How to use (and not use) Brand Archetypes

I know I should be using archetypes to develop my brand. But what are they, and how do I use them?

This post is adapted from our upcoming ebook, “The Big Book of Brand Archetypes”.

If you’re thinking about branding or rebranding, there’s a good chance you’ve come across The Lover, The Hero, The Jester, and all these other things called archetypes. At the outset, they seem easy enough to follow, but it’s very easy to get off-track. So let’s take a deeper look.

What are they?

Archetypes are, at their core, tools. They’re borrowed from psychologist Carl Jung’s work. Originally called “primordial images”, Jung believed they exist in a “collective unconscious” and are universally, or at least cross-culturally, recognizable. The idea is that we’re all born with the understanding these different archetypes absolutely exist.

Since they’re recognizable at such a deep, instinctive level, we can use them to develop powerful, emotionally resonant characters and stories. In branding, they’re useful in helping articulate and crystalize your brand’s voice.

Each archetype has its own Weltanschauung, or “worldview”. Critical to branding is using archetypes as a tool to come to reasonable conclusions regarding their worldview. Understanding core motivations can help you navigate the world as the archetype (for instance, what does The Lover sound like on social media?) These conclusions can help your brand to determine how it interacts with the world.

And of course, storytelling is the difference between telling someone “oh just buy this” and weaving a delicious story that will wake your target audience from a dead sleep knowing nothing except that they need what you’re selling.

Avoid using archetypes literally.

It’s one of the easiest things to say, yet one of the hardest things in practice: your archetype is not a literal representation of your brand. 

Easy, right? It is until you’re trying to answer questions as your brand’s archetype. For instance, just because your business is literally caregiving— like medical, teaching, or daycare businesses—doesn’t mean you have to choose The Caregiver as an archetype. And it doesn’t mean you need to avoid The Devil. 

Brands that are commonly thought of as The Caregiver are certainly nurturing, altruistic, and kind. Campell’s soup is often used as an example of The Caregiver, and we fundamentally believe that Campbell’s is an emotional warm blanket next to a fire.

Meanwhile, an archetype like The Devil may seem undesirable, but remember that your avatar is not a public-facing representation of your brand. Your customers and clients will never actually see your archetypes. However, your audience will recognize power and determination as key parts of your brand, and, if used wisely, will respond to The Devil’s desire for the audience to submit.

Don’t slide into stereotypes.

Be aware of the distinction between using archetypes as a guide, and leaning on stereotypes. A stereotype describes an attitude based on perception and is inherently negative. You can think of an archetype as an “original” or prototype – it provides a framework but does not assume.

Your brand’s responsibility is to flesh out the archetype, and not allow it to slide into cliche. For instance, Ron Swanson and Ron Burgundy are, in many ways, incredibly similar. But the creators, writers, and actors have fleshed them out into memorable characters you can easily compare and contrast.

Will my archetype change?

People sometimes ask if your brand’s archetype will change over the life of your brand, and the answer is not direct. Culture itself will, inevitably, change. According to Jung, these archetypes do not change – but their way of interacting with the world will need to grow and adapt.

People wonder how many archetypes they should employ for their brand. According to Jung? One. According to us? Two’s fine. Just don’t over-complicate your brand.

If you’ve done our Intensive, you’re very familiar with the archetypes themselves. If you haven’t and want to learn more, keep an eye out for our upcoming ebook, The Big Book of Brand Archetypes.

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