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The Semiotic Manual: An Innovation Tool Helping Global Brands Scale Sense Across Touchpoints, Markets & Geographies

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This is a presentation about The Semiotic Manual – a talk I originally delivered at the 2017 Semiofest conference in Toronto, Canada. In this presentation, you’ll find the global perspective of the most pressing changes of the global landscape shifting the nature of the marketing industry, as well a sample of the most frequent fails of brand localisation and brand adaptation in cultures worldwide. The Semiotic Manual is an innovative strategic tool developed with an aim to help global brands scale sense & align meaning across touchpoints, markets and geographies to limit cultural friction, fragmentation and ultimately increase cultural relevance to maximize brand value and boost brand equity.

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The Semiotic Manual: An Innovation Tool Helping Global Brands Scale Sense Across Touchpoints, Markets & Geographies

  1. 1. MARTINA OLBERTOVA: THE SEMIOTIC MANUAL meaning.global 1 @MartinaOlb SEMIOTIC MANUAL An Innovation Tool Helping Global Brands Scale Sense Across Touchpoints, Markets & Geographies PhDr. Martina Olbertova Founder & CEO, Meaning.Global Semiofest Toronto 2017 July 21, Gladstone Hotel
  2. 2. MARTINA OLBERTOVA: THE SEMIOTIC MANUAL meaning.global 2 meaning.global! : Helping global brands create, articulate and scale sense and meaning across the markets worldwide.
  3. 3. MARTINA OLBERTOVA: THE SEMIOTIC MANUAL meaning.global 3 THE WORLD HAS CHANGED. •  Two-way stream of communication vs. top-down hierarchy of global planning •  Crisis of traditional globalised values (West) vs. authenticity / diversity / humanity •  Tension of global vs. local with an increasing importance of local markets •  Pressure on cultural relevance in delivering sustainable brand and business value •  Inability to systematically create cultural relevance stunts value creation & growth
  4. 4. MARTINA OLBERTOVA: THE SEMIOTIC MANUAL meaning.global 4 1.  End of Global Planning: Redefining Strategy to Maximise Brand Value 2.  Crisis of Global Values: Exhaustion of Globalized Communication Formats 3.  Post-truth & Post-factual Age: Rise of Authenticity & Diversity of Thought 4.  Return to Meaning: The Most Understated Value in Business 5.  Global Rise of Local Relevancy: Cultural Context Triggers Our Behaviour 6.  Value Creation & Growth: Meaning is Alpha and Omega of Value & Equity GLOBAL BRANDS ARE INCREASINGLY IRRELEVANT –
  5. 5. MARTINA OLBERTOVA: THE SEMIOTIC MANUAL meaning.global 5 Globalisation and homogenisation are no longer relevant mechanisms for brand management, value creation & growth. We use top-down approach to global brand development, planning and management in an interconnected world whose very relevance is driven by diversity, local resonance and cultural nuances. THE INTERCONNECTED WORLD
  6. 6. MARTINA OLBERTOVA: THE SEMIOTIC MANUAL meaning.global 6 OVER- SATURATION FRAGMEN- TATION HOMOGENI- SATION NOISE THE 4 GLOBAL MARKET AILMENTS
  7. 7. MARTINA OLBERTOVA: THE SEMIOTIC MANUAL meaning.global 7 …oversaturation of brands & products leads to lack of differentiation. …inconsistency fragments memory structures which breeds clutter and meaninglessness. OVER- SATURATION
  8. 8. MARTINA OLBERTOVA: THE SEMIOTIC MANUAL meaning.global 8 …global oversaturation and lack of differentiation lead to homogenisation of lifestyles & values. HOMOGENI- SATION
  9. 9. MARTINA OLBERTOVA: THE SEMIOTIC MANUAL meaning.global 9 ...too much data, data, data & too little meaning... …overemphasis of technology & data leads to fragmentation of human sense… FRAGMEN- TATION
  10. 10. …ubiquitous clutter & noise clogs our minds and poisons our ability to think clearly… MARTINA OLBERTOVA: THE SEMIOTIC MANUAL meaning.global 10 NOISE
  11. 11. MARTINA OLBERTOVA: THE SEMIOTIC MANUAL meaning.global 11 …culturally irrelevant brand campaigns and/or their local adaptations lead to illogical communication or culturally insensitive un-nuanced messages… CULTURAL IRRELEVANCE
  12. 12. MARTINA OLBERTOVA: THE SEMIOTIC MANUAL meaning.global 12 The marketing industry today is based on a corporate scalability model, but it operates in the communication business. We scale infrastructure & production costs, but what about sense & meaning? Without the essence, the former is irrelevant. THE LONG-STANDING BELIEF
  13. 13. MARTINA OLBERTOVA: THE SEMIOTIC MANUAL meaning.global 13 ARE MARKETS MACHINES, OR LIVING SELF-EVOLVING ORGANISMS? vs We have become accustomed to see markets and manage organisations as machines. This point of view creates siloes and fragments value creation. But what if they’re really more of living self-evolving organisms?
