It’s a cold and wet Wednesday morning in Manchester. It’s arguably the best turnout ever at a Breakfast Bites North. Twenty-five eager qualitative researchers gather at Aspect Viewing Facility to hear Dr Nick Gadsby from The Answer demystify the world of semiotics.

Dr Nick explained eloquently that semiotics is not a mythical practice or ‘a number of codes’. It is a tool that can help researchers, brands and organisations to understand why people think and behave as they do. As a result, its best role is to answer strategic questions, particularly when used alongside qualitative methodologies.

By using semiotics, you will gain a greater understanding, centred on the visual codes relevant to the category you are studying. One word sums up semiotics for me: context. Two words would be: cultural context. Simple.

There may be a client brief on your desk that is right for semiotics. Semiotics is about looking for clues. Clues are in the briefs in our inbox, on our screens, e.g:

  • To what extent does the current packaging appeal to shoppers?
  • How can the brand develop a strategy to ensure it meets the needs of our target audience?
  • What do shoppers/target consumer expect from our brand/service?

Or, when clients say things like: “we are keen to keep an open mind here, we want to challenge our existing habits and hypothesis.”

Go on. Be bold, go for it but remember, in the end it’s always best to keep it simple.