Crafting Your Brand’s Story: A Marketing Company’s Guide to Business Archetypes

In our internet age, it’s hard to grab someone’s attention, especially if you’re a business. How do you do it? It’s simple: Hire a digital agency to do your storytelling, or do it yourself. I’m not talking about writing a good commercial or video for your homepage. I’m talking about creating an entire identity for your brand that helps you define yourself within the marketplace.

Let me use an example. What’s the difference between Apple and AT&T? One positioned themselves as an innovator, the other never spent the time or money on marketing and wound up just a big company. Back in the mid-’80s when Apple was emerging onto the market, they cast themselves as a company that would help combat an Orwellian future of Big Brother and Soviet mediocrity. Buy Apple, they seemed to say, and you will be free. They were promising a way of life with their little computers, and that image and paradigm stayed with them during their troubles in the ’90s and well into their growth in the aughties when they invented new products that changed the world and lived up to their reputation.

AT&T on the other hand is a former monopoly, divested of its status as the original American telephone company after U.S. regulators broke it up around the same time Apple was making its mark on the computer world. Instead of trying to amp up their reputation as an original American brand, the company focused only on maintaining their status as a profit-generating conglomerate in light of monopoly accusations from the government. In the eyes of consumers, AT&T may have good phone service, but they are faceless, a sprawling network of office buildings and suburban business parks that somehow manage to control our wireless bills. My point here is that branding plays a large part in how the public imagines companies, from the Fortune 500 list to your local supermarket.

Of course if branding were so easy, we would all position ourselves as Apple–innovative revolutionaries who aren’t satisfied with the status quo. But that doesn’t work if you’re a cement company; people just aren’t going to buy it. In fact, it wouldn’t even work if you were AT&T–we know they’re not revolutionary, even if they are offering unlimited calls and only charging for data. You have to choose a position, a brand archetype, that suits what you do.

The way to do this is first to imagine that your customer is a young hero embarking on a journey. Maybe they are searching for a concrete company, maybe they are searching for a wireless company, maybe they’re looking for an online marketing company, they need help. They may be reluctant to listen to you at first; after all, there are many companies out there vying for attention, so convince them that with your help they can become everything they have ever wanted. Once they choose you, they will see that you have a magic gift that allows them to continue their journey or quest for knowledge and understanding, in order to eventually share with the world what they have learned.

First you have to determine what you offer, whether products, services, or connections. Then, determine your secondary characteristics, such as whether you allow your client to work by themselves on your platform, with you on a one-time basis, a subscription basis, or on a semi-automated basis.

The next step in this process is to choose an archetype to align your company with, a character that your customer can relate to based on what you offer. Archetypes are in all of our favorite stories. They embody certain traits that we admire and want to associate ourselves with. Let’s outline the most common archetypes in the business world.

The Different Business Archetypes

One of the trendiest and most resounding archetypes is the pioneer, who like Apple offers innovation as a one time product. As soon as you buy an iPhone, they tell us, you’re hip, artistic and creative. Embodied in this archetype are characteristics of leadership, dreaming, passion and creativity.

Then there’s the jester, who likes to play around and have fun. The ideal kind of business for this would be connections-based, probably on a subscription style model. Think, for example. By seizing opportunity, this archetype is great for providing excitement, comedy and humor to an otherwise boring service.

An example of the average guy/gal archetype is Levi’s. This archetype represents products that you have to continually revisit in order for them to leave their effect on you. The result is that when you wear Levi’s you are relatable, realistic, someone who gets it and stays in touch with reality. This is a great archetype to strive for when you really want to reach a majority of people.

Take JetBlue as a prime example of a service-based brand. Their archetype is the Caregiver, who wants to do anything to help those who need it. They make us feel that other airlines don’t care for us the way we need to be cared for. Even if they are less expensive than others, their attitude is one of heartfelt sincerity, which is harder to come by when flying with the other big carriers.

Dove’s recent brand repositioning as The Innocent has been amazingly successful. Be who you are, they tell us, which is exactly what was missing from the beauty industry for a long time. In a way, Dove is a platform-product, one that allows people to build their own image by using it over and over again.

There are plenty of other archetypes, too, but they may not be as relevant to business brand positioning as others. When it comes to business archetypes, you’re probably better off siding with someone like the Creator rather than the Ruler. People want to associate with products that give them freedom rather than order, unless that order streamlines their lives to make them easier. Because ultimately your product has to appeal to people’s sense of what they need to make them complete, have more knowledge, or a better sense of identity.

Once you determine why your company is successful and what attributes define it, you will have an easier time choosing an archetype for your brand. In turn this will allow you to build a story around your company, and position it for the long term.