How the wrong character archetype will undermine your business storytelling

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So we know that any successful company or organisation needs a brand personality. It needs to be strong, distinctive and not there by accident. Brand is not something you leave to chance, after all.

Nurture it, know it, promote it, live it.  How your customer and clients connect with your brand is super important. So how do you make sure your brand connects fully with your target audience?

Make sure you align archetypes.

What we might refer to as brand personalities are actually character archetypes. It’s generally accepted that there are 12 of them.

So what are they?

The term ‘Archetype’ comes to us from the ancient Greeks, rooted in the words ‘archein’ which means original and ’typos’ which translates as type or pattern .

But more popularly, the concept of character archetypes goes back to the psychologist C G Jung, who argued that they had always been there, that these mythical, universal character types existed within the collective unconscious.

Archetypes are an essential building block of story and storytellers have used them for centuries.

They are the first cousin to genre and as such are instantly familiar to anyone who has watched a Hollywood blockbuster,  read a book, watched a play or even listened to song lyrics.

The Hero, the Adventurer, The Explorer, The Lover, The Magician, The Ruler, The Jester, The Innocent, The Sage, The Creator, The Caregiver and The Rebel …..

These don’t need much in the way of explanation or introduction when it comes to the way we absorb and receive stories, or enjoy films, dramas and books.

Why do these ‘character archetypes’ work so well in stories?

Because of how they engage on a subconscious level. We journey through story with them. We don’t just watch the hero or heroine of a tale experience  highs and lows,  glory and the defeat,  triumph and heartbreak. We experience all those things for ourselves. That’s why story connects, moves us and is so powerful.

So in the same way that story is innate, so are archetypes, whether we’re talking Indiana Jones or Pizza Express. An archetype conveys meaning. We find ourselves relating to the brand as a living, breathing thing.

And because archetypes connect subconsciously with an audience, they are all the more powerful. A company boosts the way it engages with its customers by constructing its brand around the correct archetype.

Big, well known brands will have obvious archetypes. But for younger, smaller businesses and organisations character archetypes can be especially useful. They can help a company to  stand out by differentiating themselves from their competitors,  helping build customer identification and loyalty.

Your target audience’s archetype will define and describe the reasons why they want certain things, why and how they search for them and why and how they share the story of their experience.

Most people have several archetypes at play in their personality construct. However, one tends to dominate. And in terms of a business or organisation, this is the archetype to focus on.

And remember this, Archetypes set up certain expectations – of behaviour, of response and worldview. So if a business assigns itself the wrong archetype, one that doesn’t connect to and reflect its audience, it’s going to find itself in a bad place and risks languishing in a state of what I call-

Archetype Divergence.

This is when a brand, company, business or organisation’s archetype does not match that of its target customer base. And this is almost certainly happening because that organisation, for whatever reason, is not being honest with itself. It might happen after a re-launch or re-branding for example, maybe an attempt to take a business upmarket in the search for a new customer base.

The risk here is jeopardising the relationship with the existing customer who might feel that they’re being told they aren’t good enough.

Effectively, as a business – especially one that has been around for a while – your archetype is in the eye of the customer.  So how can  you control the way you are perceived by them?

Here’s how. By being honest.

As in our personal relationships, in business there is such a thing as trying too hard. The important thing is for you to decide and KNOW who you are.  It’s YOUR  tool to use. So remember, when it comes to your brand –  Nurture it, know it, promote it, live it.

But things are never quite that simple.

No one – not a person, a business, a brand – defines themselves purely by one archetype. Life is too complex, deep and dynamic for that. Most of us will probably have three or four in us. But one will predominate.

Now and then life throws us a spanner.

Trauma, upset, shock or sudden change of any kind – be it divorce, illness, loss of job, a milestone birthday, can very quickly change our view of the world and bring the more dormant archetypes within us  to the surface.

Now, instead of being happy and settled in ourselves, we’re looking for change, to disrupt all that went before. So the rebel or explorer challenges the everyman.  If we’ve been the victim of crime, our view could change and suddenly we are less the Jester and more The Ruler, in our desire for security.

The point being things change, all the time.

The story of life is a tale of constant change and surprise, not unlike a box of chocolates, apparently. So while it’s a mistake not to clearly define  your dominant character archetype as an organisation and brand, you want to guard against being too settled and comfortable.  So alongside honesty, we now have flexibility as a prerequisite to get the most out of our character archetype.

If Archetypes teach us one thing it is to know ourselves and what we do and be the best at that.   As in any story, people respond to authenticity and honesty.

Next time, we’ll break down each of the 12 archetypes with brand examples, take a look at the main human desires and motivations each speaks to and the behaviours and actions they inspire as a result.