After doing our research, selecting a brand archetype is the first thing we do for every one of our branding clients. Brand archetypes provide us with an easy way to visualize the brand as a person and they give us some high-level guidance as we develop the rest of the brand messaging.
So what is a brand archetype?
The concept of archetypes was first created by a psychologist named Carl Jung in the early 1900s. His theories were somewhat complex but, thankfully, they’ve been simplified over time.
For our purposes, you can think of archetypes as concepts or symbols that have become popular themes in our culture. By aligning your brand with one of these archetypes, you’re aligning it with a concept that is familiar to basically everyone.
This helps you ensure that your brand is relatable and easy to understand, allows for an easy way to position your brand in the competitive landscape, helps you predict how consumers will respond to your brand, and makes it easier to keep the feel of your brand consistent.
What are the brand archetypes?
There are twelve primary archetypes we choose from when we’re developing a brand. They are:
Innocents are happy-go-lucky optimists offering peace and happiness.
The Everyperson archetype represents down-to-earth, honest, hard workers that offer equality, comfort, and a place to belong.
Heroes are here to save the world. They’re focused, disciplined, and competitive.
Caregivers resemble your loving grandmother or long lost friend. They offer comfort and prioritize the needs of others.
Explorers are constantly seeking adventure and freedom. They’re full of life, highly independent, and often symbolize youth and yearning.
Rebels are here to break the rules and do things differently, often bringing about social change or true innovation.
Lovers are all about connecting and creating deep relationships. They aren’t afraid of emotions and are usually responsible for creating memorable experiences.
Whether it be art or science or both, creators impress others with their ability to build amazing things.
Jesters are all about the laughs. They’re playful, easy to like, and good at brightening up your day.
Sages are the wise ones who often have that magic combination of book smarts and experience. They make great teachers but never stop being students themselves.
Magicians exist to make the impossible possible. They promise change and transformation.
Rulers are the powerful leaders who can make things happen and are always in control.
How do you know which archetype is right for your brand?
If you’re like most people, you will probably see traits from more than one archetype that represent your brand. This is common, but in order for this process to work, we highly recommend selecting just one brand archetype. If you absolutely can’t select just one, it is okay to have a primary archetype that best represents your brand and a secondary archetype that helps form a full picture of your brand. For example, Superman would represent a traditional hero archetype while Deadpool might be primarily a jester with some traits of a hero.
When you’re selecting your brand’s archetype, you need to consider five things: your company, your industry, your competition, your customers, and your pricing.
This one is the most obvious and the most important. The archetype you choose needs to be a true representation of your brand, not what you think it should be or wish it were. You’ll need to take a good look at your company culture and the personalities of your top executives when selecting an archetype. If you don’t, you run the risk of selecting an archetype that’s not authentic for your brand and coming off as fake or dishonest. For example, if all your employees wear suits and your top execs live lavish lifestyles, it might be difficult to pull off the everyperson archetype.
In most industries, there are one or two archetypes that are common and a couple that just don’t fit. In the hunting and fishing space, you’ll find quite a few explorer brands. But in the financial services space, customers don’t usually want to entrust their money with someone known for being an adventurous explorer. You don’t always have to stay within the status quo, but it’s important to consider how your archetype fits within your industry. If you’re a company that people view as risky or inexperienced, going with the tried and true archetypes of your industry might help to mitigate some of that concern.
While it may make sense to stick with the archetypes commonly found within your industry, you might not want to have the same archetype as your main competition. To succeed in any business, you have to differentiate from your competitors. If you can do this at the highest level – the archetype that drives your entire brand personality – you can avoid some of the price and features competition that wears down marketing teams and profit margins alike.
Your archetype should match up with the archetype of your customers or, more importantly, the archetype your customers wish they were. The best example of this is Harley Davidson. By embodying the rebel archetype, they’ve successfully attracted a customer base of white-collar men with money who want to feel a little rebellious.
The last thing you’ll want to consider is your pricing. Some archetypes, such as the everyperson, innocent, and jester, will fit better with lower to moderate pricing. Others, like the ruler and the magician, allow for a more premium pricing model. These rules can be broken, but it’s important to note how the market will expect your products to be priced once you start portraying your brand as a specific archetype.
And that’s a wrap! Whether you’re a rebel, caregiver, or anything else, the most important thing is authenticity. Live and breathe your archetype, find your tribe of customers, and get selling!
If you’d like to read more about brand archetypes, I highly suggest the book The Hero and the Outlaw by Margaret Mark and Carol S. Pearson. This book was one of the first to introduce the idea of archetypes to branding.