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Questions about using archetypes in branding.

As many people will know who read my content, I'm a huge fan of using archetypes in my work. What are archetypes? They are patterns of human behaviour. They span time, culture and geography. They are part of what Carl Jung called our "collective unconscious" - our human instinct. They are amplified in stories and create instant meaning in our minds.

There are 12 key archetypes (detailed in the epic work "The Hero and the Outlaw" by Carol S Pearson and Margret Mark) which I tend to introduce leadership teams to after we have set course on the "Why" of their brand and the "Who" of who it serves. Archetypes begin to help answer the question of "How" the brand should show up for its customers.

I find they are a great way of helping leadership teams:

  • Align around a brand expression

  • Tell and help create better stories

  • Communicate swiftly

  • Humanise their brand thinking

  • Connect deeply with their audiences

  • Create meaningful experiences

The power of having leaders adopt a collective archetype cannot be underestimated as it helps the smooth expression of the brand both internally and out to the market.

Here is an overview of the archetypes:

Level C Brand Archetype Artisan Workshop

Recently I had the honour of teaching a global audience of Level C strategists about the power of archetypes alongside Marty Neumier. I was grateful to receive hugely positive feedback from the wonderful audience it attracted.

I was also grateful to receive a handful of follow on questions which I have responded to. The questions form the basis of this post. I figured that if my answers helped individual questioners they might help other out there who want to use Archetypes to build powerful brands.

Archetype questions

QUESTION #1 - Customer motivations

You set out predetermined connections between a specific archetype to a customer need thus the type of storytelling path... Does it mean that you don't advise free associations? i.e other types of crossings like Creator + Belonging.

These ‘customer motivations’ are just a guide and are suggested by Margret Mark and Carol S Pearson. I don't always follow them as there are nuances within each archetype. For example the need for "care" leads us to the "Caregiver" but there are elements of Care in what the Ruler does for us. This framework is a starting point to have this kind of meaningful conversation and ensure that the needs of the customer is up front and centre when brand building.

QUESTION #2 - Archetype selection

Some strategists tend to mix or blend archetypes, like "dominant hero, influencing Lover". I guess you don't. Any advice on this?

I like to get teams to settle on ONE if they can. However when they can’t and they feel the need for a supporting archetype I do sometimes allow for that - it can add some depth and allow teams to not feel too “boxed in” by the framework. However there should always be one clear primary archetype the brand seeks to show up as for their customers - else it gets diluted and confusing. The worst situation is when the brand thinks its is 5+ archetypes. This leads to split personalities and confusion for customers.

QUESTION #3 - Archetype evolution

In the past you have placed Apple as a "Rebel" and Google as a "Citizen". I have Apple as a Creator (it was Rebel at the beginning but I think is mainstream now) and Google as a Sage (seeking knowledge). How do you manage subjectiveness on the clustering when running workshops? Do you strongly defend examples or do you allow people to have their own interpretations?

I think you are right that these brands have shifted in their archetypal space and would agree with you with your analysis of how these brands present today. They have evolved as they have grown.

When there are disagreements I am open to discussing that. The important thing is that a team aligns around what THEY think their archetype is. It's all about alignment within so that the businesses can build comms and experiences in a joined up way.

QUESTION #4 - Customer perception vs company perception?

When we talk Brand Archetypes, do we think about how company sees itself or is more how they express themselves to their customers? On your example, the company ROLEX is defined as RULER. They fit under RULER if we frame this as to how they express themselves to buyers. But it is not necessarily how they see themselves as a company - they might se themselves as CREATOR (for example).

For me the two things (how the company sees itself and how it wants to be perceived by customers) should be the same. Archetypes should help a leadership team to align around what that is and then evolve their thinking from there ("if we are the Ruler then how should we design our business to give that authentic expression to our customers"?) - Rolex might "create" products but the question is why and how? They do so to be the leader in the field. Offer the very best and precise timepieces and have a rich heritage of sponsoring leading sporting events which require precision. When they show up in the customers story they do so, not as the Creator, but as the Ruler, bringing order from chaos.

QUESTION #5 - Customer Archetypes

Should we identify the archetype that our customer is as well as our own brand archetype?

I'm personally not a huge fan of identifying customer archetypes (I tend to use personas which are more rich in information about the customer story). The challenge is that sometimes a brand is mirroring what its audience desires and identifies as but sometimes it is not. Also sometimes what the brand offers is applicable to multiple types of customers. I therefore think it is less helpful to insist on a customer archetype - you can do if it helps to bring clarity - but from my experience it does not always work. I've also seen it done to help teams speak about suppliers and partners. The only other thing I can say on this is that Margret Mark and Carol S Pearson suggest specific archetypes appeal to specific desires or motivations. It is better to figure out what the customer desires and look at how the archetype helps the customer to fulfil that need.

So - huge thanks to all the questions and if you have any about deploying archetypes in your work I'd be more than happy to take them. Ping me here or on LinkedIN.

All the best with using archetypes to align your teams and communicate powerfully to customers.


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