Signs of the time

Communication is not just about what you say. How you say it, colors, sounds and the feeling of different materials also affect what people think, sense and feel. In the digital era, it is therefore more important than ever before to be perceived the same way in all channels.


Every little detail communicates. And they can completely change the perception of your brand, say Karin Sandelin and Hanna Stolpe, semioticians at Kantar Sifo.

The pungent chemical odor of new shoes. The luxurious feeling of the cardboard box holding a new cell phone. The website where you can never find the information you’re looking for.

Everything communicates – in both the physical and the digital world. And even the smallest detail can radically change how the communication is perceived. One viral example is a still from the film Rocky III, where Rocky and Clubber Lang are standing face to face, staring at one another before the start of their fight. But when a hand is Photoshopped onto Clubber Lang’s face, it actually looks more like a declaration of love than a testosterone-fueled battle of wills.

How you understand the outside world

Perception is formed on the basis of the established cultural codes, where white product packaging can be used to signal a “light” product, while the sound from a traffic signal lets you know whether you should wait or walk. People create context and understanding based on previous experience, and the human brain calls on old information to understand a new context. For companies, this means that the perception of their communication becomes stronger when all sensory impressions align logically. This is the reason why ts pssble t rd txt whn th vwls r rmved and why the color red in combination with the hissing sound of a screwcap being opened immediately calls to mind images of a certain brand of soda. 

These examples can be summarized in a single word: semiotics. This is the term for the study of signs and sign systems. Or even more simply put: how we decode signs and understand the world around us.

“We make numerous unconscious choices based on what we have learned historically and culturally. In semiotics, we analyze the culture; this is the only way to understand why people perceive things the way they do,” explains Hanna Stolpe, a semiotician at Kantar Sifo.

Emotional experience increasingly important

With the advent of digitalization, contact interfaces have increased exponentially, making the emotional experience of a brand more important than previously. Because if you are not perceived in the same way in all channels, confidence in your brand will take a hit.

“We live in one world. There’s no difference between digital and physical communication – the receiver’s reactions are the same in all channels. That’s why it is so important to be clear, to avoid the risk of being considered ambivalent or inauthentic,” says Hanna Stolpe.

That said, you can still adapt your communication to suit the channel, which we do all the time in our everyday lives.

“You talk differently to your children than you do to other adults by adapting the form of address, but you don’t become a completely different person – that would be unsettling. It’s exactly the same thing with the different channels. You can adapt the tone – by using smileys in Snapchat but not on LinkedIn – while still retaining your identity,” explains Karin Sandelin, another semiotician at Kantar Sifo.