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Does Your Brand Have Multiple Personality Disorder? A Look at Brand Archetypes

Nyla Smith | Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Just like a person, your company’s brand has a unique personality, and how people connect with your brand has a huge impact on whether or not they want to do business with you. So what can you do to harness the full power of your brand’s personality?

According to the results of a recent online self-evaluation, I am an ISFJ (Introverted, Observant, Feeling, Judging) personality. Even without taking such a test and finding out your results (though you know you want to!) you are well aware you have a personality all your own. We are each unique individuals, but there are shared traits that allow us to classify and make sense of ourselves and our society. And so it is with brands.

Humans are built for connection. We tend to personify things, including brands. We give them meaning and form relationships with them based on how they interact with us and the world, what they stand for, and how they make us feel.

However people connect to your brand and whatever meaning they assign to it is due to its personality. Brand personalities can be classified as archetypes. There are 12 master archetypes and they are useful for more than just labeling. They are also a great way for companies to ‘manage meaning’ in a structured way.

Arche-what?

Archetypes are not new. They stem from the work of well-known psychologists Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Jung described archetypes as universal collective patterns of the unconscious. Regardless of culture or language, he believed everyone shares and understands these themes because they are an undercurrent to all humanity.

For examples of archetypes, look no further than the latest blockbuster or bestseller. From movies, to mythology, to religion, stories and the archetypes they contain surround us all our lives. Because they are shared universal and unconscious themes of humanity, we can always connect to archetypal stories. That’s why we seemingly never tire of them, no matter how many times they are repackaged or retold. They speak to something deep within us.

“Archetypes are the heartbeat of a brand because they convey a meaning that makes customers relate to a product as if it actually were alive in some way,” write Margaret Mark and Carol S. Pearson in their book, The Hero and the Outlaw: Building Extraordinary Brands Through the Power of Archetypes. “They have a relationship with it. They care about it.”

Meet the Archetypes

Now, without further ado, I would like to introduce you to the top 12 brand archetypes.

creator archetype

Creator

The Creator’s core desire is to create something of enduring value and give form to a vision. Brands that encourage self-expression; provide choices and options; help foster innovation; or are artistic or creative in design embody the Creator archetype.

Learn More: "Meet The Creator"

hero archetype

Hero

The Hero strives to prove worth through courageous and difficult action and to exert mastery in a way that improves the world. Look behind that flowing cape to find brands that help people perform at their best, address a major social problem, and incite people to take action.

Learn More: "Meet The Hero"

outlaw archetype

Outlaw

The Outlaw is all about revolution and seeks to destroy what is not working. Brands that identify with values at odds with those of society at large, that pioneer new and revolutionary attitudes, or whose products literally destroy something (e.g. a bulldozer) fall into this category.

Learn More: "Meet The Outlaw"

lover archetype

Lover

More than anything in the world, the Lover wants to attain intimacy and/or experience sensual pleasure. The goal is to be in relationships with the people, work, experiences, and surroundings it loves. Examples of the Lover archetype are brands that help people find love/friendship or that foster beauty, communication, or closeness between people.

Learn More: "Meet The Lover"

everyman archetype

Everyman

The Everyman wants only to belong and fit in and desires to connect with others. The mark of the Everyman is prominent on brands with a down-home culture, that create things used in everyday life, and that help people feel that they, too, belong.

Learn More: "Meet The Everyman"

sage archetype

Sage

Guided by the discovery of truth, the Sage uses intelligence and analysis to understand the world. Look at brands that provide expertise or information and that encourage people to think and you will see the Sage at work.

Learn More: "Meet The Sage"

explorer archetype

Explorer

The Explorer yearns for the freedom to discover the world and experience a better, more authentic, and more fulfilling life. Brands with Explorer traits are often those that help people feel free, are nonconformist, are pioneering, and offer sturdy or rugged products.

Learn More: "Meet The Explorer"

innocent archetype

Innocent

Don’t worry, be happy! is the motto of the Innocent artchetype. It wants to find and experience paradise. Brands that are associated with goodness, morality, simplicity, nostalgia, or childhood are identified as Innocent archetypes.

Learn More: "Meet The Innocent"

ruler archetype

Ruler

One word: Control. The Ruler wants to create a prosperous and successful family, company, or community. Brands that enhance or promote power, help people become and stay organized, or promise safety and stability in a chaotic world are easily identified as Ruler archetypes.