  14. 14. MARTINA OLBERTOVA: THE SEMIOTIC MANUAL meaning.global 14 A HOLISTIC APPROACH LEADING TO THE SCALABILITY OF SENSE & MEANING. WHAT THE INDUSTRY UTTERLY LACKS? We are missing a holistic structural approach to brand management that would enable brands to strategically scale sense and align meaning across cultural landscapes around the world to help drive value & equity from bottom-up.
  15. 15. Insight Crea-ve 3 CORE PILLARS OF BRAND MANAGEMENT GAP 1 GAP 2 Strategy Not just diverge, it‘s equally important (if not more) to know where to converge to in order to connect with the local points of cultural reference correctly. This is where the brand value & potential for brand growth is. Research & Insight Exploration Inspiration Ideation Brand relevance Codes of expression Cultural resonance Semiotic square Opportunity maps New positioning Creative execution Meaning embodiment Brand essence MARTINA OLBERTOVA: THE SEMIOTIC MANUAL meaning.global 15
  16. 16. MARTINA OLBERTOVA: THE SEMIOTIC MANUAL meaning.global 16 Post-tests can only do as much. It‘s much better, more effective and cost-efficient for brands to develop communication with the global cultural nuances already in mind, rather than waste resources on research validations and reverse-engineering, when it’s already too late to make any structural changes in the campaigns.
  17. 17. MARTINA OLBERTOVA: THE SEMIOTIC MANUAL meaning.global 17 BRAND STEWARDSHIP This is why we need to apply semiotics to the structural level of brand management to help brands make sense of a global basis… …to respond to an increasing need for internal strategic mechanism that would help global brand teams unite their ability to navigate meaning and scale sense across touchpoints, markets and geographies.
  18. 18. MARTINA OLBERTOVA: THE SEMIOTIC MANUAL meaning.global 18 WHAT WENT WRONG WITH BRAND ADAPTATION? LOCAL PERSPECTIVE ON GLOBAL BRANDS
  19. 19. MARTINA OLBERTOVA: THE SEMIOTIC MANUAL meaning.global 19 Cultural irrelevance as inability to adapt to the local frame of thought – 1.  Illogical message: “Flush the roll, it’s easy.” The fact that something is easy, doesn’t mean it should be done. 2. Non-functioning call to action: Easy = zero entry level barrier, but here it fights with a social norm (empty rolls belong in a rubbish bin) 3. Missing cultural reference to the frame of thought: Czechs are rational traditionalists, new behaviour can be adopted only in compliance with sense THE LITERAL TRANSLATION FAIL
  20. 20. BRAND ADAPTATION Brand localisation means adapting the entire system of thought and cultural sense-making, not just literally translating brand messaging. Localisation means adapting communication to the local cultural values, not language only. It‘s a two-way street. MARTINA OLBERTOVA: THE SEMIOTIC MANUAL meaning.global 20
  21. 21. UNILEVER (LYNX/AXE): REDEFINING MASCULINITY Global non-scalability of progressive masculinity based on cultural diversity Lack of grounding & value resonance of the progressive portrayal of postmodern masculinity leads to cultural irrelevance and inability to adapt MARTINA OLBERTOVA: THE SEMIOTIC MANUAL meaning.global 21
  22. 22. The future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed. ~ William Gibson, American-Canadian writer, the "noir prophet”, father of "cyberspace”, author of Neuromancer (1984). MARTINA OLBERTOVA: THE SEMIOTIC MANUAL meaning.global 22
