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Why should you care about Semiotics? Pt.1

Imagine it’s your birthday today.

Your phone hasn’t rung even once since you woke up. Nor has its screen flashed with notifications of calls missed around midnight. And isn’t that the most obvious way to make a close one feel important?

Let’s go a step deeper. Say, you have been able to tick off calls from those who matter. But no celebratory gestures have been initiated beyond that. No large gatherings surprise you from behind living room furniture. Nor does an imposing bouquet of flowers sit atop your office desk space.

There goes your day.

Why is it that we feel so strongly about symbolic gestures and social performances? And why does deviation from them get on our nerves like nothing else can?

We may take it for granted, but culture forms the foundation of everyday life. The more it pulsates and evolves, the more interesting and engaging our experiences become.

And if there is something that can assuredly keep us from falling off the cultural track, it’s Semiotics.

Semiotics is popularly understood as a discipline that ‘studies signs, symbols and narratives for their embedded meaning’.

Think of it this way: everything means something. A woman wearing the signature red-and-white bangle set indicates that she got married recently. However, if she wears the bangles in combination with her sportswear at the gym; one may safely assume that despite adopting the norms of a modern social system, she doesn’t wish to shed the traditional elements of her cultural identity…

…or she’s just excited about her marriage.

Either way, the better you understand the details of the context, the more meaning grows complex. And considering how cultures aren’t static but grow non-stop by the day, interpretation of identity and context goes much beyond the marriage chura and its corresponding binary of tradition and modernity.

Given how deeply it influences human behaviour, Semiotics will prove beneficial to any professional looking to make a lasting impact. But why should you, a marketer, especially care about the discipline?

Because the big picture wins in the long run.

Business meeting after business meeting is spent trying to figure out, ‘consumer kya chahta hai?’ (What does the consumer want?) Or alternatively, why isn’t the consumer interested in what we’re selling?

Conventional routes answer such questions through customer surveys, consumer motivation studies, competitive analysis, machine learning and so on. And there’s no denying their merit.

But all of them share the same shortcoming: they only study the results of a social process. Hardly ever do they consider the origin.

And without exploring what triggers a trend, you’ll never come ahead of the curve.

So yes; certainly look to answer questions such as ‘what was it about the product that the consumer liked?’, ‘what more do they want from the product?’, ‘why is the competing brand performing better than us?’ But don’t just stop there. Go deeper.

Ask: ‘why is it that some brands perform better than others when they’re selling what is essentially the same product?’, ‘is the consumer’s expectation from a product an individual preference or is it motivated by factors that they themselves aren’t aware of?’

Semiotics can help not just answer the second set of questions, but also ask a host of others like them.