Learn More: "Meet The Ruler"

jester archetype

Jester

Just like the class clown from high school, the Jester wants to live in the moment with full enjoyment. He only wants to have a great time and lighten up the world. Look past the laughter and that silly hat and you will see brands that help people have a good time and embrace a fun-loving, freewheeling culture.

Learn More: "Meet The Jester"

caregiver archetype

Caregiver

The Caregiver’s aim is to protect people from harm and help others. Brands that serve families and that place a high value on customer service, especially those in the healthcare, education, or non-profit/charitable space, are labeled as Caregiver archetypes.

Learn More: "Meet The Caregiver"

magician archetype

Magician

The Magician archetype wants to make dreams come true through knowledge of the fundamental laws of how the world works. In addition to a white rabbit, from his hat the Magician pulls brands that are transformative, have a spiritual or psychological component, or help to expand consciousness.

Learn More: "Meet The Magician"

Why Archetypes Matter to Your Brand

A handy way to understand archetypes is to think of them as different segments of our own psyche. We all have a piece of each of the above-mentioned archetypes in us. When a brand is dominant in a particular archetype, it resonates with that part of our psyche (and at times can even awaken it within us). As a business or brand, it’s all about creating a connection that speaks to your target audience.

These days, there is no product or service that doesn’t face competition. Back when we had a burgeoning industrial economy, companies realized that competitors could duplicate their systems, processes, and products so they quickly learned they had two options: Reduce their prices or give meaning to their products. Guess which one is the better option?

In todays cluttered marketplace, brands that feel undifferentiated fall to commodity status, and by default, price becomes the consumers primary criterion for choosing.

Today we know that without a strongly defined brand, businesses are forced to compete on price alone. It’s no secret that in our global, interconnected economy there is always someone willing to do it cheaper!

People buy for emotional and psychological reasons, so the meaning of your brand is its biggest asset. What your brand means to people is what causes them to buy in, to want to form a relationship with you — and to remain loyal to you.

You Can't Fake Personality

When I was growing up my family moved several times. I saw each move as an opportunity to “reinvent myself.” I determined that this time, in this new place with people who didn’t know me, I could be something different!

It never worked.

Invariably I always defaulted back to who I really was and I eventually learned that I couldn’t be something I wasn’t deep down in my soul. The same holds true for brands.

Archetypes provide meaning to people to help them connect with your brand. To be effective, the message your brand conveys must be authentic. You cannot just decide one day to add a certain meaning to your brand. You must actually embody that meaning. In other words, you can’t just decide to create a heartwrenching ad so that you will be perceived as a Caregiver – it must be true to your values and actions and how your business is already operating.

Brand archetype theory is not meant to be viewed as a formulaic “instant identity” to solve all your branding problems. Rather, it provides structure and acts as a sounding board to help determine how you can best convey the meaning of your brand to those you are trying to connect with.

Build a Strong Brand

By “strong” I don’t mean overbearing or loud. A strong personality is one that is clearly defined and articulated in everything your business does, not one that clumsily waffles across many personalities, unsure of which one to choose.

More than fifteen years ago, a Young & Rubicam study of over 13,000 brands and 120,000 consumers confirmed that the more profitable brands were also the ones that aligned closely with a single archetype, rather than those who had “confusing” brand archetypes, or identified closely with multiple archetypes.

Your business brand may have a secondary (and perhaps even tertiary) archetype, but how closely it lines up with your primary archetype will impact how your brand is perceived. Align with too many archetypes and you run the risk of having a brand afflicted with multiple personality disorder.

Pop Quiz Time

Take a moment to examine your brand. Are you straying from your primary archetype, and thus losing meaning to the people you want to engage? If so, maybe it’s time to put archetypal branding methods to work for your organization. First, determine which one you are with our helpful (and fun!) brand archetype quiz. Then, once you pinpoint your brand archetype, learn more about it right here on the blog, and subscribe to our email updates for resources and advice on how to make your archetype work for you!

Take the Brand Archetype Quiz!
Nyla Smith is a Graphic Designer, Web Designer, and Front-End Web Developer with over 11 years of experience. She is the owner of n-Vision Designs, LLC in Hampton, Virginia, which exists to provide marketing support to small- and medium-sized businesses that need creative solutions. Contact Nyla if you'd like to discuss your next creative project. She can usually be bribed to a meeting with a cup of green tea and an oatmeal cookie.
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