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Brand Archetypes

Brand archetypes are a useful tool when looking at “who” you are as a brand. They help pin point a recognisable “character” that your customers can attach to, and your business can align behind.

What is an archetype?

The word archetype simply means a pattern, type or model – and goes back as far as Plato when he talks about the ideas imprinted on a soul before its born. This typically gets translated as “essence”. If we skip forward a bit, we get to Carl Jung where most thinking of archetype thinking comes from today.

Carl Jung’s Archetypes

Carl Jung started with 4 basic archetypes, the Self, Shadow, Persona, and Animus – describing the the person we outwardly project, our hidden self, our primal self and the masculine/feminine image held in the opposite genders mind. From this Jung also spoke of the image of the wise old man, the child, the mother, and the maiden – images of the human experience that everyone understands. This is where we start to get closers to the Character Archetypes and then, from those Brand Archetypes.

Shared human experiences

When we talk about branding we are very much talking about connecting to our audience in a very human way. Humans connect, and communicate through stories – shared experiences and for that you need relatable instances people recognise. From Jung’s work 12 character archetypes arose which have been adopted by literature study, marketing and branding. The brand archetypes most commonly referenced are:

  • The Innocent
  • Everyman
  • Hero
  • Outlaw
  • Explorer
  • Creator
  • Ruler
  • Magician
  • Lover
  • Caregiver
  • Jester
  • Sage

Using these you can bring in a recognisability to your brand that will help you connect with your audience. If we look at Harley Davidson and VW mentioned in my previous post we can clearly see their Brand Archetype. Harley Davidson – the Outlaw and VW – The Everyman.

How are brand archetypes used?

No branding should hinge on an archetype – it is a tool to help you create a story for your brand that your customers can connect with – so it starts with your customers – what motivates them, what drives them, what archetype will they most relate too? People are attracted to traits they recognise, so work from your customer through what you offer and why they need it – and then you can use an archetype as a shorthand way of broadly shaping your brand. Remember the devil is in the detail – you want focus – not broad brushstrokes. Archetypes are only there to give a beginning of an idea, not the whole story. You cn say Harley Davidson and Virgin are both rebels – but they’re very different brands.

Pushing it further

The archetypes have been around for over 100 years (since 1919!) and since then whether in psychology, or literature, they have been played with and explored so there is nothing pinning you down to these 12. It is just a tool! You could take Joseph Campbell’s 8 archetypes based on a hero’s journey (every customer is the hero in their own story, right?!) – so who might you be on their journey?

Is your brand one of these to your customer’s “hero”:

  • Hero
  • Mentor
  • Ally
  • Herald
  • Trickster
  • Shapeshifter (maybe not this one)
  • Guardian
  • Shadow (or this one!)

This idea of the characters the hero would meet on their journey heavily influenced the work of George Lucas on Star Wars. There is some crossover with these – Obi-Wan is Mentor in the Campbell archetypes and Sage in Jung’s. Looking at it from different angles is useful to find that gaps and niches that will be most beneficial to you.

Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi - Mentor/Sage
Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi – Mentor/Sage

Do you need to have a Brand Archetype

No. But it’s a really powerful tool to help you create a connection with your customers. By using brand archetypes when you are looking at your brand you are moving your brand from being a lifeless organisation to a living character your audience can create a connection with. It can also help align your culture by giving a solid example of “who” you are trying to be.

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