Discover your brand archetype

Strong brands connect with their audience – they speak their language. They have personality, character and the ability to tell a story. Most of all, they’re human.

Your brand has a unique character and culture, but how do you work out what type of company you really are and when you know, how can you show it to the rest of the world. For many brands, the answer is archetypes.

What’s an archetype?

Psychologist Carl Jung believed that archetypal characters – recognisable sets of traits and characteristics – are embedded in our collective unconscious and that they’re essentially the same across different generations and cultures.

They’re easy to recognise – think about movies, with the hero, the rebel, even the villain, they’re all archetypes. We know them and crucially, we know what to expect. As humans we love to categorise things and our brains are hardwired to spot patterns so it’s no coincidence that they keep popping up.

Building your brand character

What’s that got to do with branding? Great marketing is about connecting with people, not products, and archetypes can help our brand become a kind of honorary person. If we align ourselves with a character that our audience is already familiar with, it can help them to understand what we’re all about and make us relevant to their story. Brands fit into 12 primary archetypes, all based on basic human motivations, meanings, values and traits, so let’s have a look at them.

The caregiver – ‘we’re here for you’

Brands that fit the caregiver archetypes are all about nurturing and caring. They’re compassionate, generous, patient, they’re all about the ‘you’, hardly ever about the ‘we’. Brands like Panadol, Johnson & Johnson and organisations like UNICEF are a calming presence in any situation. Caregivers empathise with their audience, they listen and they offer advice. It’s interesting to note that in the years since 2008 a lot of financial organisations have shifted towards this archetype.

The creator archetype – ‘we make cool stuff’

Creators build things – in every sense if you’re LEGO, which embodies the creator archetype. Along with others like Dyson, Adobe, even Disney, they’re innovative, hard working and cultural pioneers, even if they can at times seem a bit nonconformist. They often have a great appreciation of aesthetics and are seen by others as a yardstick for taste and style.

The everyman – ‘we’re just like you’

Brands that fit the everyman archetype are keen to show customers how normal they are. Not in a boring way, in a belonging sort of way. In fact, Carling ran a campaign with the slogan ‘Belong’. Everymen want to show us they’re ‘one of us’, that it’s ok to enjoy the simple, reliable things and that products and services can be popular classics. Toms and Levis are good examples as is Ikea.

The explorer archetype – ‘we never stop’

Interestingly the explorer shares something with the everyman in that there’s a lot of focus on the ‘just like you’ part. Explorers are adventurous, brave and individualistic, and they’re keen to connect with these qualities in their audience. They’re kindred spirits just like the everyman, but rather than connecting with enjoying simple pleasures they connect with pushing boundaries. Explorers like Red Bull, Patagonia and Land Rover accept no limits, take risks and like to share the spirit of discovery.

The hero archetype – ‘we’ll motivate the best you’

Again, sharing some similarities with the previous archetype, hero brands appeal to the bolder side of life. But their message isn’t so much ‘do new things’ as ‘be your best you’. Nike’s ‘Just do it’ exemplifies this archetype. Heroes are about making a difference, carrying out acts of strength, courage and good and they aren’t afraid to cope with difficult and constantly shifting situations. Adidas, Nike’s key competitor, is another – heroes challenge their audience to embrace what’s great within them.

The innocent archetype – ‘we’re lovely and so are you’

The innocent archetype – nothing to do with the eponymous smoothies, who are much more of a ‘jester’ – couldn’t be more different from heroes. They’re just as positive and optimistic but they see beauty in everything and everyone. They promote peace, relaxation, calm and oneness. Their uncomplicated campaigns – think Dove – often evoke purity, simplicity, virtue and acceptance, sometimes with a dash of nostalgia. If you’re running a bath and you’ve added Radox, the innocent archetype worked.

The jester archetype – ‘we’re mad, we are’

Bouncy, spontaneous, a bit of a card, the jester archetype can be a lot of fun but it’s also easy to get wrong. Jesters want to make our lives more enjoyable and they won’t be caught up in conventional ways of doing things. But they tread a fine line between being endearing and annoying. The trick is not just being funny, but being clever with it. Brands like Paddy Power and Ben & Jerry’s do it well, but it’s limited in scope and inappropriate for some sectors. In finance, Nutmeg pushes this archetype about as far as it can go.

The lover archetype – ‘we know you want us’

Every fragrance brand ever. These are the real aspirational brands, the ones that deck out our perfect homes and adorn our perfect bodies in our vision of the perfect life. They’re all about beauty, sensuality and passion. They use closeness, even sensuality to create strong emotions in their audience. It’s not just about perfume though, confusingly, Victoria’s Secret and Häagen-Dazs are both lovers, even if their key messages are somewhat opposed.

The magician archetype – ‘we can fix that’

Who do you turn to when nobody else seems to understand what you need? The brands that make the thing, that works the other thing, that makes everything ok? They’re the magicians – they’re the ones that don’t do what everyone else does. They even tell us so, Apple has been telling us to ‘Think different’ for years and EA Games ran its memorable ‘Challenge everything’ campaign. Magicians work creatively to do what might otherwise seem impossible, with natural curiosity and a knack for results.

The outlaw archetype – ‘we can break that’

Another approach to thinking differently, but with a slightly different take. Here, being different means flying in the face of what everyone else is doing rather than developing innovative approaches. Not so much ‘Think different’ as ‘Think for yourself’. They’re rule breakers who bring us fresh perspectives and smash the status quo. They’re bold and courageous and they range from the gung-ho of Richard Branson’s Virgin to the go-your-own-way of Harley Davidson.

The ruler archetype – ‘we’re responsible and reliable’

The ruler archetype is made up of brands that do what they do very well. Brands like Microsoft, Mercedes-Benz and the BBC set standards that others follow. They tend to be quite traditional, aware that they have a reputation and a legacy to uphold. For that reason they usually stay on the right side of arrogance, but this archetype is still a double-edged sword. These are the brands that suffer most reputational damage when they get things wrong. With great power comes great responsibility.

The sage archetype – ‘we see everything’

Finally, brands that relate to the sage archetype trade on their expertise and their all-knowing grasp of what they do. Teachers and thinkers, they understand things and use this to shape a better world for everyone else. Independence and credibility are important here – sages are oases of calm in a fast-paced world. They’re credible sources of information into which trusted and intelligent brands like the Economist, IBM and National Geographic fit perfectly.

So who are you?

So how do you work out which archetype works for you? Here are five key takeaways to think about. Even if you think you know already, they’re worth trying, you may be surprised how someone else’s perception of you differs from your own.

1. if you were a celebrity, who would you be? – which celebrity springs to mind when you think of your brand. Now, which archetype do they fit? Bear Grylls, the hero? Kevin McCloud, the Sage? Joanna Lumley, for whom everything is just lovely?

2. Ask friends and relatives the same question – you might get some very different responses and that’s good. It hard to see ourselves as others see us and this is the closest you’ll get.

3. Look at other brands in your space – try to categorise the archetypes they’re going for (or at least are coming off as). Are there similarities? Differences? Do they tend towards some archetypes more than others?

4. Think about how you want people to feel – as Maya Angelou famously said, ‘people will never forget how you made them feel.’ How do you want your customers to feel?

5. Don’t forget context – to an extent, the space you operate in will lean towards or away from certain archetypes. Nutmeg aside, we’ve yet to see a financial brand going full joker (or lover for that matter).

We’d love to help you discover your brand archetype. If you’d like to explore it, give us a call.

Book a no obligation initial chat now and start your marketing today.

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