Today I’m talking archetypes and branding! Specifically how to use archetypes to revamp your vision into an irresistible brand. In today’s world of online business, startups, and entrepreneurs, brands are born so frequently it’s unreal.
New brands are born every single minute.
It’s a little bit mad when you think about it, right?
If you want your brand to stand from the ever-growing crowd, and stand for something real, you need a good story. Corporate Storytelling is the key to strong branding. If you want the message of your brand to be seen and heard, you need a great story to hook your audience and get them to pay attention and invested it in your vision.
A lot of us go into business with a clear vision in mind. You know what you want to achieve, how you want your business to look, how you want your business to grow, and what your business will stand for. But somewhere along the way that clarity of vision gets lost to practicality.
When you’re first starting out all you’re focused on is making some money.
That’s your obsession. You just need to get clients, sell products, and get money coming in. Your priority is simply earning enough to cover your expenses. That is the nature of starting a business and it’s perfectly natural. But it does create a problem…
It might be because your business vision has changed. What you originally set out to do, and the way you originally envisioned everything working didn’t actually work, and you had to change things. It might be because you’ve got so busy, got so distracted, so caught up in the practicalities that you couldn’t hold on to the dream.
When you’re running your own business you should be running the dream, otherwise, what is the point?
What To Do When You’ve Lost Your Business Vision…
If you find you’ve lost your business vision, don’t panic. You’re not far away from the brand of your dreams, you just have to revamp what you’ve got to bring it in line with what you really want it to be.
The secret to revamping your vision is to use archetypes. By archetypes, I mean stories…
What is an archetype?
I could read you the definitions of archetypes all day, but there’s only one that I want to share today, and that’s by Carl Jung, who is a psychologist. So Carl Jung, the psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who founded analytical psychology…
[Archetypes are] forms or images of a collective nature which occur practically all over the earth as constituents of myths and at the same time as individual products of unconscious origin. – Carl Jung, Psychology and Religion
Every human culture we know of has mythology, in one form or another, and buried in mythology are common ideas, concepts, ideals, beliefs, and explanations for certain things. If you didn’t it already catch it check out the special vlog I did for National Storytelling Week on the power of stories, myths, and archetypes.
The notion boils down to the fact that there are certain things all humans are preoccupied by. Jung referred to this as the ‘collective unconscious’, which is a bit of a Woo Woo phrase that conjures imagines some kind of weird matrix-like system in which we are all jacked up into each other, sharing our thoughts and ideas.
Don’t worry it’s not Voodoo. Simply put the collective unconscious is the notion that all humans are born already knowing certain things as an intrinsic part of our genetic makeup and mental development. We all come to understand certain concepts and ask certain questions due to biological imperatives that drive all humans to act and think in a similar manner. We all share this collective unconscious because in the course of our lives, we all come into contact with certain things that are similar. It doesn’t matter where you are, or who you are, we all have to eat, sleep, we all need shelter and comfort, we all have the innate desire to reproduce, we all watch the sunrise and the sunset, we all see it rain and feel wind. These are all naturally occurring events, concepts, desires and needs in any human’s life. It doesn’t matter where you are in the world at some point you will come into contact with them,and because of this shared collective experience of what it is ‘to be human’, we develop very similar ideas and very similar questions.
For example, why is the sky blue? Where does the sun go at night? Primitive humans didn’t have science to explain these things for them, and so they used stories to answer their questions about the world. They used stories to craft meaning in the world, and those stories were essentially the same, no matter where they were in the world.
They told the same stories, the only difference was the setting they were in, the characters involved, and the specific details which were always intrinsic to the culture. For example, almost every culture we know about have some form of creation myth; an explanation of how the world came into being.
An archetype is a shared concept; something we instinctively recognize and understand even if it’s on a subconscious level.
As humans we have an instinctual need for stories; we crave meaning, we crave understanding. Stories provide the human context for everything we find so difficult to understand. Concepts that are very old, incredibly vast, or simply really complicated. Stories are a very easy way for us to understand things, explain things, to make meaning.
Enduring brands are not just about facts and figures. They’re not just about information and product or service characteristics. Powerful brands convey value, convey meaning, and it’s this that makes them stand out. It’s this that is going to bring your business in line with your vision, your dream, rather than simply being a mechanism for making money.
