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Semiotic strategies: The things you are looking at have names

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Dr Rachel Lawes, principal, Lawes Consulting

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Semiotic strategies: The things you are looking at have names

  1. 1. THE THINGS YOU ARE LOOKING AT HAVE NAMES DR RACHEL LAWES, METHODOLOGY IN CONTEXT, NOVEMBER 2016 SEMIOTIC STRATEGIES FOR BRANDS
  2. 2. A STORY IN THREE PARTS • A problem for researchers & research users. Why there is a problem. • A solution. How to fix the problem. • What happens next. Benefits of fixing the problem. Are there remaining challenges?
  3. 3. PART 1: THE PROBLEM A problem for researchers & research users. Why there is a problem.
  4. 4. PROBLEM Consumers are great at talking about brands but the MR industry isn't that great at analysing the things they say. Normally, qualitative researchers think in terms of 'themes'. What 'themes' seem to be emerging.
  5. 5. PROBLEM • This is the qual equivalent of descriptive rather than inferential statistics. • Moreover, sometimes, in qualitative data, you can see respondents are doing something interesting but there doesn’t seem to be a name for what they are doing.
  6. 6. PROBLEM • The problem with the ‘theme’ approach is that it overlooks difference, discordance and conflict. • Yet naturally-occurring consumer talk is chock-full of oppositions and contrasts. Things - eg brands - don't gain any meaning until someone's pointed out how they are not like some other brand or something else.
  7. 7. PART 2: THE SOLUTION How to fix the problem.
  8. 8. SOLUTION In both semiotics and discourse analysis (DA), two closely-related methods, someone's noticed this tendency, compared it to other data sets, figured out what it means, given it a name and published the results.
  9. 9. SOLUTION The classic examples are binary oppositions (semiotics) and contrast pairs (DA). When a respondent reduces something complex to two polar opposites, they are almost certainly doing that so as to make one half of the pair seem better or more normal than the other.
  10. 10. SOLUTION It is a rhetorical move that advances their own interests. Being able to spot contrast pairs helps you uncover respondents' priorities and private agendas.
  11. 11. SOLUTION Now here's a demonstration in which we apply theory to some real data - women talking about fashion brands. We are analysing, not just describing, and the results tell you something about the culture from which the sample of discourse is drawn, rather than just describing the gross physical properties of the sample.
  12. 12. SOLUTION Applying this kind of analysis to this conversation helps us identify (a) what speakers are bothered about, e.g presenting themselves as grown-ups, (b) a few problems that some of these brands are having that they might not be aware of, and (c) opportunity spaces where a new fashion brand could step in.
  13. 13. You think because you're no longer shopping at Forever21 that these clothes should last a long time https://www.reddit.com/r/femalefashionadvice/comments/2g55w5/what_your_favorite_brand_says_about_you_thread/
  14. 14. You used to shop at H&M, but then you went to Europe on a school trip You’re starting to feel like h&m is beneath you. https://www.reddit.com/r/femalefashionadvice/comments/2g55w5/what_your_favorite_brand_says_about_you_thread/
  15. 15. You don't want to spend a lot of money but you're too into fashion to shop exclusively at H&M and target https://www.reddit.com/r/femalefashionadvice/comments/2g55w5/what_your_favorite_brand_says_about_you_thread/
  16. 16. You would shop at free people, but don't want to risk wearing anything over $100 to a house party You want something from Anthropologie but you're between paychecks. https://www.reddit.com/r/femalefashionadvice/comments/2g55w5/what_your_favorite_brand_says_about_you_thread/
  17. 17. You have seven different animal-print skirts for each day of the week, but no basics to pair them with. You are like a bird in the French countryside. A bird with disposable income and an insatiable yearning to alight upon a vintage rickshaw. https://www.reddit.com/r/femalefashionadvice/comments/2g55w5/what_your_favorite_brand_says_about_you_thread/
