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How can semiotics be used in market research?


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How can semiotics be used in market research, to analyse target, scenarios and advertising? We talk about it, from theory to practice, and we add an extract from a case study about gluten free pasta.

Published in: Marketing

How can semiotics be used in market research?

  1. 1. Squadratiengaging market research HOW CAN SEMIOTICS BE USED IN MARKET RESEARCH?
  2. 2. 2 Our approach is based on a consideration that might apparently look unfamiliar to the most common market research strategies.
  3. 3. Our identity is a relational identity and it is built through differences. 3Domicile conjugal, François Truffaut
  4. 4. For example adolescents forge their own identities opposing their parents and the adults’ world. The virgin suicides di Sofia Coppola 4
  5. 5. 5 Another example might be Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who has based his political rhetoric on the opposition new=change vs. old=stagnation 5
  6. 6. 6 The same idea can be applied to brands. Brands shall build their own identities in relation to their scenario and opposing their competitors.
  7. 7. 7 Either we are talking about a target, a political party or a brand, semiotics will always analyse the identity in relation to its reference scenario.
  8. 8. 8 This is precisely what we do with our semiotic squares: we analyse and depict social and market scenarios. Each one of our four targets is not only portrayed for what it is but also for what it is not. Let’s have a look at the semiotic square of cake lovers for an example.
  9. 9. 9 RUSTIC types prefer traditional (Italian) cakes. FASHIONISTAS love foreign cakes and are keen on new products. vs.
  10. 10. 10 For RADICAL types a good cake needs to be done with healthy ingredients: their choice is mostly rational. For MODERN types it is all about the taste. vs.
  11. 11. 11 MODERN types do not stick to traditions and are willing to try different baking powders. vs. RUSTIC types prefer to bake their cakes at home and are utterly against commercial baking powders.
  12. 12. 12 RADICAL types pay more attention to the substance and trust a more unpretentious presentation. vs. For FASHIONISTAS on the other hand, aesthetics plays a very important role and they seem to prefer a more ambitious appearance.
  13. 13. 13 Well, what has all this got to do with marketing?
  14. 14. 14 The fact that identity is relational has at least two consequences for brands.
  15. 15. 15 FIRST CONSEQUENCE The marketing choices of a brand (pack, testimonial, adv campaigns, etc.) have no meaning per se, they only acquire it in relation to the way competitors communicate today (SCENARIO ANALYSES) and to the way communication works in our culture (TRENDS). Theidentityof abranddependsprimarilyonitsscenario.
  16. 16. 16 SECOND CONSEQUENCE Inordertokeepourownidentity,wemustnowchangecontinuously. In order to keep their status, brands need to constantly update their messages, adapting to the evolving scenario and to the way the most relevant issues are represented in our culture.
  17. 17. 17 vs. The example of an issue whose representation is changing is organic food. It is progressively abandoning its traditional green code that is now perceived as abused, stereotyped and scarcely distinctive.Today you can represent organic food in a variety of different ways.
  18. 18. 18 Why semiotics is more reliable than a consumer survey in analysing a market scenario? Here are at least four reasons...
  19. 19. 19 Because consumers do not have an overall view of the market. Design by Piero Fornasetti . Piatti della serie “Tema e variazioni”
  20. 20. Because consumers tend to act conservatively in front of innovations. 20Design by Piero Fornasetti . Piatti della serie “Tema e variazioni”
  21. 21. Because a semiotic analysis spots even the weakest emerging signals, which are incredibly hard to notice for consumers. Design by Piero Fornasetti . Piatti della serie “Tema e variazioni” 21
  22. 22. 22 Because more in general: observing is better than asking. Every market scenario is full of clues (consumers behavior, brand communication) waiting to be analysed. Design by Piero Fornasetti . Piatti della serie “Tema e variazioni”
  23. 23. 23 Semiotics helps us observing and analysing the market context in order to have a photography of the actual scenario and a projection about its possible evolution.
  24. 24. 24 But how does semiotics work?
  25. 25. EXPRESSION CONTENT Semiotics analyses how expression choices define the meaning of a specific communication or a consumer practice.
  26. 26. 26 This is the reason why semiotics can be very useful in marketing analysing to understand and structure a campaign or a pack, a product or a target.
  27. 27. 27 narration values issuesandtargetsSemiotics analysis first takes into consideration what is evident, verbal codes or visual codes and then dips down through the sense to reach the basis of communication: the values. oral, visual and sound codes
  28. 28. Whatcolours,formsanddimensions? Whatwords andsoundsareused?How areelements displayedandorganizedin thewholepicture? Whatfiguresare usedforwhichsubjects? ( totelllightness)Howisthetarget addressed(you,we…)?Whatisthetoneof voice(e.g.scientific,familiar)? Whichvaluesareinvolved?Howdo theyrelate tothe valuesexpressedby thecompetitors? Whatisthe brandpromise?Whatisthe relationshipbetweenbrandandconsumer? 2828 narration values issuesandtargets oral, visual and sound codes
  29. 29. The analysis is not the sum of the meaning expressed by the different levels.The aim is to find which expressive combinations are responsible for which meanings. Here is an easy example – red does not necessarily mean “passion”, but it might, if it is associated with a curvy design or with a flirtatious tone of voice. narration values issuesandtargets oral, visual and sound codes
  30. 30. 30 This method led us to know exactly which are the values of a communication campaign – we can tell if it is effective, coherent and distinctive and which are the values of the target audience, in order to understand the most suitable subjects and tones to catch their attention.
