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The problem with brand archetypes

I don’t believe in brand archetypes. There, I said it.

This might seem heresy for someone who works in branding. They are an established tool used by many brand agencies, based on Carl Jung’s work on the collective unconscious.

I can understand why brand agencies love them, they’re a neatly-packaged service, that sounds really clever, so they’re easy to sell.

The problem is, what do you do with them? How do you actually apply them to the real world in a meaningful way? This is where you get sold the second service, translating them into a “brand personality“. Guess what, I don’t believe in those either!

Why? Because businesses aren’t a collective consciousness, a hive mind. At least 99.9% of business aren’t. The only businesses that could be considered that are gigantic corporates. And, if you’ve ever spent more than 5 minutes in the offices of giant corporates you’ll know that the idea of them having any kind of “personality” is laughable. They are instantly recognisable by their utter lack of any authentic personality. Because it’s just not possible to get 1000+ human individuals to do that, so everything gets boiled down to such a simplified level it turns into mush. If you want proof, you’re welcome to come see my collection of corporate brand guidlines docs, I have quite a collection.

For the 99.9% of SME businesses that do exist as actual “people businesses” creating archetypes is stifling and unnecessary. I often use analogies about brand being like putting on an outfit that fills you with confidence, and lets you be the best you. Archetypes and the personalities they generate are like asking people to put on a suit of armour and clank around all day in a rigid form that you will never wear in and make fit you.

OK, so what’s my alternative, I hear you ask?

Behaviours, not values

I approach branding as a fundamentally triangular puzzle, made up of:

  • You, the brand
  • Your audience(s)
  • The behaviours of the above parties, driven by their preconceptions and biases.

By looking at brand from a behavioural viewpoint, I believe it opens up the whole subject to adoption by individuals as themselves AND a whole range of practical applications that are actually usable. We’re no more able to “adopt a brand personality”, as employees, than we are able to sprout wings and fly to the moon.

What we can do is understand the relationship between our behaviours and the perceptions of our customers. Instead of a “brand personality” you just need a brand proposition, a mission and purpose. The fact that your people all have different personalities isn’t an issue, in fact that variety becomes the evidence of your brand’s ability to carry out that mission, rather than something you try to hide behind a collective facade.

When your focus is internal, your proposition is the benchmark you need. When it comes to your external communications, benchmarking must also be driven by analysis of behaviour. Most of your customers won’t tell you the truth if you ask them, and even if they want to, their own biases will preclude them from being able to analyse why they feel, and then act, as they do.

Arm your people with a psychological toolkit, not an archetype

Here are some questions you could valuably answer, to help the customer-facing people in your business apply behavioural science to their function:

Where are we ambiguous, such that people hesitate to make a positive decision about us?

How can we create a bandwagon effect, so that people feel the motivation of social proof?

How can we use external or competitor data to create an anchoring effect around our product or service?

How can we use confirmation bias to make them feel we are especially trustworthy?

How can we use some humour in what we say?

There are many more of these questions that allow you to leverage the power of psychology, without it being an archetype placed upon you, that you have to conform to. Your brand strength is about how well you live it. And that means creating a brand that you can “move about in, and still get tasks done”. Ditch the suit of armour!

We build strong brand perception
then convert it into lasting brand opinion.


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