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  • Writer's pictureDominic Cincotta

What is Content Analysis and Why Do It?

Content is not just SEO. It is meaning and interpretation.

It's not the customer's fault if they misunderstand you. Period. But how can you ensure that does not happen. First, refer to my thoughts on what semiotics are and why they matter. I'll wait.... ok done? Now you understand signs and symbols and why they matter, how do you go about assessing your assets? Content analysis is the answer.

Jordan and North state, “The research practice of studying the diverse aspects of marketing is, like any other form of research, an organized process” (2010, p. 156). According to Macnamara,

Media content analysis is a specialized sub-set of content analysis, a well-established research methodology. Neuendorf (2002) describes content analysis as ‘the primary message centered (sp.) methodology’ (p. 9) and cites studies such as Riffe and Freitag (1997) and Yale and Gilly (1988) which ‘reported that in the field of mass communication research, content analysis has been the fastest-growing technique over the past 20 years or so. (2005, p. 1)

Zikmund and Babin (2010) also confirm that in this methodological approach the researcher is looking for a truth about the process of marketing. This is confirmed by Shrimp’s 2010 article.

The process of observation research looks at objects and artifacts in order to find patterns. Content analysis is a form of this type of research (Zikmund and Babin, 2010). By engaging in a post-test of advertisements, we observe how web media convey brand identity individually by brewery and as a group. Jordan and North also describe three requirements of a content analysis of advertising: objectivity, systematization, and quantification, which are seen in the development of a code book, systematic process of data recording, and detailed steps for data analysis.

As per Macnamara (2005, p. 3), Berelson (1952) provides five purposes for content analysis:

  • To describe substance characteristics of message content.

  • To describe form characteristics of message content.

  • To make inferences to producers of content.

  • To make inferences to audience of content.

  • To predict the effects of content on audiences.

Berger presents the format for performing a synchronic study of a source of media. She states, “…so a synchronic study of a text looks at the relationships that exist among its (media source) elements…” (2010, p. 18). Traditionally, this is known as the iconic semiosis corpus. This is done in order to interpret representations rather than describe the story of a narrative. This is also known as the paradigmatic analysis (Berger 2010). “The paradigmatic analysis of a text involves a search for a hidden pattern of oppositions that are buried in it and generate that meaning” (Berger 2010, p. 24). This reflects Levi-Strauss’s (1967) aim to discover meaning through the interpretation of the organization and structure of semiotic elements in images. Strauss theorizes that meaning is embedded through coded messages. By solving or breaking this code, we can uncover meaning that is buried in myths and stories.

In order to examine websites to decode a brand identity, the websites must be looked at as conceptual representations (Kress and van Leeuwen). According to the authors, “…conceptual, representing participants in terms of their more generalized and more or less stable and timeless essence, in term of class, or structure or meaning.” Referring to Aakers, since we are looking to decode the essence of the brands that make up their identity, it is appropriate to use the frame of the website as a conceptual representation.

In a conceptual representation semiotic reading, the researcher looks to create a taxonomy of relationships, which creates a network. This harkens to Eco’s analytical diagram (1967, p. 78). This study looks to examine the symbolic processes (Kress and van Lueewen) which embed the essence of each brand creating the brand identities. The corpus lens from which the researcher views the websites is one of iconic semiosis. The interpretivist nature of the semiotic reading of advertisements lends itself to an analysis of the conceptual representations as described by Kress and van Leeuwen. By referencing Gabler’s (2011) idea of lists with Aakers’ (2000) discussion of brand identity as the essence of brands, the resulting taxonomies of the semiotic analysis creates the lists of traits which create the brand identities of the sample set of breweries.

Macamara (2005) states that a semiotic read is an acceptable method of content analysis in media and advertising. This study uses a form of semiotic reading as a content analysis methodology and a way to decode and discover the meaning or to make inferences about the producers of the content, images, and language embedded in the western PA brewery websites. This method is based on research done by Kress and van Leeuwen (1996) in their book Reading Images, which presents a method for understanding images through a semiotic read. Keying in on representation, modality, and composition, these authors present a method for reading the meaning embedded in an image.

The tools for breaking a code of brand identity through reading and image as laid out by Kress and van Leeuwen are presented by Ndlangamandla (2005). Ndlangamandla provides a detailed example of how to break advertising down through the use of the Kress and van Leeuwen elements of visual design. These elements of narrative that are examined are ‘narrative vectors’, ‘modality and colour’, ‘gaze’, ‘power and camera angles’, ‘social distance’, and ‘composition’. In this study, each element is given separate consideration in reference to individual ads.

There are minimally two steps to the process of a semiotic read as Kress and van Leeuwen have explained. Saladaña explains,

First Cycle coding processes can range in magnitude from a single work to a full paragraph to an entire page of text to a stream of moving images. In Second Cycle coding processes, the portions can be the exact same units, longer passages of text, analytic memos about the data, and even a reconfiguration of the codes themselves developed thus far. (2013, p. 3)

A primary read aims to describe the image or narrative that is presented through the researcher’s frame of reference. The secondary read looks to dive deeper and describe the interaction between the visual elements of the image.

- This is an excerpt from my 2014 Robert Morris Doctoral Dissertation

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