Lately I’ve been thinking about brands as archetypes. Fulfilling different roles in the consumer psyche allows allows brands to solve problems, and therefore to build emotional relationships with consumers and users. This follows established thinking of brand personality traits, but introduces some fun, vaguely literary, quasi-psychological language.
This can be abstract, I know, but think about the brands you interact with everyday. Maybe you’re a maverick faithful brands like Harley Davidson, Virgin Atlantic, or Urban Outfitters. Perhaps you’re an everyman who shops at Walmart and wears Levi’s. On weekends, you’re an adventurer, kitted up in North Face, Jeep, and Timberland.
There’s no rule that a brand can’t have multiple archetype personalities. For example, both Dell and Apple could call themselves innovators or geeks, but it wouldn’t stop there. Dell is very much the traditionalist or the everyman, while Apple tends towards the lust object or seductress. Adding multiple archetypes brings distinction and clarity in how you write, design, and communicate for your brand.
Discussions with your brand management team may yield unexpected results. I recently had a client describe her brand as a motivator-meets-nurturer, Barack Obama crossed with June Cleaver. These combinations can be a great starting point for strategy and communication, so don't be afraid.
There is a new archetype gaining traction in our consumer culture: The pain-reliever. Our first thoughts might head towards Tylenol, Johnson & Johnson, or 1-800-Mattress, but I’m speaking more broadly. The pain reliever is a brand that solves problems, that plays the good guy, and reinvents the often-painful processes of an established industry. Think of the last time you were on the phone with your bank (for example), dialing through phone trees, and getting put on hold. Painful. When Zappos reinvented phone-based customer service, they earned a reputation for pain relief. Airlines like JetBlue and Southwest seek to cut out the now-expected pain of air travel with no-nonsense pricing and operations. Dropbox is a pain-reliever in the realm of online file hosting services, having built file sync software for any operating system that just works.
So today you have two questions to ask yourself. What are your brand archetypes? And are you relieving someone’s pain? Get some bagels, book a conference room, and start the discussion with your team.
For more information about archetypes, check out Carl Jung’s Man and His Symbols, Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces, or
The Hero and The Outlaw, by Margaret Mark & Carol Pearson
Prescott Perez-Fox is an independent brand consultant and designer in New York City. He writes regularly about design and branding on his blog, perez-fox.com, and spends a lot of time on Twitter.