  23. 23. HOWEVER, CODES DEVELOP IN DIFFERENT TIME ACROSS CULTURAL SPACES – TRADITIONAL MASCULINITY CULTURALLY PROGRESSIVE masculinity space/time continuum BRAND LOCALISATION NEEDS TO ADAPT NOT ONLY IN SPACE, BUT ALSO IN TIME! MARTINA OLBERTOVA: THE SEMIOTIC MANUAL meaning.global 23
  24. 24. TRADITIONAL MASCULINITY non-traditional non-masculine traditional masculine non-traditional masculine traditional non-masculine EFFEMINITE/SOFT MASCULINITY‘THE NEW MAN’ CULTURALLY PROGRESSIVE DIFFERENT BENCHMARKS OF CULTURAL RELEVANCE IN THE LOCAL CONTEXTS! HOWEVER, CODES DEVELOP IN DIFFERENT TIME ACROSS CULTURAL SPACES – MARTINA OLBERTOVA: THE SEMIOTIC MANUAL meaning.global 24
  25. 25. TRADITIONAL MASCULINITY non-traditional non-masculine traditional masculine non-traditional masculine traditional non-masculine ‘THE NEW MAN’ seen as irrelevant – even more ‘unmanly’ EFFEMINITE/SOFT MASCULINITY CULTURALLY PROGRESSIVE HOWEVER, CODES DEVELOP IN DIFFERENT TIME ACROSS CULTURAL SPACES – MARTINA OLBERTOVA: THE SEMIOTIC MANUAL meaning.global 25 DIFFERENT BENCHMARKS OF CULTURAL RELEVANCE IN THE LOCAL CONTEXTS!
  26. 26. The same goes for the attributes of beauty and femininity... MARTINA OLBERTOVA: THE SEMIOTIC MANUAL meaning.global 26
  27. 27. UNILEVER (DOVE): REDEFINING FEMININITY / ‘REAL BEAUTY’ Global non-scalability of progressive femininity based on culturally diverse body image. MARTINA OLBERTOVA: THE SEMIOTIC MANUAL meaning.global 27
  28. 28. Lack of grounding & value resonance of the progressive portrayal of feminine beauty leads to cultural irrelevance and inability to adapt to the local framework of sense. MARTINA OLBERTOVA: THE SEMIOTIC MANUAL meaning.global 28
  29. 29. RADICAL ACCEPTANCE OF HUMAN IMPERFECTION IS EVOLUTIONARILY NOT ON THE CZECH CULTURAL RADAR OF BEAUTY YET. BEAUTY IS SEEN AS ASPIRATIONAL VALUE. NO POINT OF REFERENCE: CODES OF FEMININITY ACROSS CULTURAL TIMESPACES TRADITIONAL FEMININE BEAUTY CULTURALLY PROGRESSIVE MASCULINE / ANDROGYNOUS FEMINIITY‘THE SUPERWOMAN’ seen as irrelevant – even more ‘unfeminine’ unisex The non- traditionally feminine women MARTINA OLBERTOVA: THE SEMIOTIC MANUAL meaning.global 29
  30. 30. THE KEY DENOMINATOR An alarming inability to make sense culturally and convey a real meaning in accordance with the meaning intended in context of local cultural values. MARTINA OLBERTOVA: THE SEMIOTIC MANUAL meaning.global 30
  31. 31. THE CONTEXT (AND NOT SEX) SELLS What really sells is the CONTEXT, not just TEXT. Strategically speaking, not just the strategy but a CONTEXTUALISED STRATEGY. These all are simple mistakes that would have been easily preventable were the brand owners immersed in how different cultural signifiers drive brand value behind messaging strategies across markets. MARTINA OLBERTOVA: THE SEMIOTIC MANUAL meaning.global 31
  32. 32. If brands want to communicate successfully, they need to press the right ‘referential points’ in different cultural time-spaces. Cultural relevance works with the local frames of reference. MARTINA OLBERTOVA: THE SEMIOTIC MANUAL meaning.global 32
  33. 33. ‘Cultural automatisms‘ based on shared points of cultural references (intertextuality) help brands make contextual sense and create cultural resonance with customers in different markets around the world. MARTINA OLBERTOVA: THE SEMIOTIC MANUAL meaning.global 33
  34. 34. MARTINA OLBERTOVA: THE SEMIOTIC MANUAL meaning.global 34 We can’t afford to be adapting brands by trial and error anymore. In 2017, there simply must be a better way to do this.
