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Why should you care about Semiotics? Pt. 2

Ever played the game ‘two truths and one lie’? All you need to do is figure out which one of the three given statements doesn’t hold true.

For instance, when presented with the following three statements—

  1. Marketing gets you quick results
  2. Marketing is a numbers game
  3. Marketing takes a deliberate approach to projects

—you pick option c. as the lie because it makes the least sense. Right?

Cheekiness aside, we’re sure you are well aware of that. But what we’re not sure about is whether you know the Semiotician’s perspective on this (if allowed to speak for those beyond us).

Let’s take this thought forward through the two primary concepts introduced in the previous write-up.

  1. Semiotics likes to adopt a broader perspective than marketing research

There must have been times when you’ve thought, “I can’t put my finger on the precise reason, but I have a gut feeling about this.” But have you, at those times, flipped open reference books on cultural analysis, or held lengthy, introspective discussions to get to the bottom of your ‘gut feeling’?

Exactly; anyone hardly ever does. People express or act upon what feels right to them, and then mostly, they move on. Apply the implications of this to conventional market research.

Knowing this behavioural tendency, would you entirely bank upon a consumer survey, where participants often don’t give considered thought to questions?

There are limits to their views and articulation. Perhaps because they only go by what immediately comes to their mind, rather than also considering their subconscious motivations.

Further, consider the added restriction of Multiple Choice Questions that often serve as the chosen format for consumer surveys.

Therefore, what you finally end up working with is a watered-down version of an already partial response.

Semiotics doesn’t face either of those obstacles.

Semioticians bring the offer of deliberate research and in-depth knowledge to the table. Traditional market findings surely help set the starting point for their study, but what takes precedence is the investigation of consumer behaviour trends and where they originate from.

What’s more? A Semiotic analysis takes only as much time as a conventional analysis does. So why continue doing a half job, and decrease the chances of successful customer interaction?

  1. Consumers are strongly intertwined with their context

Ever met someone from JNU or IIT and instantly thought to yourself, “Ah yes, that explains it”. It’s ok; we’ve all done it.

This act of typifying individuals basis their social group has thrived for a long time. It’s where stereotypes come from. Personalities are filtered for their common characteristics, and these then create social markers.

Somewhat acceptable as an everyday practise, but how reliable a marketing tool does it make for in the long run? After all, isn’t that what creating a consumer persona essentially involves?

You create an aggregate of traits typical to your target group; an act that forgoes a deeper understanding of the social movement to which you wish to contribute.

“Our average customer is a mother in her early 30s. Despite the long hours at work, she remains dedicated to helping her child with homework and ensuring that healthy meals are taken at the right time. Given how that cuts down on her personal time, she needs a quick snack that can complete her dietary requirements.”

While a useful practise, it remains limited in its scope. Because creating an aggregate is not the same as getting the big picture.

Semiotics’ fix to the problem? Studying the ‘collective imaginary’.

Understand the concept like this: the idea of a social group wouldn’t exist if people didn’t share a set of beliefs, values, and institutions common to them. ‘Collective imaginary’ is, therefore, the thought system that drives a people to action.

Try an example that will hit home: political parties.

Parties initially start off with well-defined collective imaginaries: what they stand for, what they see missing in the social arena, and what they promise to contribute. But with many of them, it is often the power struggle that ends up taking priority over ideological agendas.

That is when you might hear a voter say, “I don’t know who to vote for; they all seem the same.” So powerful is the idea of the collective imaginary that no matter how well a party recognises their typical voter, they really won’t be able garner significant support if they don’t understand what thought system the voters identify themselves with.

The bottom line

No matter how you approach it, Semiotics seeks to emphasise that no act or entity exists in isolation. Your product, service or campaign adds to a greater narrative. So, it’s good to think about whether it contributes meaningfully or just adds noise to the rush.