Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Deepen the Connection through Archetypes

Once upon a forgotten time, a parched wanderer followed the song of birds to water.

This is what birds have done since the beginning of time: call to their fellows across miles and even generations to guide them to water and the trees surrounding it, where they can build their nests and perpetuate their species.

Over eons, humans learned to follow these sky melodies to fertile ground, where we established villages and began to build civilizations. Eventually, we learned to imitate birdsong by carving flutes from the femur bones of dead animals. And then we found our voice in words. This long evolutionary process formed the beginning of the experience we call a story.

A Story is Always a Call
We tell stories with an intention -- conscious or not. We tell to move our listener from one emotional state to another. We call each other to awakening, awareness, knowledge, and action. At its best, our story is a call to peace, faith, healing, and love. At its worst, to fear, hatred, and war.

Ancient tellers understood that archetypal settings, characters, conflicts, plots and language in stories activated similar energies in the minds, bodies, and spirits of their listeners. Creation stories were told to give courage to women in labor; destroyer stories turned ordinary men into killers on their way to war.

This same primal relationship between story and listener operates today and we can learn how to use it to benefit ourselves, families, businesses, and world.

The psychologist Carl Jung believed that universal mythic characters exist within all people across all times and places. These characters are metaphors for fundamental human needs, emotions, values, psychological characteristics, patterns of behavior, and capabilities Jung called these mythic characters archetypes. We call them heroes, warriors, jesters, and others. They populate not only our novels and films; they exist with each of our inner lives and are activated by the stories we absorb and make our own. In their best form, heroes inspire us to go beyond our limits; caregivers show us models for altruism; magicians show us how to change our lives by changing our consciousness; outlaws innovate and occupy.

How Archetypes Function in Marketing Communications
For over a decade, sophisticated marketers have looked to archetypes to understand better the values, meanings, and underlying cultures that differentiated their brands and connected with their target customers.

Archetypal marketing, as described in Margaret Mark’s and Carol S. Pearson’s book, The Hero and the Outlaw (2001), assumes that deep, unfulfilled needs lead people to respond to what’s missing in their lives or what supports positive, healthy change. People who resonate with a certain kind of archetypal energy are apt to feel comfortable, affirmed, or supported by a product or service that is represented by words, images, and atmospheres evoking that archetype. The brand becomes the externalized fulfillment of that inner need.

According to Mark and Pearson, developing a simplistic, segmented marketing message that ignores this deeper level may be the primary reason marketers have trouble getting the attention of consumers who are facing challenges that require them to be complex and real. A knowledge and use of archetypes in branding could provide the missing link between customer motivation and product sales.

The Personality You Want Associated with Your Brand Depends on Whom You Want to Call In

An overview from Joanna Pena Bickley' 2009 blog may give you some insight and inspiration for your own brand story. I’ve distilled it here, and I recommend you take a look at her full analysis of the archetypes. http://joannapenabickley.typepad.com/on/2007/06/on_the_12_arche.html For an in-depth discussion of each archetype and how it can apply to your brand, I recommend The Hero and the Outlaw, available from Amazon on this page.

Acts courageously in a way that has a beneficial impact on the welfare of others. Good for brands that encourage you to be all that you can be, serve a higher mission, solve a major problem, or that have a clear opponent. Hero brands range from Nike to sports, to the U.S. Army and Marine Corps, political candidates, and presidents.


Affirms that you’re okay just as you are. Good for brands that give people a sense of belonging, are down-to-earth, practical, and make the tasks of daily living more enjoyable. Target is a perfect Everyman/woman brand, as are most beers and casual clothing. Taylor Swift casts herself as the Ordinary Girl, with "diary entries" and her mother's recipes on her web site, and her songs billed as "anthems" of puberty.

Crafts something new. Good for brands that encourage self-expression or do-it-yourself. Ikea positions itself as a creator with its home assembly furniture.

Takes care of vulnerable others. Good for any healthcare, educational, children, charity, or nonprofit concerned with the welfare of others. Cancer Centers of America is running a series of effective ads featuring interviews with patients who have benefitted from its compassionate and effective care.

