Just My Type

Brand your business with the power of archetypes.
by : 

Nancy Peirce

April 1, 2014
Just My Type

Storytelling is a powerful force in our lives. We use it to pass down wisdom, teach history, and enforce ethical behavior. We use it to create harmony and unity in our cultures and religions. Whether a person prefers reading Shakespeare or watching television sitcoms, each and every one of us are exposed to and affected by stories on a daily basis.

The power of story

Driving these stories are archetypal characters who represent something with deeper universal meaning. It’s relatively simple to identify the common archetypal characters of the Hero, the Jester, the Innocent, and the Magician in children’s movies and fairytales—they tend to be formulaic and rarely diverge from their designated role. We can easily spot the Hero in the classic characters of Prince Charming and Aladdin. The Jester, or Trickster, is often represented by a crow or a fox or some other cunning animal—picture the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland. We see the Innocent in Snow White and Jack from Jack and the Beanstalk and the Magician in Cinderella’s fairy godmother and Glinda the Good Witch from The Wizard of Oz.

Interesting, but how does all this relate to marketing, branding, and business, you ask? Applying archetypal models to a brand isn’t as farfetched as you might think, and discovering your brand archetype can be a fun and insightful way to know your target audience better, expand your reach, and establish a niche.

Archetypes as a branding device

Many businesses develop their archetypal “personalities” without any real awareness they are doing so. A store selling novelty and gag gifts is a natural Jester, reinforcing those traits through advertising, décor, and choice of staff members. A spa can easily foster the image of the Caregiver by choosing soothing lighting, soft music, and a quiet atmosphere to help customers feel relaxed and cared for.

Many popular consumer products and brands have distinct archetypes as well. Dove soap, for instance, promotes the Caregiver, or Mother, archetype. Designed to nurture us, Dove constantly reinforces this archetype by promising to care for and support our health and beauty. Through it’s “Campaign for Real Beauty,” Dove tells us we are beautiful exactly the way we are, just as mom would.

It’s no mistake Nike carries the same name as the Greek goddess of victory. This Hero brand consistently tells us to “Just Do It,” and we listen. We are inspired by the sports heroes and athletes who wear the brand; we look up to them and want to be like them. The company showed its resolve to staunchly protect this Hero image when it quickly withdrew support for fallen hero Lance Armstrong.

Brands that reflect the Rebel archetype, such as American Apparel and Go Daddy, uphold their rebel status by going out of their way to do things differently, often to the point of deliberately shocking or offending the mainstream customer. While this tactic may work great for them, it’s a delicate line to walk in maintaining the balance between edgy and over the top; the latter could result in losing customers who perceive this “bad boy” archetype negatively.

Archetypes in people

People can also be brands, and while an individual is multi-faceted, as a brand he or she often becomes a one-dimensional archetypal character. Pop stars are obvious examples, but the same holds true for business owners and managers—their visibility as the face of their business requires them to embody the values of the business itself.

The late Steve Jobs is a great example. The classic Explorer, he is highly admired for his unique ability to travel into uncharted territories and return victorious. His willingness to venture into the unknown enabled him to pioneer some of the most innovative electronic products on the planet. Jobs’s personal story reflects the traits of the Explorer much like his professional persona did, from a highly intelligent child to a college dropout to a world traveler in search of spiritual enlightenment.

Oprah Winfrey is a perfect example of the Sage. We trust her to give us advice in all aspects of our lives. Her role as the Sage/Wise Woman is almost entirely unchallenged, and she has been known to affect industry sales, political viewpoints, and human behavior.

Discover your archetype

As a business owner, it may be very clear to you what archetype your brand embodies, but for others it might not be as easily seen. Here are some tips that may help in your search:

Try looking inwards. What people and what brands do you most identify with, and what are their archetypes? What qualities do you value? Look at the list of Jung’s “Big 12” archetypes on page 6. Do traits of a particular archetype immediately resonate with you and the role you want your store to serve for customers?

Ask customers and friends how they perceive you and your business and why they shop with you. Do they seek you for advice? You may be a Sage. Are you the one known for making things happen? Perhaps you are the Magician. Ask them if your branding reflects how they perceive your store. A by-product of asking your customers for feedback is they will feel more invested in your business, which further strengthens your relationship to your loyal customer base!

Look at similar stores in your area. Is an archetype represented strongly across the board? If so, perhaps customers are craving a shopping experience that is counterpoint to this archetype. Or, perhaps other stores aren’t marketing this collective archetype effectively, giving you the chance to step up and make an impact by promoting your store as the epitome of the archetype.

Look at stores across the country that sell similar products. Are they all doing the same thing, or do they represent a variety of archetypes? Which stores are doing an exceptional job of promoting their archetype? Does it make sense for your store to adopt any of their strategies?

Who is my target audience?

A primary goal of archetype branding is to understand your customer better. What motivates them and how can you use this knowledge to better serve them? Your current customer base is the best place to start building the profile of your target audience. Besides what customers said when you asked how they perceive your store, you also have quantitative data about their purchasing habits. What items in your inventory are consistent sellers? What items are you always restocking? Do you sell a lot of books on yoga? Are your DIY craft kits a big hit? Is jewelry what you’re known for? This purchasing data can help confirm if your chosen archetype fits with why customers shop your store.