The most successful brands have A really strong sense of identity; they know who they are. They also crucially mirror and reflect their target audience: who they are, and who they want to be. To build a strong brand you have to reflect the hopes, dreams, aspirations, and inspirations of your ideal clients.
That’s easier said than done.
How To Find Your Voice In Business…
Finding your voice in business can be really hard. I certainly struggled. When I started out I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. All I knew was that I had bills to pay. I scrabbled around looking for any kind of work that I could feasibly do. I did all sorts: editing, proofreading, writing, logo design, book cover designs, formatting books….I did little 3D mock-ups of people’s books to use in their promotions. I even did fancy electronic signatures at one point.
I literally did anything I was capable of doing while I sitting at my computer.
I was like, “Yeah, I can make a bit of money doing that!” and I did. A bit of money came there from every one of these little things. But I wasn’t going anywhere. I had no cohesive idea who I was or what my business was about. Like a jack-of-all-trades I did a bit of everything and it never got going. It never went anywhere and I was always really frustrated because I was struggling to build an audience.
How exactly do you build an audience when you’re talking to so many people, about so many things? When all those people want completely different things, and have totally different hopes, goals, and dreams?
You’re splitting yourself in too many directions. You’re confusing people.
One day your doing one thing, the next it’s something else, and the question everyone asks is, “What’s your business about, anyway? What exactly do you do?”
I was so proud of my business in the early days. I had a snappy name, lots of really cool funky images, and I thought that was what a brand was.
I was like,”Yeah, my brand is totally sorted. I’ve got my brand colors and my brand fonts. I’ve got my funky little Anime images…”
It took a lot of work, a lot of soul searching to realise that, even though I was quite capable of doing all these things, they weren’t what I wanted to be doing at all.
I had a brand, but it was very very shallow and didn’t stand for anything. It had no meaning and it was so far from my vision, from my dream of what I wanted to be doing. it was actually ridiculous.
All I wanted to do was write. I wanted to write for people, to inspire people with my words, to spend my days being creative, and to help people with their writing. I wanted to help people become better writers, to help people inspire others through their own writing.
I knew what I wanted to be doing but I wasn’t doing anything even close.
That it such an easy mistake to fall into. It’s one that so many entrepreneurs make. Finding your voice, finding your identity as a business person, as an entrepreneur, and as a brand is really difficult.
Fortunately for me I have a bit of a an eclectic background in research. One of the things that I’ve learned a great deal about (as it’s the focus of my PhD thesis) is mythology. In the course of studying mythology, I learned all about archetypes. At some point i stumbled upon an article and using archetypes in your branding. It hit me like the proverbial bolt of lightning.
This was what we’re missing from my brand: a clear coherent message. Meaning.
Once I settled on the meaning, once I decided on what my archetype was, what I wanted my brand to stand for, what I wanted it to mean (both to me and my audience), everything got a whole lot easier.
The market is absolutely dominated by brands who perfectly capture the meaning of their archetypes and explain that meaning in clear, coherent, and succinct ways. Ways that are also very imaginative, very inspiring and very memorable. If you want to know more about the benefits of archetypes check out last week’s post on how to use corporate storytelling to empower your business.
The Top Seven Brand Archetypes…
So what exactly are these archetypes that I keep banging on about? There are two types; story archetypes (as in plot) and character archetypes. I use both in my Divine Blogging Design. The character archetypes are quite complicated and I will go over those in a separate post. Today I want to talk very briefly about the plot archetypes.
Now depending on who you read and who you talk to, you will hear about a magic number of archetypes…
There are only seven archetypes.
There are only nine plots.
There are ten, or is it twelve? I do forget.
There are so many different variations of this that it’s difficult to pin down a real number and say ‘this’ is how many plot archetypes there are. I don’t believe there is a magic number, I think there are certain a number there are far more easily recognized than others, but I there are also others, perhaps not quite as popular, but no less powerful.
Today I’m going to talk about the seven main plot archetypes that make it onto absolutely every list. But before I get into them, I want you to picture your brand, picture your business, and think about all the things that you want it to stand for. I want you to really get it clear in your head before you read the next bit: What exactly does your brand mean to you and what do you want it to look like?
