Using Semiotics in Crowdsourced Ideation – Guest Post from @Semiotico (Chris Arning)

Image via semioticon.com (click on the image to access)

Image via semioticon.com (click on the image to access)

Today, Chris Arning shares his passion about how semiotic analysis can help unlock insights in crowdsourcing projects. Chris, who is founder of Creative Semiotics, has worked with eYeka’s strategic planning team on a number of projects, helping our clients making sense of the collective creative power of the community.

Crowdsourcing thrives on sourcing creative content from the cream of creative talent around the world, but how do you go about sifting through hundreds of entries to extract the real gold from that which surrounds it? One way to do this is by using semiotics, a powerful meaning extraction tool that can be applied to creative work of any kind, » Chris explains.

How can crowdsourcing benefit from the semiotic approach? Please read along.

Semiotics is a powerful meaning extraction tool that can be applied to creative work of any kind. It digs beneath the surface layers to understand more deeply how communication works. What semiotics provides is a tangible and robust framework that focuses on the attributes of the work beyond the obvious. It is a way of seeing with new eyes!

When evaluating creative work, it is very easy to slip into subjectivity. Surprising and creative work is obviously important, but communication also needs to be on brief and objective driven. Because semiotics is the study of meaning and implicit communication it is a perspective that can lay bare the workings of all creative content so as to yield deeper insight.

As founder-director of Creative Semiotics, I have now worked on 9 projects with eYeka so far, and have seen semiotics become a trusted part of the ideation process. I now see my role as content triage helping to filter a miscellaneous range of entries to make it easier to assess.

At the most obvious level, this might involve, for example bringing an understanding of what visual cues and communication codes signal a premium pack when evaluating yoghurt packs. A semiotic analysis can establish guidelines for assessing pack shape, graphic layout, colour as more likely to signify premium value to consumers. Semiotics creates analytic categories in order to sift through the work. The creation of categories allows more nuance and objectivity in assessing entries.

Creative Semiotics will use different frameworks for different projects. For example, one project involved judging cartoon ideas for a confectionary product. eYeka received a variety of entries, all geared to increase consumer engagement through humour. The trouble is that humour is culturally driven and hard to translate. The semiotics therefore organized the jumble of entries into humour types such as satire, visual puns, slapstick, black humour etc. This allowed us to compare Russian and Chinese entries with French entries on the same basis.

This is where semiotics, because it brings an acute awareness of the cultural macrocosm, not just operating in the narrow confines of the brief, helps elevate thinking. Semiotics brings in relevant cultural theory that helps better understand context and any assumptions underlying the work. This allows brand teams to unlock insights unlikely to emerge without a semiotic intervention. On a new product development study for Jack Daniels, understanding their maverick heritage in Tennessee and how this would play in more conformist Asian markets was an important filter in the research.

Semiotics brings in relevant cultural theory to better understand context and assumptions underlying creative work

Semiotics creates spatial maps sorting entries into their most meaningful categories. So, for example, on a lager project geared to sourcing entries under the title ‘Living in the Moment’ the category quadrants were mindful versus mindless and prolonged versus ephemeral. Each of these quadrants carried different strategic implications for brand strategy and so bringing these differences to light help fast track decision-making.

Semiotics can even be the glue between strategy and creativity helping guide creative expression so it optimally expresses a strategic option. So, for example, on a project for KIA cars (see image below), semiotics was able recommend through a music analysis, what genres of music might be appropriate to convey different dimensions of the word “vibrant”. So it would be hip-hop for rhythmic movement and samba for a lighter conviviality!

Visit Chris Arning's website by clicking on the image above

Visit Chris Arning’s website by clicking on the image above

The semiotic perspective is geared to identifying the patterns across work and to be much more precise about how it works. I like to think of it like a currency exchange for creativity: it is able to convert creativity of different currencies and nationalities into one common currency to measure its worth. So whether rubles, rand or renminbi, eYeka clients are getting the most value out of their community.

As crowdsourcing becomes more international, there will be an increasing need to sensitively assess creative executions generated by creatives from different regions. Masaya Haraguchi, Planning Director at ADK has remarked that he sees semiotics as a truly indispensable part of any crowdsourced ideation process.

As crowdsourcing becomes more international, there will be an increasing need to assess creative executions from different regions.

Like crowdsourcing, semiotics is applicable to all sorts of types of project and to all sorts of business problems: new product development, proposition refinement or insight generation. Whatever the task, semiotics can help to extract meaning, bring more objectivity and help fast track decisions. It is estimated that semiotics only accounts for probably less than £200 million worth of revenue globally yet its usage has been increasing of late with clients and their agency partners increasingly turning to semiotics for insights they cannot gain elsewhere.

If you are interested to learn more about semiotics analysis and crowdsourcing, do not hesitate to contact us.

About Chris Arning

Chris Arning specializes in semiotics and cultural insight. He has 10 years of international experience as a qualitative researcher and semiotician. He has a BA in History, an MA in International Relations and studied semiotics under Professor Marcel Danesi at University of Toronto. As Head of Semiotics at Flamingo Research he designed and led semiotics projects for brands as diverse as Pepsico, Pernod Ricard, O2, Manchester City FC and the World Gold Council. He is the author of two Semiotica papers and two ESOMAR papers and is founder and steward of the Linked In Semiotic Thinking Group. He set up Creative Semiotics Ltd, a boutique insight consultancy in late 2010. Since setting up CS he has conducted a brand audit for a music television channel, run a global project on the codes of ‘invigoration’, conducted a logo evaluation for a big UK retailer and worked on several global co-creation studies. He is co-organizer of Semiofest 2012, billed as a ‘celebration of semiotic thinking’. He speaks conversational Spanish and a sort of Japanese.
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