How is semiotics done. The basics…
We’re Qual Street and as it says on the tin, we are qual researchers. But we do have experience of semiotics. And if you’re not a semiotician or if you haven’t worked with semioticians very much, an ABC of how it’s done might be useful…
Scope it out
The client will clearly have a brief. The brief can sometimes be more ‘general’ than in qual. For example, ‘we want to understand naturalness in 4 different markets’. From this starting point, the semiotician works with the client to define the scope of the project. There is a need to identify where meanings of naturalness might be best uncovered – relevant categories, brands, comms to explore etc. Is the fieldwork going to be digital only, include AI, include real world? The scope is also clearly determined by budget (how many days is the client able to pay for)
After scoping, there is a fieldwork stage which is about visiting the relevant places (online and maybe real world) and noticing ‘things’ that keep cropping up (usually referred to as signifiers) – visual cues, words and phrases, sounds etc. Chances are the more often they crop up the more dominant they are likely to be, indicating what is going on ‘now’. This is also about context though – e.g. where is that exhibition being held? A well-established Vs an edgy new venue? Edgy and new suggests emergent rather than dominant.
Analysis involves noticing signifiers that usually crop up together – is that distinctive font always depicted in black on white? Does that particular bottle shape usually contain drinks that are green in colour? This is how you start building from the ground up, from individual signifiers up to codes. By identifying a bunch of signifiers that typically hang out together, you get a sense that a cultural/ category code is at play, that there is meaning here and good reason that these signifiers like one another’s company. In a study about Luxury, a variety of aspects of Luxury will be unpacked, e.g. premium-ness, indulgence etc. But codes have a more specific meaning that can rarely be summed up in one word. In fact, there can sometimes be ‘tension’ within a code, e.g. understated premium-ness, authentic indulgence. Some codes will be dominant whilst others will express emergent meanings.
Codes typically sit under broader narratives. These meta narratives can be used as axes for mapping. That’s why semiotics is so useful for identifying white space (but it will also give a steer on whether the white space is an opportunity or a dead duck)
All those territories can be work-shopped into ideas for research participants to develop and assess.
If you’d like to know more about how semiotics and qual can be integrated, please get in touch
Claire, Kath and Ambreen