What is An Archetype?
As John Truby puts it in his absolutely brilliant book The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming A Master Storyteller, “Archetypes are fundamental psychological patterns within a person; they are roles a person may play in society, essential ways of interacting with others. Because they are basic to all human beings, they cross cultural boundaries and have universal appeal.”
Put more simply, they’re stereotypes.
Take the word Mother, for example. What characteristics arise in your mind? Caring, loving, protective, nurturing. When you think of Sage, you probably envision a wise, old man, who passes on his teachings and experiences to ensure his students learn from his mistakes.
In fiction, we use archetypes as the foundation for building characters, because readers immediately recognize the character’s personality type. This give readers an idea of what to expect from a character.
Archetypes can have the same affect for brands.
What Can It Do For Your Business?
Archetypes can do two things for your company:
1. They give you a baseline to determine your story and how to share it. Many companies have a hard time stepping back and figuring out how to go about telling their story. Figuring out where to begin can feel daunting and obtuse. There are so many stories from which to choose. Yet, if you figure out your end goal, in this case which archetype you either want to be or that aligns with your brand, it becomes easier to recognize your options.
Harley Davidson has their archetype locked in. Rebel. The brand is saturated with images of wild, free, counterculture experiences, and the company’s target audience eats it up. While exceptional craftsmanship and history are important aspects of the brand, it’s this rebellious attitude that drives the story.
2. They give you instant recognition with your audience, just like in fiction. Not only do you become relatable, you reflect back to your audience who they think they are. As people, we are very clear about who we think we are. We may have different archetypes, but the point is we have them. Take me for example. Here are some roles in my life, and the archetypes with which I identify:
Writer/Artist — Creator, Sage
Athlete — Warrior
Traveler — Explorer.
I bet, after looking at the list below, you can easily identify archetypes that resonate with different sides of you. As people we tend to group together with those that are like us.
Take Patagonia, for instance. Even if you’re not an outdoors kind of person, chances are when you think of the Patagonia company and its audience, you think of high mountains and camp fires. Then what happens? In your mind, you form an understanding. Patagonia gets filed away in your mind as someone related to adventure.
Did you notice how I said someone and not a company or a brand? When you take on an archetype, you cross over, pull somewhat of a Pinnochio, and become a real boy. You—i.e., your company—become this living, breathing being with desires, fears, goals, weaknesses, strengths, and motivations. When you have these, you become someone with whom your audience can have a relationship. And that’s key.
As you continue to tell stories, each one that aligns with your archetype will only solidify your position in your audiences mind. With every story Patagonia tells me, the stronger and clearer the image of Patagonia The Adventurer resonates in my mind.
More importantly, if that archetype reflects my own self-identity, I’m really just resonating with who I think I am. That’s when you have me. That’s when you have your audience. Because when we share a connection with the brand, we’re discovering and/or reinforcing an element of our own personalities.
That’s when word of mouth will follow, because, who doesn’t like to talk about themselves?
Here is that list again, now with the brands with which I identify:
Writer/Artist — Creator, Sage — Apple
Athlete — Warrior — Under Armor, Nike, Dakine
Traveler — Explorer — Patagonia, Jeep
What Are the Standard Archetypes?
Carl Jung identified these 12 archetypes that symbolize basic human motivation.
The Innocent — To do things right, be happy, and belong; get to paradise
The Regular Guy or Girl — To connect with others, belong, develop ordinary solid virtues, be down to earth, common touch
The Hero or Warrior — To prove worth through courageous acts, expert mastery in a way that improves the world, be as strong and competent as possible,
The Caregiver — To protect and care for others, help others, do things for others,
The Explorer — The freedom to find out who you are through exporing the world, to experience a better, more authentic, more fulfilling life, journey seeing out, experiencing new things, scape from boredom
The Rebel — Overturn what isn’t working, stand out, revenge, or revolution,
The Lover — Being in a relationship with the people, work, surroundings they love, become more and physically and emotionally attractive, desire intimacy and experience
The Creator — to create things of enduring value, realize a vision, create culture, express own vision,
The Jester — to live in the moment with full enjoyment, to have a great time and lighten up the world, play make jokes, be funny,
The Sage — to find the truth, seek out info and knowledge, self-reflection, understanding through the process, use intelligence and analysis to understand the world,
The Magician — Understand the fundamental laws of the universe, make dreams come true, develop an vision and live by it
The Ruler — Desires control, create a prosperous, successful family or community, exercise power,
Which archetype are you?
If you’re having trouble defining your brand story, perhaps considering the archetype of your main character will clarify your vision. When helping companies define their brand voice, I often like to compare their organization to a person. Such a perspective gives us a unique opportunity to take a step back. Consider doing the same before defining how you want to talk about who you are with the world. You’ll find that the inherent characteristics of an archetype will help you map your journey organically.
Shout to Kalen Emsley for this sick shot from Unsplash.