Semiotics – cultural data from tomorrow’s consumer

An article looking at how consumer culture can be used as powerful evidence in customer engagement.


In a world of big data… brands have more touch-points than ever and more customer data than you can shake a dynamic, hyper-personalised stick at. Brands now possess the tools to build customer journeys, brand narratives and propositions aiming to create those ever-elusive one-to-one conversations.

The dream of any data wizard or Customer Engagement guru.

But what happens when businesses haven’t taken good care of their data, exercised clean data capture or they fluffed their GDPR lines?

What happens when only so much information can be gleaned from house file, transactional and sales data; what happens when creative block hits, hamstrung by guidelines and status quo?

We can ask people what they think; focus groups, insight panels, social listening etc. – all available to planners, but sometimes (often) these methods are affected by cultural stigma, poorly executed focus groups and technology access restrictions – not to mention the fact that consumers are great at reacting and looking back at their past but are not so great at seeing into the future. We can use techniques to reduce the problems of this kind of research, but it’s rare that we can completely eradicate them.

Evidence is vital in marketing; the aforementioned techniques are used to huge success and our world of data marketing has leaped from the shadows of the nerds to the forefront of big marketing strategy. But now there’s something new on the horizon. New research approaches are emerging which offer a radically different and fresh point of view – all backed up by evidence that you can see and point to.


Semiotics enables us look at marketing conundrums from another perspective. While traditional research methods take an inside-out approach, trying to get attitudes, brand preferences and motivations out of people’s heads, semiotics takes an outside-in approach. It asks how all those things get into consumer’s heads in the first place. The answer is usually found in the surrounding culture, of which every consumer is obliged to be a part.

Semiotics offers a better, more complete and precise understanding of a customer group’s culture, from the changing social trends that influence their behaviour to the meanings that customers attach to visual images, language and even product design. When we use semiotics as marketers, we take new power into our hands.

Semiotics in its most literal definition is the study of signs and symbols and their use or interpretation. And semiotics as a commercial methodology for decoding visual materials such as advertising and packaging is now well known to brand owners as being able to offer penetrating insight that converts directly into actionable recommendations.

It’s also a wellspring of inspiration. Its tools for decoding consumer culture make it great for understanding social trends and demographics. It can tell you what makes Millennials anxious, how time works in Latin American cultures, why there are health trends and which ones to stay ahead of, what it means to belong somewhere and feel that you are at home.


Semiotics can offer solutions to brand owners and agencies in the following ways:

  • Launching new brands
  • Rejuvenating older brands
  • Make comms more motivating and closer to consumers
  • Identify trends in categories and society
  • Unlock shopper psychology 
  • Make stores and POS more attention-grabbing
  • Make global brands more local, and vice-versa
  • Explain the cultural behaviour of demographics
  • Provide an original point of view that generates creative ideas
  • Create compelling brand stories

Semiotics is a key subject in Customer Engagement; still an emerging discipline and rapidly evolving but with unrivalled power in helping brands develop communications that sit perfectly with the culture of consumer groups and create long-term, highly valuable relationships.

For more content on the subject I would point you towards Rachel Lawes’ website