Creative and Branding

What the Heck are Archetypes in Branding?

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Words by Michelle Polizzi
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Archetypes in branding are used to guide and strengthen a brand’s story. Choosing an archetype can help your brand establish meaningful relationships with current and future customers. It’s also a great way to stand out from a busy marketplace and leave a lasting impression on potential buyers.

Think about it. What do Simba the lion, Frodo Baggins, and Braveheart have in common? They’re all heroes, valiantly fighting for the greater good – usually at their own expense. The hero is just one kind of archetype used across literature, movies, and TV shows. Archetypes are an important part of storytelling because they stir emotion and create personal connections between characters and their audience.

Here’s what you need to know about brand archetypes, and how to choose one for your business.

What are brand archetypes?

Archetypes are commonly associated with characters in a story. However, they often tie to themes and emotions that extend far beyond the boundaries of a script. According to Archetypes in Branding, “archetypes represent a pattern of ideas and way of thinking that is consistent across time, generations and cultures.” Archetypes remain consistent over time because they represent values, traits, and motivations that are intrinsic to human nature.

For example, people are constantly inspired by heroes. Heroes represent the courage that lives inside of each of us. Brands like Nike, which embodies the hero archetype, inspire us to become the strongest, bravest versions of ourselves. Nike shoe styles may change over time. But, heroes will always make humans feel empowered and motivated, no matter what year it is.

The hero is just one of twelve core archetypes used to guide modern brand personalities. These twelve characters were first outlined in a famous book titled The Hero and The Outlaw, published in 2001 by Carol S. Pearson and Margaret Mark. This book outlines how archetypal stories can be used to create a strong identity both internally and externally. It also warns against misuse of archetypes, explaining where and how each character can experience downfall.

Why do archetypes matter?

As we discussed above, archetypes tap into universal human desires. They take the sales pitches and value propositions and transform them into a character that people understand. This all sounds warm and fuzzy, but by now you’re probably wondering: how do archetypes relate to business goals?

We don’t blame you for asking. To understand why brand archetypes matter for your bottom line, consider these three benefits of archetypal branding:

Archetypes support differentiation

Wondering how to stand out from the crowd in a saturated market? A strong archetype could be the answer. Archetypes inspire you to dig deep into your brand’s roots and find the why behind all that you do. The people, places, and ideas that shaped your brand’s beginnings are truly unique to your brand. This is especially important to remember when you share the same archetype as another brand in your industry.

If you’re struggling to stand out, remember the DNA that makes your brand a rare gem.

Archetypes set the tone for brand experiences.

Archetypes set the stage for experiences and relationships with customers. For example, a brand with a caregiver archetype will exude a helpful, personable, and supportive personality. Once these characteristics have been established, a person will set expectations for the next brand experience. Hopefully, the brand lives up to those expectations. When it does, a customer learns to trust you and what you have to offer. Repeated, consistent experiences are the foundation upon a loyal customer base.

Archetypes tap into customer desires.

The power of archetypes is that they can be specifically tailored to your audience’s needs and wants. Whether it’s creativity, motivation or innovation they’re longing for – there’s an archetype for that. In other words, brands use archetypes to forge a connection between an audience’s need and your product. This helps them see why your product can enhance your personal goals, resulting in stronger, more authentic connections with consumers.

Choosing your brand archetype

Finding the right archetype for your brand is crucial for building an identity that feels relatable, consistent and unique. As you learn more about the twelve most common archetypes, consider which ones fit your brand.

The Hero

We’ve discussed how a hero brand can leave customers feeling strong, empowered and motivated. In addition, a hero archetype is also about instilling positive change in the world. To be a hero, a brand must encourage its followers to uphold self discipline and overcome challenges. Be wary, however, of seeming too egotistical or aloof.

The Magician

Mystery. Potential. Transformation. These are the traits embodied by the magician archetype, which is known for being both intuitive and charismatic. The magician archetype is less common than the creator, but beholds a similar sense of ingenuity and creativity. Magician brands include Disney, MACApple, and AXE TED, and XBOX. Being imaginative is key, but be sure to maintain a sense of realism and achievability.