I want you just hold that in your head and as you read through these seven archetypes and see if you have a reaction to any of them. You might not. It might take a bit of thought, it might take you going through the list a couple of times and really thinking about it, or it could be that your archetypes isn’t on this list, because as I said, there are more. But the odds are that at least one of these is going to spark something in you…
Brand Archetype #1: Overcoming The Monster
Number one is Overcoming The Monster. Now, the monster can be literal like Grendal, in Beowulf, and the troll and the bridge. It can also be figurative, not an actual monster but a concept, an institution, a government power, or anything that is in some way acting against you that you must overcome. To give you a few examples of stories that are all about overcoming the monster…
Hansel and Gretel
Little Red Riding Hood
War of the Worlds
Lord of the Rings
Jack and The Bean Stalk
I could go on forever but you get my point. Archetypes are really common narratives that are very easily recognised.
But how does the archetype relate to your brand? You are obviously not going to be slaying dragons (at least I would hope not, I’m quite partial to dragons and I’d rather you let them live).
You don’t have to have a literal monster. It could be that you help people to overcome a particularly difficult element of their life, like stress, anxiety, depression, anything along those lines. To any nutritionists or dieting experts out there, you’re overcoming a monster, the monster being weight. See how this works? It can be all sorts of different thing.
Brand Archetype #2: Rags To Riches
The second archetypes is one that you are going to know very very well: Rags to Riches.
Yes! I’m talking Cinderella.
Anything that epitomizes going from nothing to something spectacular.
It doesn’t have to be money, there are a lot of different ways of being ‘poor’. You can be time poor, you could be lonely you, can be starved of the knowledge, you can be starved of perfection, you can be unable to find peace in your life, or you have a lack of clarity, of understanding, of relaxation…
There are a million examples. Rags to Riches is one of those powerful archetypes there is because it speaks to people on such a fundamental level. It tells them: You don’t have this, but you want it, and I can help you get it – look, I’ve already done it!
If you want some examples of really powerful brands that have build on this archetypes I’ll give you a few… J.K. Rowling, Oprah Winfrey, Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, Ralph Lauren, Henry Ford, Walt Disney… there are loads of super brands based on the Rags to Riches archetype, it can be applied to almost anything.
Brand Archetypes #3: Quest
We all love a good quest, don’t we? Saddle up the horses, we’re riding to Isengard!
Quests are stories everybody instantly recognises.
There’s a thing, we need it, it’s very important, but it’s all the way over there!
Quests are really common in stories, especially fantasy stories. Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit are both quest stories, which brings me to a very good point: you can have overlaps in archetypes. You can have a brand that is one archetype as well as another archetype but you will usually find that one archetype really epitomises the brand and the other one is slightly lesser.
For example, Lord of the Rings is both Overcoming the Monster and a Quest. However, the quest is to overcome the monster so overcoming the monster in the dominant archetype of that particular story, although they both apply.
Quests are really powerful in branding because you can quest after anything. Literally anything.
It might quest for knowledge, for truth, for understanding a particular question, love, health, safety, anything you can imagine somebody wanting can become a quest. The thing with quests, though, is that they work best when it’s something that is fundamentally needed. It’s not good enough to want a pair of shoes, because you can live without shoes. Quests work best when it’s something that is a fundamental need your audience has.
The quest for love, for example, is what the dating industry is built on: online dating, Valentine´s Day (ironically the date of this post!), and everything related to dating revolve around the Quest for Love. Even lingerie brands are based on the quest archetype.
All of these brands are quests for love, lust and passion, which are three of the most basic needs all humans have. When you think of it like this, you suddenly see how a very simple archetype can infuse an entire brand, and tell you exactly how to market your products and services. If you have a brand that’s all about finding true love, it sells itself because it’s a quest everyone can relate to.
It is a quest for something that you fundamentally need and want. Nobody can resist that.
Brand Archetype #4: Voyage And Return
Voyage and Return is similar to a Quest in the sense that you have to go somewhere, but unlike a quest, the destination is not the thing you’re going to, but the thing you’re coming back to. You go on your voyage, you experience a journey, and along way things happen. You may be changed, you may learn something, you may gain something, but you’re always intending to come back to where you started. The difference is, once you get back you will be enriched, informed and empowered by what happened to you on your voyage.
Alice in Wonderland is the quintessential story of Voyage and Return. Alice is discontented with her life, she’s bored and craves excitement and meaning, she’s also transitioning (in early adolescence) and has questions about her identity. Her journey through Wonderland reveals a great many things to her. She learns to let go of her childish impulses and deal with things in a more sensible, grownup manner. She comes to appreciate her life and all the good things in it. But most importantly she learns who she is. She comes home with a renewed sense of self and the answer to the immortal question posed by the hookah smoking caterpillar: Who are you?
