What is Semiotics?

Semiotics is branch of anthropology that anchors signs and symbols in the culture of consumers.

Semiotics is a cornerstone of brand equity management, since symbolic communication ties consumer needs, wants, and behaviors to the form of brand communication in advertising, packaging, and logo design. Semiotics enables the ethnographer to understand the role of consumption to satisfy consumer needs for identity, community, and meaning. Marketing Semiotics decodes the cultural codes structuring consumer myths, archetypes, and icons. We translate consumer insights into symbolic elements, such as the brand lexicon and iconography, design strategy, and stories. Marketing Semiotics applies semiotics to consumer research, design strategy, and cultural branding.

Semiotics and Brand Management

The contribution of brand meanings and perceptions to profitability – the Coca Cola brand is valued at over $70 billion – testifies to the power of symbolic representation to capture the hearts and minds of consumers by means of visual, audio, and verbal signs. In this paper I discuss the importance of the semiotic – or symbolic dimension of brands for building awareness, positive associations, and long-term customer loyalty, and contributes to trademark ownership and operational advantages such as channel and media clout. Consequently, managing brand equity means managing brand semiotics.

The Marketing Semiotics Paradigm

The importance of meaning in the marketplace is indisputable among marketing experts today. It influences an array of marketplace activities, such as product design, branding, advertising, and retailing. In a general sense consumer culture is the product of the consumerʼs relationship to messages of all kinds, from advertising and the organization of retail space to the cultural cues for belonging and ethnic identity. In this paper Laura Oswald and David Mick review theories of semiotics in the marketplace and illustrate the applications of semiotics for strategic planning and marketing communication.

Affluent Chinese Consumers

In this paper I examine the limitations of Western luxury advertising to engage affluent consumers in the People’s Republic of China. I base my approach on a theory of brand literacy drawn from a theory of language acquisition. I illustrate how semiotics, a social science discipline devoted to the study of signs and meanings in cultural perspective, can be used to identify the cultural tensions between consumers and brands in emerging markets and provide direction for correcting the problem. In the following sections, I review the basics of brand equity, illustrate the role of marketing communication for brand strategy, and outline some of the challenges facing Western companies as they target consumers in developing consumer societies such as China. I then present a case in which marketing semiotics research in Shanghai exposed differences between the ways Chinese and European consumers perceive luxury and luxury advertising.