  31. 31. 31 In which kind of research can semiotics be more helpful?
  34. 34. 34 PRODUCT/ COPY / PACK TEST How does the target scenario work? Who are my competitors? How do they communicate? Which are the values involved and which are exploitable but unguarded? What is the best positioning for me? TARGET ANALYSES TRENDS
  36. 36. 36 PRODUCT/ COPY / PACK TEST Which are the signals that anticipate a change in the market trends? How will my sector change and how will the consequences of those changes affect my brand? TARGET ANALYSES (RE)POSITIO NING
  38. 38. 38 PRODUCT/ COPY / PACK TEST Who is my target audience? How can I attract them? Which are the emerging trends in a specific scenario? How can I understand them? (RE)POSITIO NING TRENDS
  40. 40. 40 What meaning does my product/ concept/pack conveys? Is it coherent, distinctive and effective compared to my competitors’ communication? What shall I adjust in order to score a better positioning? TARGET ANALYSES (RE)POSITIO NING TRENDS
  41. 41. 41 Let’s examine a case study – a positioning research to realise a new package.
  42. 42. In order to launch a campaign for a gluten-free pasta, Squadrati has been called to support the creative agency in the package development. We have analysed 10 competitors in order to understand the key communication elements of that specific area and understand the different values associated to the gluten-free concept. This analysis gave us the possibility to understand the best positioning strategy for the brand and therefore elaborate tailor- made suggestions to help the creative agency. 42
  43. 43. 43 A vertical analysis of ten different packs has shown many substantial differences.
  44. 44. 44 There was a clear opposition in the way the product was presented: Focus on healthy characteristics associated to well being. The information is centred on the properties of the product: taste, easy to cook, recipes. FUNCTION SUBSTANCE
  45. 45. 45 There was an opposition in the brand promise: INDUSTRIAL ARTISANAL The focus is on the experience of the brand and on the reliability of its products. The focus is on the handcrafted manufacturing and on the authenticity of the products.
  46. 46. 46 function artisanal industrial substance
  47. 47. 47 SPECIALISED (x) STANDARD (y) (non y) ROUGH (non x) GOURMET function artisanal industrial substance
  48. 48. 48 Let’s analyse two cases into detail.
  49. 49. 49 LIBERI DI MANGIARE 1,99€ (Es)500 g
  50. 50. 50 ‣ VISUAL IDENTITY: the use of fuchsia and the ascendant writing recall the typical imagery of hypocaloric products (e.g.Vitasnella) and identify a female target with specific diet needs. ‣ THEMES & FIGURES: “100% corn”, “emulsifier free”, “innovative product”, “accurate control and research standards” – industrial specifics tend to dominate in order to produce a sense of warranty. ‣ NARRATION: the pack is focused on the consumer, not on the brand: the name of the product is chosen from the point of view of consumers (“Free to eat”) transparency and consumer care are very important and the toll-free number is extremely evident. ‣ VALORISATION: the product is promoted as a specialist product and the “gluten-free” specific is seen as something extraordinary. LIBERI DI MANGIARE
  51. 51. 51 LIBERI DI MANGIARE SPECIALISED (x) STANDARD (y) (non y) RUSTIC (non x) GOURMET function artisanal industrial substance
  52. 52. 52 1,61€ (Es)400 g BARILLA
  53. 53. 53 ‣ VISUAL IDENTITY: “Gluten-free” is written in capital letters, it is very evident under the brand logo to suggest the idea of a sub-brand. ‣ THEMES & FIGURES: normalisation of the product: emphasis on the aesthetic of the result - picture of an inviting pasta dish – and on the ingredients of the Mediterranean cuisine + “share it with your family”. ‣ NARRATION: focused more on the taste (“really good”, “balanced flavour”) than on functional characteristics (suitable for diets, easy to digest, light). ‣ VALUES: the product is promoted in a familiar way and the “gluten-free” specific is presented as an every-day life event. BARILLA
  54. 54. 54 SPECIALISED (x) STANDARD (y) (non y) RUSTIC (non x) GOURMET function artisanal industrial substance LIBERI DI MANGIARE vs. BARILLA
  55. 55. 55 To express the “gluten-free” concept Liberi di Mangiare and Barilla use two completely different strategies.
  56. 56. 56 POINTING OUT LIBERI DI MANGIARE The positioning of this pack is build to point out the specialized character of this pasta – it helps drawing the attention of the consumers, but its pharmaceutical, un-ordinary code might suggest a feeling of isolation in the consumers.
  57. 57. BARILLA Barilla on the other hand uses a mimetic strategy, emphasising the taste, creating a link to the Mediterranean diet and using blue as a dominant colour (usually associated to pasta thanks to Barilla themselves). Barilla is therefore suggesting that eating gluten-free pasta is something absolutely ordinary. 57 NORMALISING
  58. 58. 58 We said before that we cannot determine the meaning of an expressive choice if we don’t analyse its context and scenario. Can you remember that?
  59. 59. 59 If we had only analysed the Barilla pack we would have only noticed the reference to the Mediterranean diet and tradition. While by analysing Barilla with their competitors we can fully understand the strategic value of using standard codes for specific pasta products – normalising the “gluten-free” in order not to isolate coeliac consumers and attract a non-coeliac audience.
  60. 60. 60 Combining the scenario analysis with the brand identity of the client we have identified the more suitable positioning for the new product and elaborated the best operative suggestions (e.g. visual codes, values, storytelling type, etc.) in order to realise a coherent, effective and distinctive packaging. function artisanal industrial substance SPECIALISED (x) STANDARD (y) (non y) ROUGH (non x) GOURMET HERE
  61. 61. 61 If you would like to know more on how semiotics could answer specific marketing issues, write to Thanks.
  62. 62. Squadrati is trusted by: 62
  63. 63. 63 Squadrati srls Via Ripamonti 44 - 20141 - Milano