Role of Semiotics in Strategic Brand Management with Reference to an Omani Bank - PDF

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Role of Semiotics in Strategic Brand Management with Reference to an Omani Bank Swaroop Simha A brand is a system of signs and symbols that engages the consumer in an imaginary/symbolic process that contributes
Role of Semiotics in Strategic Brand Management with Reference to an Omani Bank Swaroop Simha A brand is a system of signs and symbols that engages the consumer in an imaginary/symbolic process that contributes tangible value to a product offering. Brands can create franchises of loyal consumers only when they are seen to be different in some way which is persuasive for target segment. Prof Levit in an article Marketing success through Differentiation of Anything argues that all goods and services are differentiable. The paper is an attempt to understand how semiotics analysis helps in understanding meanings and structure of a brand as seen by targets in a brand communication, further is to be viewed differently for services brand vis as vis a product brand. Semiotics embraces a broad range of social science disciplines, theoretical constructs, methods, and has broad applications to the fields of advertising, brand management, and consumer research. An Omani Bank has been taken up for strategic brand analysis and to review the role of semiotics in Brand building of that Bank Brand. This paper examines that brand equity management is entirely semiotic. This process may include a vicarious experience, a relationship, or need fulfillment and may operate at the levels of product, price, promotion, or placement. Semiotics analysis can be central in brand equity management, since symbolic communication ties consumption to the form of brand communication in advertising, packaging, and brand logo. Article type and Track: Research paper in the area of Marketing to be presented at Annual Spain Conference, Barcelona, Spain 1. Introduction Semiotics is a social science discipline devoted to the study of sign systems in cultural perspective. The words semiotics also refers generally to the sign system itself, as in brand semiotics, or the semiotics of a retail setting. the word semiotics refers to the visual or verbal cues structuring a text or environment that communicate something to consumers. A semiotic reading acts as an interpretive example of what the typical member of the target audience is likely to derive from an ad, given its signs and her or his sociocultural background. (Domzal and Kernan, 1993) All successful marketing works because it hits the right cultural button, creatively harnessing the power of culture - the greatest influence in all our lives and purchase decisions. (Semiotic Solutions Website, 2000) 2. The Brand System The brand has meanings and perceptions that relates to profitability. Over the years or so, brand strategy researchers have come to understand the importance of brand communication in building and sustaining brand equity, the value attached to a brand name or logo that supersedes product attributes and differentiates brands in the competitive arena (Sherry 1987, Umiker-Sebeok 1987, Department of Professional studies, College of Banking And Financial Studies, Muscat, Oman. Tel :( +968) , Ext: 223, GSM: Aaker 1991, 1995; Schmidt 1995, Floch 2005, Holt 2004, Mick & Oswald 2007, Ries & Trout 2000). Semiotics is not just concerned with the structure of meaning with a structural analysis, it identifies ways brand meanings are embedded in the broad cultural myths social organizations and beliefs of the target markets. As an example, let us suppose Volkswagen realized that the cute car is no longer as relevant as the green car in the current environmentally conscious culture, but did not want to lose equity they have in Beetle. What the management could do is to discover mutually compatible codes structuring both the meaning of cute car and green in the automotive category, they could incorporate green meaning into the current brand positioning without sacrificing the core brand message and equity of the Beetle. (Oswald, 2012) Brands are multi-dimensional sign systems that can be analyzed in terms of their material, conventional, contextual, and performative structures. In order to be owned, perceived, or available for analysis at all, sign systems must be available to the senses and so have a material dimension. Next in order to be understood, sign systems must be codified by conventions that all the members of a group share. Next sign systems form social discourses whose meaning is modified by the communication context. And finally, sign systems are performative in as much as they engage two or more interlocutors (the speaker and receivers; the marketer and consumer) in a communication event. All these dimensions are at play in brand discourse, where they contribute to brand recognition emotional association s cultural relevance and the relationship to consumers. (Oswald, 2012, Marketing semiotics signs, strategies, and Brand Value) Table (1.1) the Semiotic Dimensions of the Brands (Oswald, 2012) Material Conventional Contextual Performative Words, images, Codified by tradition Cultural nuances Intersubjectivity spaces, forms, or rules. reference Logos, packages, Ads, etc. The semiotic dimension of brands is therefore instrumental for building awareness, positive associations, and long-term customer loyalty, and contributes to trademark ownership and operational advantages such as channel and media clout. Consequently, managing brand equity means managing brand semiotics. Thus rather than define brand semiotics as a supplement to the traditional marketing tool box of product, price, promotion and placement, I endorse Laura Oswald s view that brand equity management is entirely semiotic, and that a brand can be defined as a system of signs and symbols that engages the consumer in an imaginary/symbolic process that contributes tangible value to a product offering. 3. Significance of Semiotic analysis to Marketing and Brand Management: Semiotic analysis aligns brand meanings and positioning with consumers personal, social, and cultural needs and expectations. Semiotic analysis begins with a data set, such as a group of ads for the brand and competitive set, or a set of consumer interviews and observations, and identifies the underlying system of codes that structure meaning for the brand, the category, and target market. This system of codes acts like a kind of dictionary that marketers can use to manage brand extensions or reposition the current brand. In this manner, structural semiotics organizes the world of noise and chaos into systems of relationships characterized by distinction and difference. This approach has important implications for brand strategy research because the distinction and difference of brands within competitive arena stand at the foundation of strategic brand management. Brands have value for consumers to exact degree that they communicate a clear, distinctive and relevant system of core brand meanings and relationships that can be repeated, extended, and communicated consistently over time, across a range of discourses from advertising to the corporate annual report. 4. The Complexity of Marketing Sign Systems Marketing Organizations spend huge dollar money to design marketing communication and hope to develop a memorable brand. A tick is identified Nike with eyes closed today. A major goal of an advertising campaign is to increase, in the consumers minds, the value of the product for sale. Since advertising campaigns have no influence on the real values of the products which they present, their strategies of increasing the values to the product are semiotic ones Marketing seeks to link products /services with particular meanings The task of the advertiser is to favorably dispose viewers to his (or her) product, his means, by and large, to show a sparkling version of that product in the context of glamorous events. (Goffman, 1979) the Coca Cola brand is valued at over $70 billion - and this testifies to the power of symbolic representation to capture the hearts and minds of consumers by means of visual, audio, and verbal signs. Laura Oswald illustrates this reference to the logo for the McDonald s. Material a visual icon. Structural golden arches, red background, brand name superimposed on the arches in white, squared font. The arches located to the left of the square so the logo moves off to the right, suggesting movement. Conventional or Codified the golden arches, the color scheme, and the brand name consistently signify the company and brand offerings for the McDonald s company. Anywhere in the world, in various languages, this logo tells the consumer that a burger and fries are not far away. (French McDonald s, on the right) Contextual The time and place in which the logo is situated contributes to the subjective connotations of this sign system. For example, while some consumers in the U.S. market may associate McDonald s with cheap, unhealthy fast food, in many markets in the world, such as China, McDonald s represents a special treat. The contextual environment may also embed brand communication in cultural archetypes and myth, creating either positive or negative associations derived from local interpretations of the message. Performative Marketing sign systems engage consumer/spectators in a communication event by means of codes inscribing subject positions for I and you in representation. This dimension is crucial for building brand relationship and for calling the consumer to action, i.e. making a brand choice. (Oswald(2007) Marketing Semiotics) 5. Understanding the role of Semiotics, in building bank muscat Brand - Case study of an Omani bank bank muscat is the leading financial services provider in Oman with a strong presence in Retail Banking, Corporate Banking, Investment Banking, Islamic Banking, Treasury, Private Banking and Asset Management. The bank has a largest network of branches, ATMs & CDMs and more than 11,300 Point of Sale terminals in the Sultanate. With competition becoming intense in the sultanate. It was interesting to know if this Omani Bank and its strategic brand management has been instrumental for sustaining the number one position in Oman. And understand how the Brand communication played a significant role in building the brand. Research question Has semiotics played an important role in creating the Consumer Brands scape? 