all are walking and talking meaning- making machines. This is why semiotics is so incredibly fascinating because it’s innately human.
  22. 22. HOLISTIC APPROACH TO MEANING: THE A-M-I-T METHOD ANALYSE MEASURE INTERPRET TRANSFORM Existing client data points and environmental data (cultural, category, social etc.) Current meaning footprint across key cultural, category and customer dimensions What this situation means in the context of culture and your brand or corporate strategy Existing meaning into new more effective and informed cultural proposition and territory Phase 1: Meaning measurement Phase 2: Meaning creation Four Steps Towards More Effective Meaning Management –––––– We’ve developed the 4-step AMIT framework that will help you Analyse – Measure – Interpret – Transform meaning. With all these four important parts of organisational meaning management covered, we are able to: Thanks to this complete 4-step approach to meaning making, we can help organisations trace and solve complex brand, business and cultural challenges on the systemic level. The A-M-I-T technique helps clients not only make sense of the Big Data and cultural complexity they operate in daily, but create more powerful and actionable narratives to capitalise on the direction of culture change and transform organisational meaning. This way, we can envision better futures for businesses across cultures and industries and help leaders bridge the gap of meaning once and for all.
  23. 23. Contact us for more information:
 
 hello@meaning.global www.meaning.global Thank you!
  24. 24. NewMR 2019 Sponsors Communication Gold Silver Festival of #NewMR 2019

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