Triangulation Workshop

Workshop: Triangulating Semiotics With Other Research Methods

One of the challenges in the search for rich and accurate insights is the inevitable partiality of any one research approach.  If you only examine an issue from one perspective (or with one research method), you end up with a distorted view of reality (a can looks like a circle, not a cylinder, from only one angle). The only way to get a true picture of reality is to triangulate: look for the same truth using at least two different methods, and see what comes up (and, notably, what doesn’t!).  As a result, Triangulation, or mixed methods research has become increasingly popular in market research.  Quant and qual have long been partnered, but now more “innovative” approaches are entering the research mix.   Triangulation

Semiotic analysis can be a valuable partner in a triangulated research approach, since it offers a perspective that consumers cannot provide: by examining the meaning of things through language and culture (and with a verbal and cognitive dexterity usually beyond the grasp of consumers) we can provide valuable insight not otherwise offered.

Of course, many commercial semioticians specialize in offering commercial semiotic analysis: the client pays for that single approach. But there is tremendous benefit in offering clients semiotic triangulated with other research approaches, since semiotic analysis can reveal a range of possible interpretations of a phenomenon in culture [but not which of those interpretations are personally relevant to a target consumer segment. Only consumers can do that.

In addition, an oft-heard complaint about semiotic analysis is business relevance:

  • the analysis can be too erudite in language or abstract in theory
  • the client has no idea what the analysis actually means; they can’t understand it (which they hate, in North America)
  • the client is unable to use the analysis in their business world: what does the research suggest they actually do? How is semiotics ‘actionable’?
  • how is semiotic analysis not “mental masturbation” (real quote), or just “stuff you’re making up” or “stuff the client can make up themselves in 5 minutes”?

Triangulation is the answer.  It allows Semiotics to offer a unique perspective, while providing a context grounded in consumer reality.

In this workshop, – held Saturday morning – we’ll explore the theory and execution of triangulation in more detail, before engaging in some group semiotic analysis.

We’ll have a tangible brand-oriented semiotics challenge to work on, most likely in CPG packaging, in small groups.

Once our analysis is done, we’ll be joined by real target consumers, recruited to sit with us in our small groups and offer their street-level perspective on both the texts under analysis, as well as our nascent semiotic hypotheses (which we’ll present to them).

For some, this is an eye-opening experience, as they hear end-users explain what signifiers actually signify to them on a conscious level.

Once the consumers have left us, we’ll then re-visit our semiotic findings to incorporate real consumer input, with each group finally generating a short 1 – 2 page document summarizing the results of the triangulated approach in consumer (and therefore client)-friendly language.

The workshop is led by Charles Leech, the Executive Vice-President of ABM Research in Toronto, who are North American pioneers in using semiotics as a qualitative market research approach. ABM’s client list for commercial semiotics is extensive, spanning AB-InBev and Burger King to TATA and Unilever. Charles holds a PhD in Applied Semiotics and Media Studies from the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane Australia, and has been an active advocate of commercial semiotics since entering the industry in 2000. He has conducted workshops, classes, and courses on commercial semiotics for a range of blue-chip clients as well as the MRIA and QRCA.