6. The Consumer Brandscape for bank muscat Brand Laura R. Oswald uses the Consumer Brandscape to define symbolic system that integrates the social, cultural and semiotic dimensions of brands in a coherent yet flexible whole. A simplistic view of a brand may be, as a product, a logo, or even a jingle, the brand actually forms a complex ecosystem of commercial, cultural, and social forces. The Consumer Brandscape, is constructed by means of an ongoing give and take between the brand, the consumer and the cultural environment. (Laura R. Oswald 2012, pg 71, marketing semiotics, oxford publishers). Fig (1.2) the semiotic dimension: 6.1 Objective The paper is an attempt understand and to articulate a research Methodology at decoding the application of brand communication semiotics to consumer perceptions which contributed to bank muscat brand value. 6.2 Research Design - Qualitative Study The study of Semiotic analysis was conducted using qualitative analysis. An exploratory study involving focus group and followed by in depth interview were used for identifying the underlying system of codes that structure of meaning for the brand, the category, and target market was undertaken. 6.3 Composition of Participants Focus group consisted of 9 participants, men and women, with in age groups ranging from 20 yrs. to 60 yrs., local Omanis and foreign nationals from different countries who had been working and having Bank accounts in Oman for many years, were chosen for recording their views and perceptions about the, brand awareness brand meaning and brand associations. 6.4 Semiotic Analysis for bank muscat The study explored the respondent s views and perceptions regarding consumer choice and affiliation to a bank brand in this instance bank muscat, based on 1. Bank communication (shown below) covering its signs, logos, text, and meanings. 2. Cultural environment surrounding the communication and its analysis, 3. Codes identified for future development of the brand and its strategic management in terms extension or positioning 4. Does the Semiotic analysis yield different perceptions with regards to services brand in this case an Omani Bank? 6.5 Focus Group Process: The Group were first shown cluster of print advertisements together and were asked to identify the brands they were aware of. Next, they were asked to look closely at brands they missed and recalled again after closer look. They were then asked to sort out product brands and services brands from the cluster and after this were asked to pick the best ad out of the cluster and explain why they felt so. The next set of advertisements shown were Bank print advertisements of different banks of the world. The participants were asked to identify brands they were aware of and pick out the best advertisement of the lot and describe the reason for choosing it. The participants were then shown Local Bank (Omani) advertisements and were asked to identify the brands they were aware of from the ads and observe them closely to pick the advertisement they felt was the best amongst them. They were asked to identify the elements in the advertisement that appealed to them and those that were not appealing and those that was acceptable and those that were totally unacceptable. They were asked to discuss the banks ads which were competing with each other. Describing what they saw in the ads and how they felt about the words the colors pictures logos contents. The next section probed was related to bank muscat ads and how they fared with respect to one other competing Bank. This was followed by an in depth discussion of the role of logos of the Omani banks and how they were significant part of the ad. The last section discussed the meaning and importance of Banks to the participants and also made them to think what they would like to see an Bank Ad that would make it memorable, also to express their views on whether service ads have to be different from product related ads such that they can connect and be associated with the Brand. The focus groups were followed up with One on one interviews, this was done to validate the findings of the focus group study. 