Psychology-Driven Brand Design. Creating and Refining Remarkable Brand Identities.

Brand Archetype FAQ: How do I pick my primary brand archetype?

Brand archetypes are the secret sauce to creating stronger brands, and are an essential tool for any marketing toolbox! To learn more, read the introduction here.

Some may say that your brand archetype isn’t something you pick. That it’s an authentic reflection of who you are. That’s absolutely true.

But let’s not forget that branding is essentially perception management. There’s a strategy component to this whole business thing, right? In many cases, you actually can “pick” your archetype, and it should be a strategic, intentional decision.

The obvious caveat is that you can’t pick something you’re very clearly not, and then try to fake it. Won’t work. Archetypal marketing is not a quick-fix or a Band-Aid. If you’re a large faceless corporation with a history of prioritizing profits over customers, you can’t fix it by deciding one day to promote an Everyman image in your latest marketing campaign, when your customer service policies haven’t changed one bit. Change actually has to occur from within. Otherwise you’re lying to yourself and your customers, and they will see right through it.

But let’s say you took our brand personality quiz, and your three results are very close together. (The quiz results display the “strength” of your top three archetypes). As an example, perhaps your results show Hero as 57, Creator as 55, and Outlaw as 54. With your primary and tertiary archetypes separated by only 3 points, this indicates that you do not have a clear and dominant archetype, but rather a muddled expression of all three.

That’s a problem, because a strong brand NEEDS a clear primary archetype.

So what do you do? You have to pick which one should be your primary. Yep that’s right, you pick one.

Just choose? Just like that?

So, it’s not as simple as rock–paper-scissors. And you can’t just close your eyes and point, hoping to land on the most appropriate one. There should be both strategy and heart behind the archetype you pick.

You must remember that your brand is what others perceive you to be. It’s what you mean to them. So you can’t pick your archetype without taking into account your audience.

You also can’t pick your archetype without considering the core essence of your brand — the values and motivations that propel your brand.

How to pick your best brand archetype

If you’re just getting started, you’re in an easier position than an existing brand. That’s because you don’t have to worry about re-branding and shifting the existing perception people have of your brand. Instead, you can position yourself strongly from the start, and simplify any associations people would have about you.

Here are the three main questions you need to consider in order to pick your primary archetype.

1. What do you do more of?

What is most profitable? If your reason for multiple archetypes stems from diverse product or service offerings, consider if one is more prominent or profitable. Or, you may discover a common thread among all of them. (Read more: Will our archetype change based on the products we offer?) This speaks to your primary archetype.

2. What is most authentic for you?

What comes most naturally? What do you excel at? What makes you feel most purposeful? I can’t stress this enough: You can’t fake it. So think about what makes your brand go. What is the passion behind it? What is your purpose? What is important to you? And then look at which archetype best represents your motivation and values. You can’t go wrong when you base your archetype off of your fundamental essence, because you don’t have to work so hard at it. Passion alone can drive your archetype. What you offer may eventually change, but why you exist is foundational to your brand. (Read more: The what, the why, or the how – which determines my archetype?)

3. Who do you want to attract?

Who are you positioning yourself for? I’ll go out on a limb and say in 90% of cases, your target audience will determine your primary archetype (and in the remaining 10%, your secondary). That’s because like attracts like. (Read more: Do my target customers have the same archetype as my brand?) Consumers who see themselves as Jesters tend to gravitate toward Jester brands. They speak the same language. They don’t have to think too hard to “get” them. Their values align with the brand’s values. So if the main psychographic of your target audience aligns with the Jester, and Jester is one of your three archetypes to choose from, then your decision is easy.

Brands are like humans…but not.

Human personality is complex. No one person is any one thing. You can’t distill personality down to a single characteristic. We know this because we are human and this is our experience. So when applying “personality” to branding, we tend to project the same idea of “complexity” onto our brands. This is the main reason people find it difficult to settle on a singular primary archetype for their brand.

But brands are not people. (Even if you alone are your brand!) Brands are concepts — representations of an entity, a product, a solution, a person, an experience. And that representation needs to be simple and powerful enough to cut through the noise.

Archetypal branding works because it balances these two almost contradictory concepts:

  1. People relate to brands as if brands are human, yet…
  2. A (successful) brand CAN NOT be as complex as a human.

You may feel that by selecting one primary archetype for your brand, you’re rejecting other aspects of your brand that also make it what it is. I hear you. It’s important that you remember these two things:

  1. Research has indicated that brands with a close alignment to a single primary archetype were the most profitable. (Isn’t that a good enough reason to choose a primary archetype?)
  2. An archetype is not a cookie cutter. It’s the cookie dough. You can and will mold the dough into whatever shape fits you best. You’re not locked into a stereotype. You still have freedom of expression.

But guess what? In most cases, you WILL still use your supporting archetypes. They are a part of you and they ARE part of what makes your brand different. In the reality of today’s competitive marketplace, I actually recommend using your primary and secondary archetypes in conjunction with each other. (Read more: how do I differentiate from competitors who have the same brand archetype?) But this doesn’t negate the importance of identifying a strong primary archetype.

Keep it simple

The key to it all is simplicity. Your brand is here for a reason. It means something to people. It represents something to people. Archetypal branding allows your audience’s brains (consciously and unconsciously) to relate to your brand in a simplified and intuitive construct. You can use archetypal branding to make it easy for people to choose you, naturally and instinctively.

With simplicity comes great power. Can you handle it? 😉

Go Deeper

Do you have a burning question about brand archetypes? Want to dig deep and explore the hidden potential of your brand’s personality? Let us know! Schedule a consultation to find out how you can use the power of brand archetypes in your marketing. Still haven’t taken the quiz? Set aside ten minutes and do it here:

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Nyla Smith

Nyla is a Graphic Designer, Web Designer, Front-End Web Developer and Consultant with over 15 years of experience. She is the owner of n-Vision Designs, LLC in Hampton Roads, Virginia, which exists to provide marketing support and brand consulting to small- and medium-sized businesses needing 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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