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Unlocking the Magic of Archetypes in Branding

Unlocking the Magic of Archetypes in Branding

Elena Freed
VP + Group Strategy Director | Trajectory Data

Why Use Archetypes in Branding

I’m a big fan of David Bowie. I first laid eyes on him as a young child (now an adult about to date myself) as the Goblin King, Jareth in the Jim Henson-directed movie, Labyrinth. Once I began to dig into his discography, I discovered that he was a bit hard to pin down — he easily navigated between rocker in the mainstream to folkie to disco and back again.

During Bowie’s glam-rock alien stage as Ziggy Stardust, he wrote and recorded “Shadow Man,” a folk ballad that explores self-identity and doubling, and the impact one’s present self has on their future lives, themes some linked to the “shadow concepts” — or the blind spot of the psyche — of Swiss psychologist Carl Jung.

At the core of Jung’s extensive work lay the concept that symbols and myths transcend language, offering profound insights into both the conscious and subconscious aspects of the human mind. In addition to the shadow concept, Jung introduced the world to the concept of a persona — the idea that everyone has an image we show to others, but this image does not always reflect our true selves.

The heart of this theory is the archetype. In simple terms, the archetype is a shortcut into understanding a person — or a brand — and there are 12 of them in all ( Innocent, Everyman, Hero, Rebel, Explorer, Creator, Ruler, Magician, Lover, Caregiver, Jester and Sage). The beauty of the archetype is that each draws distinct visuals to your mind. When you think about The Rebel, you might picture Harley Davidson. It’s not a brand interested in the status quo, rather they seek to create something of their own. Or The Jester — the life of the party archetype isn’t afraid to live in the moment. I don’t know about you, but I think I just got a whiff of Old Spice.

In branding, archetypes dig into universal truths that go way beyond words to hit the core of what the brand is all about. They neatly set the playing field so every time you see, hear or think of a certain brand, you already know, for the most part, what you’re going to get.

If you’re a brand looking to determine your archetype, know that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to finding it, but there are some tried and true methods to take along on your journey. If you’re a new brand, you obviously need to understand your customer’s desires, pay close attention to your competitors and think about what values your brand wants to hold near and dear as it grows up. If you’re an established brand, that work still exists, but you’ll want to look at your brand through the lens of what your core customer has to say about you.

To get there, you’ll need to start with research that both looks inward and outward, ideally through the 4 Cs: company, culture, customer and competition. And beyond that, you’ll want to mix some other research methods together — stakeholder interviews, more desk research, and some qualitative research. A nice method salad can really help provide those hard-to-find insights and deep-rooted motivations that influence your customer and your brand perception.

Archetypes are one element of your brand’s secret sauce. They give you a framework to craft and share a brand personality that hits the heart of your customers. They help to unlock the magic of building authentic connections, cultivating strong loyalty and allowing you to stand out in today’s super-competitive market.

It’s important to note however that archetypes are not meant to constrain. Rather, they should be used as a starting point to create unique brand expressions and strong emotional connections based on, and for, your customer. Don’t forget, just like Bowie, your brand’s journey is your own.

And if you need help figuring out where to start, you’re in luck because our team at Trajectory lives for this stuff. So don’t be shy. Until then, I leave you with this.


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