Semiotics is the study of signs and symbols and their use or interpretation. In the marketing sense, it looks at how consumers interpret imagery and the relationship that interpretation creates.
When you see a gecko, what do you think of? Chances are, you think of the insurance giant Geico. You also, whether consciously or not, think funny, cute. Geico has determined that its brand essence reflects quirkiness more so than say Allstate.
One of the first things I do when given a branding assignment is to analyze whether current use of iconography, visual images, and text in advertising campaigns aligns with the brand strategy. If they don’t, we develop new campaigns that portray our brand more accurately. Why this is important comes from a sociolinguistic process called audience design.
Decades of research shows that we change the way we speak and present ourselves depending on our audience. The more we like or feel aligned with an audience (which may be as small as a single person), the more our speech or self-presentation becomes similar to theirs. This process is both conscious and unconscious, and is one of the ways a person shows a positive association with another.
The process of audience design is central to branding. Successful images and text are designed to evoke the qualities of the brand vision, brand personality, and brand positioning. The best advertising has been shown to create positive associations that generate such a strong sense of alignment and affiliation that it leads to sales
All of this is part of semiotics. And it’s part of what we do to help our clients.