Our Commercial Semiotics philosophy

In order to tackle consumer focused challenges, we need to understand the cultural meanings ingrained in the world around us. In the Culture and Trends team, we bring practical and actionable insights to clients through Commercial Semiotics. We know Semiotics can be confusing, and it can often be unclear how to apply the take-outs to your day-to-day objectives. With this in mind, we have designed our offer to cut through this uncertainty without diluting the richness or rigor behind it. We pride ourselves on the promise that we equip clients with understandable, tangible insights and recommendations by drawing on the foundations of Semiotic academic principles.


What is Commercial Semiotics?

Semiotics is the study of signs and symbols, and their use and interpretation by people.

Its origins lie in academia, the study of how signs and symbols create meaning, with a focus on visuals and language.

As a methodology it is different from traditional research, which normally centres on getting attitudes and beliefs out of peoples’ heads.

Semiotics looks at it the other way round, examining how beliefs and ideas are in people’s heads in the first place.

It can be used to help us understand what people can’t tell us!


How do we use it?

As a stand-alone offer, Commercial Semiotics can be used to strategically answer business challenges, providing cultural context as to why ideas are in people minds in the first place.

We look beyond the obvious to understand what is really going on, what is really being said, and why that is important for your business.

This could involve looking at an industry or category to understand underlying themes and ideas, or it could be understanding what messages you and your competitors’ are really communicating to consumers.

This will offer you a perspective traditional research can’t, helping you to take action, re-think positioning and re-frame challenges.


How can it be applied?

Commercial Semiotics can be used for a number of commercial challenges:


Examples of our work in Commercial Semiotics

Increasing engagement through digital content

A premier football club was looking to increase its engagement with female football fans through its digital content.

Through semiotics, we explored a conceptual space of feminism to unpick the broader associations of communication that played out in women’s lives. We framed the semiotic codes of this conceptual theme, to identify the broad shifts in culture and pull out the emergent movements. We also reviewed past campaigns and content to determine where the brand sat in relation to broader culture.

Our approach enabled us to highlight opportunities for the club that would keep their content relevant and formed the basis of a set of ‘rules of engagement guidelines’ which live and breath throughout the club.


Example: The meaning of ‘Healthy, Homemade, Fresh Soup’

For a major UK supplier, we identified opportunity areas within soup for the future development of products and brands.

Via semiotics we analyzed the cultural meaning associated with ‘healthy, homemade and fresh’ across numerous food categories, identifying opportunities for new positioning and providing inspiration for NPD.


Example: guiding brand positioning and pack design with semiotics

A global skin cleansing brand was looking to enhance ‘natural / free from’ credentials to compete more fiercely with the market leader.

Our semiotics analysis decoded the packaging of key players within the space of ‘natural / free from’, pulling apart the different signifiers of natural and free from. From our semiotic interrogation, we highlighted the opportunities that could strengthen the brands positioning longer term and refresh it’s packaging across the portfolio, as a short-term step towards that longer term strategic objective.



Get in touch

Hopefully you now have a general understanding of our work in Commercial Semiotics. If you’re interested in hearing more or would like to chat to us about working together, please get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.

Caroline Brierley – Commercial Semiotics Lead