Finds and gives love. Good for brands that encourage sensuality, enjoyment of life, and beauty, but also relate to families, friends, and the love of nature. Facebook's vision is that of a lover, but its practices are that of a despotic ruler. When a company's culture and practices conflict with its stated values, inevitably decline sets in. It will be interesting to watch what happens with this company, as with the internet as a whole, as these two prevailing archetypes come into greater conflict.

Has a good time and teaches how to laugh at self. Good for new, smaller brands that want to differentiate themselves from self-important, well-established brands. Bickley points to 7-Up and Fanta. Google presents its workplace environment as fun-loving and relaxed.

Exerts control. Good for high-status brands that cast themselves a market leader, enhance a sense of power, establish security and stability. The Ruler, like all the archetypes, has a light or "good" side and a dark, shadow side -- with the potential for both benevolence and bullying. Microsoft exemplifies both aspects of the Ruler. Politicians, insurance companies, wealth management firms, high-end clothing and accessories are ruler brands.

Believes rules are made to be broken. These are the brands that call us to a radical freedom, paving the way for innovation, new ideas, and products. They are also brands formed to redress wrongs, change laws and practices, and seek justice. Examples include Apple, Occupy Wall Street, and the designer Alexander McQueen -- the charisma of the Outlaw is the magnetic attraction that creates cults. (More to come in a later post on the fascinating complexities of this archetype.)

Uses the imagination to affect transformation. These brands are catalysts, visionary, consciousness-raising, spiritual, and serve the needs of those who consider themselves cultural creatives. Coaches, therapists, new age gurus, and holistic practitioners often use magician language and make magician promises. So do lots of cosmetics, fragrances, and beauty products. Think Olay anti-wrinkle cream, Jenny Craig, and Living Color. OmHarmonics is an online publishing company that's promoting digital audios to make the ages-old, lifelong path of meditation fast and easy for entrepreneurs. In this addictive, externalized culture, we practically beg to be seduced. Magicians are also shapeshifters and tricksters. Healthy skepticism is advised with "vanishing creams," "miraculous" weight loss, and "law of attraction" gurus. Same goes for you if you have a magician business. Be careful of promising a result that doesn't have client stories to back it up.

Retains or renews faith. Good for brands that appeal to morality, innate goodness, the "good old days," or are associated with children or animals. Sesame Street powerfully appeals to the child in all of us and isn't it interesting how often Miss Piggy, Kermit, Oscar, and Elmo appear in adult commercials. Mark and Pearson have an interesting theory that conservatives are really innocents in looking back to beginnings as the way things ought to be, while progressives look forward to a "more perfect" state. Mark and Pearson see the Innocent even (or more accurately, especially) in the moral righteousness of radical religious and political groups.

Maintains independence to seek new paths. Good for brands that appeal to individualists and adventurers. Bickley cites Jeep and Virgin Airlines. But also for educational institutions, research and development brands, and seekers of truth.

Strives to understand and explain existence, expands knowledge, teaches, encourages intelligent discussion based on science, humanities. Good for high-level, impartial news media, think tanks, and academic institutions. PBS News Hour, Bill Moyers, Charlie Rose -- sage brands.

If you're looking for a fresh perspective on your communications, look for a way to amplify it with archetypal imagery or "plots." Realistically, you probably resonate with several archetypes and have a number of story lines through which to frame your message. Try out a couple. Paraphrasing Jung, it's all the same material; choosing your plot is a matter of how you choose to look at it and what you choose to emphasize.

What brands stand out strongly for you? Can you identify what it is that either attracts you strongly or turns you off? Are there consistent archetypal patterns in your own purchasing decisions?

What's your Archetype?

1. Which archetypes match your business’s offering, values, and culture?

2. What language, images, emotional atmosphere express your resonant archetypes?

3. Are you reaching customers who are looking for these qualities? Which archetypes most fit your target market customer?

4. How can you express your archetype in your print, web, video, and spoken communications, your company style, and your relationships with your customers?

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