  35. 35. AND THAT’S WHY WE NEED THE MANUAL. MARTINA OLBERTOVA: THE SEMIOTIC MANUAL meaning.global 35 A Call for Unity: Global brands need both scale & diversity to align sense culturally.
  36. 36. THE IDEA Develop an internal tool for a systemic brand management that will help brand owners adapt campaigns and localise communication in sync with (and not against) the local variations of sense. MARTINA OLBERTOVA: THE SEMIOTIC MANUAL meaning.global 36
  37. 37. BRAND BOOK VISUAL STYLE GUIDE BRAND GUIDELINES GRAPHIC MANUAL BRAND MANUAL BRAND BIBLE Brands today are managed on the surface which leads to proliferation of form. But brand value is tied to BOTH corporate identity AND brand essence. We‘re utterly lacking an inner mechanism how to capture, shape, translate and adapt meaning across an array of touchpoints, channels and markets. MARTINA OLBERTOVA: THE SEMIOTIC MANUAL meaning.global 37
  38. 38. MARTINA OLBERTOVA: THE SEMIOTIC MANUAL meaning.global 38 SEMIOTIC MANUAL An innovation tool for marketers, brand managers, creative agencies, production agencies, market researchers, shopper insight managers or CX and UX managers to plan, develop and create better, more effective and culturally accurate imagery and messaging across channels. Localisation of sense 1.  Meaningfulness 2.  Consistency / Effectiveness 3.  Cultural relevance / Local resonance
  39. 39. THREE KEY TARGETS ARE TO INCREASE – 2 Consistency Limiting fragmentation, creating coherent communication and brand experiences across touchpoints 1 Meaningfulness Limiting illogicality, randomness, meaning inconsistencies or plain derangement of sense 3 Relevance Creating content that resonates with brand DNA and cultural specifics of local markets MARTINA OLBERTOVA: THE SEMIOTIC MANUAL meaning.global 39
  40. 40. SEMIOTIC MANUAL MARTINA OLBERTOVA: THE SEMIOTIC MANUAL meaning.global 40 THREE PARTS: 1.  Global brands and value, meaning- making process and cultural relevance 2.  Local adaptation fails – what went wrong & why the execution didn’t work 3.  Localising sense – new approach to adaptation for cultural resonance
  41. 41. MARTINA OLBERTOVA: THE SEMIOTIC MANUAL meaning.global 41 THE MECHANICS: TWO-WAY STREAM OF MEANING-MAKING Top-down: Global to Local Helping global brand management teams understand cultural nuances ad hoc prior to developing a strategy and creative execution with the universal scalability of brand comms in mind Bottom-up: Local to Global Argument for Regional Brand Units to leverage their negotiation power & impact ROI, creating locally relevant brand comms that can drive brand value and boost equity from bottom up
  42. 42. THE SCALE OF SENSE Current brand comms (Concrete comm, usually unsuitable in terms of cultural relevancy, image-driven, empty, fragmented or meaningless) PRESENT CODE NEW CODE Abstraction of meaning (What is the abstract concept behind current communication? What cultural concept can we identify?) Physical level Abstract level Redefinition of meaning New redefined meaning (New abstract concept enriched by cultural insight and relevancy within the framework of concrete local / regional market) New brand comms (Concrete communication, but more relevant, meaningful, richer and culturally synced with the specifics of local markets) MARTINA OLBERTOVA: THE SEMIOTIC MANUAL meaning.global 42
  43. 43. BRANDS COMMS & CLEANING Current communication of cleanliness •  Literal description of functionality & benefits (cleanliness, fresh breeze, 0% bacteria…) •  Rigid communication, which is minimally contextualized with people’s everyday lives Moving forward •  Ask culturally relevant questions such as: •  What does ‘cleanliness’ actually mean to the Czechs? •  What lies behind the functional aspect? •  E.g. Fresh smell produces good feelings, increase in self-esteem and one’s integrity. Tidying up links to gaining mental space and a fresh perspective. •  What about the story behind the story? •  How can we tell the story of cleanliness and purity that will inspire people to become better versions of themselves? Imagery: Tesco Czech Republic MARTINA OLBERTOVA: THE SEMIOTIC MANUAL meaning.global 43