Anything that involves gaining knowledge is usually seen to be a voyage and return, because you seek knowledge, learn what is needed, then return and enact it.
The most obvious example of this in terms of branding are of course travel agents, because they literally sell the voyage and the return. But you can use it in far less literal ways. It works well for health and fitness, because the journey is to lose weight, get fit, learn yoga, learn to dance, or any other form of journey relating to losing weight, getting fit, or a learning a new sport or activity. In all cases, you don’t end up in a physically different place when your journey comes to an end, you are still the same person in the same place, but your situation has been improved by the voyage.
Brand Archetypes #5: Comedy
Comedy is probably the easiest archetype to understand because we all understand having a good laugh. How many brands can you think of the are based purely on making people laugh or providing entertainment in some way? Think The Simpsons, or comedy show on TV, book, or film. Comedy brands can be anything that is related to bringing joy to people’s lives. It doesn’t have to be making them laugh in the classic sense of jokes and humour, it can be any brand that has the intention to enrich a person’s life with simple pleasure, to take them out of themselves for a brief time and make them feel good.
Brand Archetype #6: Tragedy
Tragedy is another archetype we really understand on a fundamental level. It’s one you may shy away from using as a brand archetype because, well, why would you want to associate yourself with tragedy? But if you stop and think about it, a lot of business models, a lot of brands, a lot of products and services are all geared towards people who have suffered some form of tragedy in their life and they are recovering from it.
As a brand archetype, tragedy is not about bringing people tragedy, it’s not about healing tragedy. It’s about helping people through a tragedy, when they have suffered a loss in their life, or any kind of tragic circumstances. Having a tragic brand sounds very depressing, but tragic brands can actually be some of the most meaningful.
Think about the situations people find themselves in after tragedies, how awful their lives can become, how horrendously changed they are by that tragedy. You can be the brand that pulls them through that tragic, terrible time, gets their life back on track, and makes them happy again.
Why on earth, wouldn’t you want to be able to do that? So while it sounds depressing, tragic brands can actually be very uplifting.
There are also tragic brands that are focused on managing tragedy is the best possible way. Consider funeral directors, counselors, therapists, and other brands that deal with unavoidable tragedies in life. Death, divorce, relationship breakdown, abuse, crime, these are all tragedies that happen all too frequently. Real people go through such things every day, and they can’t go it alone. They need help, support, and guidance.
Tragedy brands are the companies people turn to when the shit has really hit the fan and they need someone to help them through, show them how to handle things as gracefully as possible, and shine a light in the darkness so they know there’s still hope.
Brand Archetype #7: Rebirth
Rebirth is one of my favorite archetypes. Rebirth, as a brand, is all about and going through a fundamental change that transforms you, and leaves you different to the person you were before.
Rebirth makes your situation, your life, different to what it was before.
The best example of a rebirth story is A Christmas Carol, and the profound transformation Scrouge goes through as he is visited by the ghosts of his former business partners, who warn him he’s headed straight to hell, followed by the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future.
Coaching is a very good example of this because most coaches have some kind of rebirth worked into their process. For example, business coaches take people who know very little about business and transform them into business superstars. Lifestyle coaches take you from a place that’s unpleasant, unhealthy, depressing, or in some way negative, and help you transform your life into the kind of life you so desperate crave. Weight loss coaching and fitness coaching is all about the transformation.
Rebirth can be about many different things. If your brand enacts a change in your clients, anything from a haircut to clothes to a change in career. If your brand has the power to transform somebody’s life, in a small way, or a big way, in anywhere whatsoever (it doesn’t have to be earth-shattering), then your brand archetype may well be rebirth. It can be simply giving somebody the self-confidence to go for a job interview. It can be showing somebody who’s always kind of hidden away and had a really depressing style how to dress in a way that suits them, making them more attractive to themselves and to other people. If your brand is all about giving people a confidence boost, or anything similar, rebirth is a powerful archetype to use.
There are loads of brands that are transforming in some way and that’s a really powerful message.
What’s Your Brand Archetype?
So what about your brand, did any of those spark anything in you? Did you click with any of these archetypes? I’d love to know, drop a comment below and let me know. I’ll be back very soon to talk about archetypes and-and how you can use them in your business.
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