Semiotics & Category Insight | Our Services | Ruby Cha Cha

Semiotics and Category Insight


What is semiotics and why should you be interested? We believe that category research itself is something that marketers don’t tend to do well. It can be generalist and lack shape and clear frameworks for growth. It mostly lacks the cultural perspective and focuses only on the narrow market at hand.

Category research done well, needs to take into account changing socio economic parameters, technological and political forces and an ever more informed consumer paradigm. It needs to acknowledge what is happening in adjacent markets and overseas markets. We need to gain perspective on other categories and how they are delivering against consumer needs we are interested in (for example hope, reassurance, energy or safety). Category research most of all needs to take into account culture or ‘consumer in’ thinking.

In fact, the ‘culture’ that the consumer operates in is more important than the consumer itself if we want to know how to grow a brand. We will need to understand how our brand will need to negotiate new operating conditions, influencers and conventions if we want to shift a brand into a new space with new or same products.

This is where Semiotics can truly help us.

Semiotics is fundamentally the science of communication in all its forms. It helps us understand the culture of consumption, the history of consumption and the future of consumption through emerging and dominant trends of interest.

Cultural Insight is about understanding consumers in culture, and paired with semiotics and communication symbology, we help clients unpack the world of consumption by decoding categories and culture. We decode into a range of useful tools including human needs, symbols, signifiers, codes and conventions. Deconstructing culture into its basic units allows us to reconstruct our brand to adopt, adapt or transgress consumption rules and conventions and is an excellent way in to innovation processes.

Some of the ways we use Semiotics and cultural insight at Ruby includes:

1. Semiotic Training and Workshops

2. Category Decoding

A thorough look at the brands within your category space, identifying their explicit and implicit communication cues (from ads, social media, packaging, in-store displays, etc.). These will be classified into distinct and detailed territories of meaning, to help you understand where competitors play vs. your brand. Some of the elements include:

  • Decoding the consumer and popular culture that your brand operates in.
  • Plot this on a strategic grid.
  • Position your brand / your competitors brand on that grid.
  • Overlay emergent cultural codes and trends on the grid.
  • Align creative strategy with those emergent codes.
  • Trends analysis and mapping.

3. Historical Context Groundwork

A historical perspective on cultural climate change through the years to pinpoint milestones and forces shaping today's values and behaviours, explaining why they matter to your brand using historical packaging and marketing collateral for instance.

4. Creation of Internal Semiotic Communities

To you build a website to store culture and communication codes that becomes a knowledge base or 'semiotic brand guideline'.

5. Cultural Portraits:

A rich visual and verbal understanding of the various ways a core brand concept or positioning might be expressed (e.g. "masculinity", "authenticity", "fun", "friendship", "luxury"), drawing on adjacent categories. Each "code" will be brought to life vividly, illustrating future-facing directions that might be breakthrough for your category, with guidance toward the most promising. A springboard decoder helps you align with emerging culture – to stay true to your identity and ensure you stay relevant.

Cultural Insight and Semiotics can help clients map categories, brands and movement in a way that consumer research cannot. It is an outside in approach and allows you to ‘see’ the category in ways you may not have done in the past. Importantly, it is not reliant on consumer research, however it is uniquely complementary.

A great piece of Semiotic research either up front in a program of research, in NPD or brand renovation work, or as an immersion prior to innovation work can help you gain a competitive edge for breakthrough brand and category thinking.

When do I use Semiotics?

Semiotics is great when you want to:

  • Reframe category landscapes.
  • Shape future-facing brand positionings.
  • Shape packaging and communication briefs.
  • Inspire fresh thinking in your team.
  • Create better messaging.
  • Map your mass of trends information to your category and drive brand development thinking.
  • Uncover innovation opportunities.
  • Reassess the consumer within the landscape.
  • And so much more.

We have had many nervous clients enter a semiotic workshop not quite knowing what they will get out of it. Not as single one to date has walked away without a profound sense of how their category works, how their consumers ‘decode’ the category and the rules of play that they can disrupt or adopt. They learn a new language and a new way to look at their brands and consumer connections.

As several clients have said to us in the past, ”That was awesome, it was why I got into marketing in the first place!”.

Get in touch with Ruby Cha Cha

Get in touch with Ruby Cha Cha