  44. 44. DETERGENTS: NETWORK ON CZECH MENTAL ASSOCIATIONS clean environment = having no worries, relaxed mind, being at peace escapism from daily stressors = pausing for a moment, taking a deep breath, calming down, having a rest cleaning up = clearing one’s mind, mental health exercise clean slate = tiding up leads to creating a new beginning emotional state = having a great mood, feeling good, being joyful, having better relationships personality aspects = increase in one’s self-esteem and self- confidence, being a role model for others, gaining social respect social role aspects = being a good parent, good friend, being accountable spiritual aspects = knowing what’s truly important, having more time to devote to things that truly matter, living an authentic life… CLEANLINESS & FRESHNESS MARTINA OLBERTOVA: THE SEMIOTIC MANUAL meaning.global 44
  45. 45. FEMININITY: STEREOTYPED PICTURE OF WOMEN IN CZECH RETAIL COSMETICS SEGMENT (CLEANLINESS SEEN AS INNOCENCE à OUTER EXPERIENCE OF FEMININITY FOR THE SOCIAL / MALE GAZE) TECHNOLOGY SEGMENT (RELAX AND ENTERTAINMENT à INNER SENSATION, EXPERIENCING ONE’S SELF IN A POSITIVE WAY) BUT WHY? MARTINA OLBERTOVA: THE SEMIOTIC MANUAL meaning.global 45
  46. 46. FEMININITY AND DIVERSITY: REDEFINING MEANING OF A CZECH WOMAN •  Why are there such drastic differences in between femininity in cosmetics and femininity in the technology category? •  Why is the tech woman self-confident, relaxed, happy and authentic while the woman in cosmetics is self-aware unconfident and heavily stereotypical? (Expressing one’s self versus Being there just for the fetishizing gaze of others) •  Why is cleanliness stereotypically presented just as purity (feminine virginity)? •  Why can’t a woman be BOTH confident and clean? •  What depictions can we use to portray (Czech) women authentically across different market categories? •  What’s the contemporary Czech woman like? •  What does she look like? What’s her behaviour? •  What are her values? What does she like? •  What does she care for? FEMININITY MARTINA OLBERTOVA: THE SEMIOTIC MANUAL meaning.global 46
  47. 47. Mental associations create a pool of meanings that brands can tap into while developing communication. These meanings are implicitly linked to the logic of the category so they will be natural for people to identify with. When using mental associations strategically to portray moments of consumption and experience, brands can increase both cultural relevancy and identification since these naturally constitute the cultural fabric of the category. Using relevant meanings that resonate with people in context of a culture will further help brands increase their symbolic value, brand valuation and boost brand equity. TAPPING IN THE POOL OF MEANINGS MARTINA OLBERTOVA: THE SEMIOTIC MANUAL meaning.global 47
  48. 48. 3 KEY TAKEAWAYS – Value & Growth There is a pressing need to address and increase cultural relevance of global brands on a structural basis to help them grow and create new value and meaning. Scalability By anchoring meaning in space and time, the Semiotic Manual can help brand owners and agencies scale sense and cultural relevance across touchpoints, markets and geo- graphies worldwide. Benchmarking Develop a strategic tool for cultural bench- marking to help brand owners and agencies create coherent & consistent brands not prone to fragmentation, irrelevance & illogicality. MARTINA OLBERTOVA: THE SEMIOTIC MANUAL meaning.global 48
  49. 49. MARTINA OLBERTOVA: THE SEMIOTIC MANUAL meaning.global 49 Meaning & sense are the new currencies of value creation and growth. Brands that can create, articulate and own their meaning, will become the creators of their future.
  50. 50. MARTINA OLBERTOVA: THE SEMIOTIC MANUAL meaning.global 50 @MartinaOlb If you’re interested in more information about the Semiotic Manual, please contact me: THANK YOU! PhDr. Martina Olbertova +44 (0)7564 272 872 hello@meaning.global

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