6.6 The Analysis and Findings: The focus group yielded some very interesting and insightful findings with reference to the marketing communications shown to them. Findings of the first section yielded the following: From the cluster of Brands shown, most recognized brands were Volkswagen, Nivea, Coca cola, and Bank Muscat, and Mac Donald s and Emirates. The other brands were not recalled even after assistance. However e.oman was recalled by an Omani participants. The reason for higher brand awareness and recall has been attributed mainly for the strong visuals in the ad, especially how the logo has played a significant role. Bank Muscat brand had highest recall and awareness and liking for the ad from this communication cluster. So also Volkswagen, Nivea and Coca cola brands rated highest in terms of awareness and recall followed by appreciation of ads. The other ads like 1 st security bank, Sadia chicken, Ultra speed, and a detergent brand were not recognized besides they were classed as nondescript ads not worthy of attention, too verbose and boring and had never seen it. Mac Donald s and Emirates was recalled by few, but everyone agreed the ads weren t much to talk about. The participants classified that there were 7 product ads and 4 service ads. Nivea and Coca-Cola and Volkswagen ads got highest appreciation in product category and Bank Muscat highest in services category. Nivea ad for the golden color background connoting classy feel to it. Volkswagen for the silver and blue background and striking logo. An aspirational car for one of the participant who wanted to possess this car brand. In the next section the participants were exposed to several international bank brands ads and were asked to choose their best favorite ads. In this motely cluster of international bank brands probed, bank muscat had the highest recognition, Union Bank of India, ICICI, Standard Chartered were recognized. But the most appealing ad was the Bank Muscat ad, as it was found to be most comprehensive advertisement with only a few words in it. There were participants who also liked Standard Chartered for the color green used. The second standard chartered advertisement was rejected totally for the following reasons. ICICI bank ad was recognized but was not appreciated for neither the creative nor the copy. And Ally bank ad had no recognition. Participant s verbatim responses are presented below with reference ads presented above. Black and white are boring, looks more like a travel ad, too much written matter, too fine print, not visible. The Union bank ad was appreciated for the following reasons: I like the face of the smiling women I like this bank brand because of emotional and personal connect. The bank helped me when I was in need, I always feel very close to this bank where ever I see the name I too liked this (Union Bank) ad because it shows a positive change and a happy smile The next section was a set print ads of Omani banks for observation and comparison, In this section Bank Dofar was picked as the best advertisement. As it had the Best look and feel, and was perceived as correct creative to meet the ad objective. Color green was very pleasing to the eye. Further, the Girl Student with books in hand looking for education loan. And the headlines which said Invest in your Future clearly found approval in the eyes of all the participants. Bank Sohar advertisement was termed unrealistic (Girl touching light didn t make sense) further there was too much of written material. Participant lost out on the promotional objective of this Omani bank. Oman Arab bank too lost out on this account and found it too much written in the advertisement. The bank muscat advertisement in this slide was a totally ignored and not liked as it was termed as unimpressive. The one ad next to bank muscat could not be recognized. The next section was to show participants ads with similar objective and promotional activity. This slide contained 3 print ads and were asked to discuss which was the best and why. The Mandoos advertisement was actually a promotional loyalty program ad from HSBC Oman Bank and this failed badly. As the participants could not identify without the name and logo. Even though the sub brand emphasis Mandoos was not picked up. The creative in the ad did nothing to the participants. And found the whole ad Silly Bank Muscat ad ranked highest in terms of creative, copy and design. The ad was highly visible because of the logo and its familiarity. The words save more, dream big cut through the entire group. The bank ad invoked positive feelings with these words. Number 9 in the ad had special cultural meanings. The bank muscat advertisement evoked very pleasant feelings, All the participants were in consensus with regards to this. Color scheme used in this advertisement has a dreamy quality because of the following elements in the ad, sky blue, white clouds and red logo and faces representing different people from all walks of life found in Number 9 makes it absolutely acceptable. The objective of the advertisement was to increase the savings by offering an incentive and reward in the form of an loyalty program promotion called the Al Mazyona ( see sub brand left hand corner top)account. Which was a draw based promotional activity. Hence the No 9 Million Riyals that could be won for opening and saving money with bank muscat. The participants were very clear about the ad objective. Reference to a patriotic feeling was recognized with respect to 45 th National day emblem seen at the right hand corner top, was mentioned and picked up. Bank Muscat was perceive
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