Using semiotics in brands, through having a better understanding of how the brand is communicating to customers and how the brand is being perceived by customers, can take brands to a whole new level.
What is semiotics?
To put it simply, semiotics is the scientific study of signs and symbols and how they are understood within culture. The practice typically further breaks these signs down into 2 elements:
These are the physical forms which elicit a meaning. For example, objects or words.
This is the undertone, or secondary meaning, of what the signifier. It’s the emotion or sense that things like objects, words or images illicit within a certain cultural and social context.
One example that is often used to explain these two concepts more simply is that of an apple.
Let’s break it down: In the case of an apple, the sign is the apple itself. The object (or “the signifier”) is the apple’s colour and the fact that it’s round (ish) in shape. The signified elements of the apple are the connotations or hidden meanings that we associate with it within our culture and society: It’s healthy, it’s fresh, and maybe it brings to mind Apple – the brand – too.
What is a brand?
A brand is a system of sensory signs (your logo, colours, images etc) that incites consumers in a symbolic process (it makes them feel a specific way), which contributes to tangible value. Namely, this tangible value is in sales or growth in clients.
In the wise words of David Ogilvy, “Every advertisement should be thought of as a contribution to the complex symbol which is the brand image.”
Using this brand, businesses can then create brand collateral. This is a collection of the media which you use to promote your company, thereby leading to that tangible value that we were talking about.
The role of semiotics in brand communications
Understanding semiotics can play a big role in communicating effectively, meaning it’s something that should be considered within all marketing.
Knowing now that a brand is a system of symbols and signs, semiotics allows you to assess just how your customers will react to your brand collateral. Through looking closely at your signifiers, you can understand what is signified.
And that’s what truly creates a brand’s image.
As Sheena Lyonnais explains, “By exploring the semiotic relationships between signifier and the signified, designers can better understand and anticipate the emotional reactions or interpretations a user may have upon experiencing a design, and thus he or she can begin to develop more effective designs that begin on a rather subconscious level.” (Source)
Signifiers can include everything from logos, colours used, images chosen for your website and even fonts.
How user and market research can help
In order to implement semiotics whilst working on brand communications, it’s absolutely crucial to know exactly who you’re trying to talk to. Obviously, signifiers won’t signify the same thing to everybody that sees them. The emotional response to brand collateral is massively dependent on someone’s socio-cultural values.
For example, certain colours hold different cultural meanings depending on that person’s country. In Europe red often represents passion or danger, whilst in Asian cultures, red is the colour of happiness.
As such, in order to best communicate with customers, a business must first truly understand them by conducting user and market research. Market research – when done right! – can get you invaluable insights into the cultural values and beliefs of your market. Similarly, user research gives you a closer look at the behaviours of customers, which also contributes to the way that they perceive your brand.
At Snap Out, we work alongside branding agencies to allow businesses to step into their customers’ shoes and see how effectively they are communicating with them within a socio-cultural context.
How to validate your designs
We’ve spoken a lot in recent weeks about the power of brand perception research. However, we think it’s important to again mention its importance here.
If you are a branding agency or brand consultancy, brand perception research is one of the best ways to reassure your clients that the changes you are suggesting are the way to go. Having conducted user and market research and understanding the semiotics of a company’s brand collateral, you can then test out the insights you have implemented.
This will allow you to see whether you have absolutely nailed the branding, or whether you need to pivot your ideas slightly and look at your user and market research again. Essentially, it eliminates the risk of making brand changes before putting them out to the world.
We are big believers in the power of stepping into your customers’ shoes when it comes to all things business, but especially when it comes to branding. That’s why understanding semiotics is one of the many steps that you can take towards branding success: It allows you to gain detailed insights into how customers will respond to campaigns, websites and collateral within the context of their socio-cultural values.
To chat more about how Snap Out can help your branding consultancy to level up your insights, get in touch today at [email protected]