Notes from Semiofest: The Best Kept Conference Secret in Marketing

Sarah Jane Johnson

I’ve just returned from my favourite conference in the Whole Wide World – Semiofest, the perfect combination of intellectiual stimulation, camaraderie and News You Can Use.

Semiotics and Digital Interface Design

Semiofest is a conference dedicated to the celebration of “Applied Semiotics” (the analysis of cultural symbolism for marketing purposes).   Because Applied Semiotics is an emergent field in marketing, Semiofest is a pretty small conference, usually only 60-100 people.   But those people are some of the nicest, smartest and most interesting people you’ll ever going to meet, and they come from all over the world to share how they are using the power of Semiotic Analysis to understand customers more deeply, optimize communications and carve out unique new positionings for brands.

Semiofest 2016 - Sarah Johnson

This year, the conference was held in Tallinn, Estonia, which is not only a worldwide centre of excellence for Semiotics, it also does mean lines in fabulous stripey fabrics, hipster restaurants in industrial spaces and artisanal dark bread.  The content of the conference was uniformly high, but for brevity’s sake, I will mention a short list of presentations with particular relevance for marketing.

  • In “Wheelchair as a Game-changer” Kateřina Ailová; and Lucia Trézová, of the Czech Republic’s IdeaSense, discussed how using Semiotic cues from Sports design allowed them to design a wheelchair that was visibly empowering and status-enhancing for the user.
  • In “The BRICS Bank – a New World Order” by Alpana Parida, of DY Works Branding Agency in India, demonstrated the power of Semiotics to help create a truly unique positioning for The BRICS bank that is reflected in everything from logo design to office decor.
  • With “Innovating television to meet the divergent needs of an entire population” Karin Sandelin, of TNS Sifo in Sweden shared how Semiotics was used to identify emotional needstates for Swedish public television.
  • Al Deakin of Space Doctors shared a case study on how studying the Semiotics of Sleep help a leading hotel chain to develop more appealing, space effective hotel rooms.
  • And last, but not least, Chris Arning of Creative Semiotics introduced the “Musical Navigator”, a Semiotic Tool for more strategic use of music in branding.  This was particularly interesting as music is an extremely powerful semiotic cue that is currently somewhat neglected in Marketing Semiotics.

In the five years since the conference was launched, both the content and the industry have come an incredibly long way.  It was truly inspirational to see the wide range of ways Marketing Semiotics is helping to build brands around the world.