  18. 18. You have a giant map on your bedroom wall with the word WANDERLUST printed across it in giant font Your ideal man has a full beard and maintains it with scented beard oil. https://www.reddit.com/r/femalefashionadvice/comments/2g55w5/what_your_favorite_brand_says_about_you_thread/
  19. 19. https://www.reddit.com/r/femalefashionadvice/comments/2g55w5/what_your_favorite_brand_says_about_you_thread/
  20. 20. BINARY OPPOSITIONS YOUNGER GROWN-UP NOT ENOUGH MONEY MONEY TO SPEND NORTH AMERICA EUROPE INTO FASHION REALLY INTO FASHION GLOBE-TROTTING HIPSTERS PASTORAL FRENCH FANTASY
  21. 21. SOCIAL FUNCTIONS – WHAT IS BEING ACHIEVED FOR THESE SPEAKERS? • Show off both maturity and expertise. Only a grown-up could perform this self-aware analysis of brands and their consumers. • Worldliness: you actually do travel and did go to Europe. • Your good taste exceeds the practical demands of everyday life, from house parties to waiting for a monthly pay cheque. • You are sensitive to pretty things. The importance of aesthetics in your surroundings justifies collections, from white dresses to white candles.
  22. 22. Do you want shoppers to wish they were elsewhere? Retaining customers above certain age & income level. Lifestyle: seasoned traveller Lifestyle: white candles, vintage, country. Losing customers at a certain age & income level. Lack personality: ‘better than H&M’ isn’t a strong point of difference.
  23. 23. PART 3: WHAT HAPPENS NEXT Benefits of fixing the problem.
  24. 24. SEMIOTIC STRATEGIES FOR BRANDS • Semiotics has made a special contribution by providing a tool - the semiotic square - which lets us turn these contrasting pairs of things into structures which point out brand opportunities. • Usually, when you turn two binary oppositions or contrast pairs into a square and look at the quadrants it creates, there are two norms which represent what people expect the world to look like, there's one area of dead space that's not offering enough benefits to be worth bothering with commercially, and there's one new opportunity and that's where the money is.
  25. 25. RECOGNISING OPPORTUNITIES FOR BRANDS YOUNGER GROWN-UP NOT ENOUGH MONEY MONEY TO SPEND NORTH AMERICA EUROPE INTO FASHION REALLY INTO FASHION GLOBE-TROTTING HIPSTERS PASTORAL FRENCH FANTASY
  26. 26. LIGHT DARK FEMININE HETEROSEXUAL COMFORT ADVENTURE PRETTY EXOTIC THE COUNTRY THE DESERT
  27. 27. RECOGNISING OPPORTUNITIES USING SEMIOTIC SQUARES FEMININE HETEROSEXUAL PRETTY EXOTIC NORM NORMOPPORTUNITY DEAD SPACE
  28. 28. RECOGNISING OPPORTUNITIES USING SEMIOTIC SQUARES FEMININE HETEROSEXUAL LIGHT DARK NORM NORMOPPORTUNITY DEAD SPACE
  29. 29. RECOGNISING OPPORTUNITIES USING SEMIOTIC SQUARES COMFORT ADVENTURE FEMININE HETEROSEXUAL NORM NORMOPPORTUNITY DEAD SPACE http://www.psfk.com/2014/09/fado-creates-pneumatic-ergonomic-footwear-women.html
  30. 30. RECOGNISING OPPORTUNITIES USING SEMIOTIC SQUARES THE DESERT THE COUNTRY BRILLIANT LIGHT SOFT LIGHT NORM NORMOPPORTUNITY DEAD SPACE
  31. 31. RECOGNISING OPPORTUNITIES USING SEMIOTIC SQUARES THE COUNTRY THE DESERT PRETTY EXOTIC NORM NORMOPPORTUNITY DEAD SPACE
  32. 32. CONCLUSIONS & REMAINING CHALLENGES
  33. 33. BENEFITS FOR RESEARCH & RESEARCHERS • You don't fall for everything that respondents say to you. You have an external framework for judging whether they are transparently telling you the truth or whether something deeper is going on. • You learn something about the thought processes and behaviour of millions of people, not just 10 people who you met in a focus group viewing facility near Watford.
  34. 34. BENEFITS FOR BRANDS & BUSINESS • You can diagnose problems with, and find solutions for, brands, products and services that respondents themselves are not capable of articulating. • You can spot new business opportunities that no individual respondent was capable of pointing out.
  35. 35. ARE THERE ANY LIMITATIONS OR CHALLENGES? • The challenges aren’t methodological, they are organisational. Bringing these skills into organisations is like deciding to have an innovation team or a creativity team. It requires allocation of resources and buy-in at senior levels. • If we continue with the metaphor of innovation, your options include open innovation and crowdsourcing – maybe we need a new system; instead of briefs & proposals we have problems & experts who want to make a contribution.
  36. 36. DR RACHEL LAWES, METHODOLOGY IN CONTEXT, NOVEMBER 2016 rachel@lawes-consulting.co.uk, +44 (0)7939 020 466

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