The RebelOutlaw

The rebel outlaw is the cool and endearing archetype rebel archetype character. Whether its using swear words on social media or publishing a risky advertisement, the outlaw doesn’t adhere to social norms. In fact, it lives for shock and awe. Harley Davidson, Oskar Blues Brewing, Nasty Gal, and Virgin are all examples of brands that go against the status quo. Being an outlaw is a fine line to walk. You’re likely going to offend somebody with this archetype – just make sure its not your target audience that’s feeling the burn.

The Explorer

Explorer brands are outgoing, adventurous and brave. Companies like Patagonia, REI, and Topo Designs are excellent examples of explorer brands. While being adventurous with their products and mission, they also inspire customers to forge new paths and brave the unknown. Invite customers to join you on your journey, but give them a leg up so they don’t feel excluded in the process.

The Sage

The sage is like a trustworthy, intelligent friend you can always depend on. Google and The Wall Street Journal are examples of sage brands that people turn to for information. Oprah, Marie Forleo, and the Dear Sugars podcast are characters that also embody such traits, though on the path of personal growth and self-improvement. Consequently, these characters share a common goal: to understand the world while sharing knowledge along the journey. Avoid trying to sound too smart, as this can make your customers feel inferior.

The Innocent

Innocent brands are simple, carefree, and happy. Consequently, they’re the character that people can turn to when they need a refreshing, transparent, positive-minded boost. Yet, they maintain a set of reservations that people can rely on. Brands in the sustainability, health, and food categories are often innocents. Think: Seventh Generation, Dove, The Honest Company, and Warby Parker. Innocent brands sometimes lack a backbone, so make sure you’re defining your values and standing up to them.

The Creator

As you’ve likely guessed by its name, the creator archetype is an artistic one. Also known as the builder, the creative archetype touches upon discovery and innovation. Lego is one brand that’s well-known for its creator archetype. Lego seeks to redefine human possibility through creative play that broadens a child’s potential. The creator celebrates all things artistic, but it still maintains a commitment to truth and integrity.

The Ruler

Similar to a king or leader, the ruler is an archetype that sets a path for others. Most often, ruler brands focus on establishing exclusivity and class. This is why ruler brands are often creators of luxury goods, like Mercedes or Rolex. A ruler archetype can be a powerful way to build a cult following and create a sense of scarcity. However, brands should beware of how the ruler can be seen as pompous and too exclusive.

The Caregiver

The caregiver archetype is exactly what it sounds like: nurturing, helpful and altruistic. The caregiver sometimes goes hand-in-hand with the hero archetype, as they share a common passion to make the world a better place. Caregiver brands include TOMS shoes, Johnson & Johnson and St. Jude’s Hospital. When you’re a caregiver, its key to show that you’re strong and capable.

The Everyman

We’re all familiar with the term “the girl/guy next door.” That’s exactly the character that the everyman is about. Humble and approachable, the everyman is all about quality over quantity. This archetype isn’t aiming for a quick sell. Rather, they’d prefer to sit down, crack open a beer, and talk a little bit about life. The best examples of everyman brands are Levi’s, IKEA, and Budweiser. The everyman is supposed to be universally relatable, but it still needs to find a target audience to keep messaging targeted and specific.

The Jester

Everyone loves the class clown. The jester follows suit with these traits, seeking to spread joy through humor and fun. The key to successfully marketing a jester brand is being entertaining. Dollar Shave Club is a perfect modern example of how humorous videos can spread brand awareness while making people laugh. The jester can sometimes take a joke to far, so brands should make sure that humor remains sensitive and within reason.

The Lover

Intimacy is an essential human need. The lover seeks to tap into this need, sharing products and services that bring people close together. Indulgences like Dove chocolate or Barefoot wine fall into this category. Victoria’s Secret and Cosmopolitan Magazine are other popular examples of lover brands. One downfall of the lover is that they can sometimes be seen as too selfless and not grounded by human nature, which can make them hard to relate to.

Discovering your brand archetype will strengthen and guide your brand’s personality in order to attract your ideal customer base.

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