Using Facebook analytics, you can uncover basic demographics about your store’s fans (customers), which you can use to do targeted marketing. You can also pinpoint commonalities among your customers based on their store interactions with you and your staff. For instance, are your customers mostly moms with young children or are they retirees? Are they interested in your educational events or are they drawn to your artful displays? What is the common thread?

Go forth and expand your reach

Once you have a good idea of how your core customers perceive you, what they buy from you, and what characteristics they share, you can expand your customer base to include like-minded shoppers. And, knowing your archetype and target audience will guide your advertising, help you explore new marketing avenues, and uncover creative marketing ideas that may not have been evident before.

Let’s say, after careful observation, you are able to identify your brand as a Sage, a trusted character people seek out for wisdom. Knowing this allows you to look for ways to provide the wisdom people crave from you, which you may not previously have thought of. Perhaps it’s time for you to host classes in your store or start an information-based blog on your website. With this knowledge you can look to other Sages outside of the retail industry and gain inspiration from them.

There are many fun and creative ways to use your brand archetype to your advantage in marketing your business, and knowing your archetype can help guide you in discovering which social media channel is most appropriate for you and your customers. Customer engagement through online forums and social media can be a daunting amount of work, and knowing which is most effective for you will help ease the workload.

An image-based social media site such as Pinterest or Instagram would be a great way for a Sage or Lover to share inspiring images with their followers, while a Jester or Hero may benefit from sharing humorous anecdotes or motivating thoughts on Twitter or Facebook. If customers see your brand as a Caregiver, perhaps they would enjoy a newsletter or blog that shares insightful wisdom and words of encouragement or advice. If your archetype is an authority figure such as the Sage, you may also have a positive influence on customers through these mediums, as well as advertising by sponsorships, hosting workshops, and showcasing specialists in your field. Hosting community events and contests is a great way for a Magician to engage people, whereas the Rebel brand may discover customers will enthusiastically display its store logo on a T-shirt or sticker—if it is accompanied by a catchy slogan. The Explorer can enhance the thrill of discovery for customers by holding fun contests or sponsoring events.

Look at all the ways you currently market your business. Are you using advertising avenues your target audience pays attention to? Are you using images and wording that reflect them? As you researched other businesses with your archetype, did you discover marketing techniques you haven’t tried? Now is the time to revamp your marketing strategy to align with the ways your customers seek information and to employ the most effective marketing channels for your archetype.

Building a niche

You’ve done the work—you know your archetype, you know your customers, and you know how to reach them. What you have effectively done is established a niche customers recognize and resonate with. Aligning yourself with an archetype that suits your store allows you to become more effective at networking and marketing, and it positions you as an expert—expert Caregiver, expert Hero, expert Sage, and so on. By differentiating your store in this way, you make it easier for shoppers looking for the products and services you offer to find you and stay loyal to you.

To thine own archetype be true

It’s important to stay true to your archetype, because it can be disconcerting to customers if you vacillate between different roles. If you have always been the Caregiver, don’t switch to a Jester, thinking your customers are going to be amused. On the other hand, you may discover your archetype isn’t working for you. You thought you knew what archetype you represent to your customers, yet you discover they want something different. If you can identify this mismatch as a clear reason for lack of success in your business, it might be time to carefully explore a new role.

The meaning behind your brand archetype has to be genuine and rooted in something real and relevant for you and your customers. Archetypal theory is a deep subject, which explores why humans have these connections and why archetypes appeals to us. Our innate, human need for meaning, understanding, and explanation is what makes us feel a connection to archetypes and relate to them on a subconscious level. Applying archetypal theory as a branding device can help us understand what qualities in our stores customers respond to on an emotional level so we can better serve them, create lasting connections, and nurture our success.


Archetypes: The Big 12

The concept of universal archetypes that stem from our collective unconsciousness was developed by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung in the early 1900s. He believed these psychological archetypes help define one’s world view and personality and make sense of life events. Jung identified archetypal events such as birth and death and archetypal motifs such as creation and apocalypse, but he is probably best known for his work with archetypal figures. Here are his “Big 12”:

  • The Caregiver (nurturer, mother/father, altruist, advocate)
  • The Creator (artist, inventor, innovator)
  • The Everyman (realist, working woman/man)
  • The Explorer (seeker, individualist, adventurer)
  • The Hero (warrior, crusader, rescuer, athlete)
  • The Innocent (naive, romantic, dreamer)
  • The Jester (trickster, joker, comedian, entertainer)
  • The Lover (partner/intimate, connector, passionate one)
  • The Magician (visionary, crone, shaman, change agent)
  • The Rebel (revolutionary, misfit, outlaw)
  • The Ruler (leader, queen/king, role model)
  • The Sage (scholar, philosopher, mentor, teacher, wise woman/wise man)

Nancy Peirce is a freelance writer and marketing consultant with a primary focus on digital marketing. Her interests lie in assisting small businesses, artists, and entrepreneurs promote their brands. She can be found at nancypeirce.blogspot.com.