Solutions through semiotics

As people – we gravitate towards ‘people like us’. Shared values, shared tastes, shared belief systems are what we seek when opening our hearts to make new friends. Similarly, we accept brands that reflect our values, our style, our taste.

So the simplest solution, really, is to create brands that reflect the innermost belief systems of the consumer. Understanding the consumer, therefore, is the mantra for all marketers. The question remains, how?

Market Research does not work.

How can an individual tell a researcher what his/her deepest desires or motivations are? As people, we are unaware of the causality of behaviour. And need the help of psychoanalysts or spiritualists to identify our inner selves. To believe that a market research practitioner can do the same in an interview is patently absurd.

The other way to understand the consumer is by ‘reading’ behavioural and cultural markers around him. If we identify markers that are unique to a consumer group, we can then decode them to unravel patterns that give us an insight into the inner recesses of the consumer’s mind.  Much like the weatherman that reads atmospheric pressure and wind speeds to understand the current climate, a semiotician understands all symbols and behaviours which are ‘different’ to understand the consumer.
Often leading to dramatically different results. Take for instance the emerging probiotic products in the supermarkets. Yakult from Danone and Probiotic Dahi from Amul are already on the shelves. Others are poised to enter the market. Typically, the process would have been this: Identifying a product category that is doing well in other markets, doing a 3-4 city qualitative research through focus groups, and then bringing the product to the market.

Probiotic?  It is like selling Coal to Newcastle.  There are many Sanskrit shlokas extolling the virtues of buttermilk – which after lunch is compared to ambrosia. It is part of an Indian diet and there needs to be no education about it.
Takram laghu kashayaamlam deepanam kaphavaatajit ||
Showphodaraarshowgrahanidoshamootragrahaaruchee |
Pleehagulmaghritavyaapadgarpaanduvaamayaan jayeth ||
(Takram or Butter milk (BM) does not cause heaviness when consumed. Hence it is known to have the quality "laghu". It gets digested quickly and easily. Aggravated kapha and vata are mitigated by this wonder drink. It is the best appetizer. According to ayurveda it reduces bloating of stomach, eases symptoms of haemorrhoids, soothes intestines and helps in indigestion.)

Yet, the insistence on using an alien and utterly mystifying term such as ‘probiotic’ instead of riding on all the accepted benefits of dahi/ yoghurt is frankly, senseless.

When applying semiotics, it is necessary to understand what symbols and markers can be encoded in a product or brand so that the consumer accepts it in his/her world. A semiotic approach to a problem such as this would have looked at beliefs in terms of digestion, the time of day such products are consumed.

Yakult would be better off placing their drink after lunch, than at a breakfast table. Similarly, flavoured yoghurt would do well to take on ‘dahi – cheeni’ at the lunch table.  

Contributed by Alpana Parida, President - DY Works.

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