The 12 Brand Archetypes – And How to Choose One for Your Startup

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Just like every character in a story needs a clear motivation, so does your business. 

Crafting a compelling narrative to draw in your audience is a great way to get them invested in your product. Understanding the brand archetypes not only helps you create a memorable brand persona, it can also help you achieve greater insight into your startup’s goals, vision, and purpose. 

But what exactly is a brand archetype, and how do you know which one best fits your startup’s needs? 

Understanding Brand Archetypes

While boiling down your brand into a persona makes it easier for your audience to digest, starting with an archetype provides a more encompassing view, allowing you to shape that persona more effectively. (It’s a real chicken-or-the-egg-type situation!) 

An archetype is a larger theme, concept, or emotion that often repeats itself throughout literature or mythology. The term was coined by psychologist Carl Jung at the turn of the century. Jung honed in on several recurring themes or characteristics widely recognized by audiences in order to help them understand and connect with a work of art (i.e., the mother/father figure, the shadow archetype, the wise old man, etc.).

However, the brand archetype model was created by author Carol S. Pearson. She took the same concept created by Jung and applied it to business, making it easier for consumers to understand why certain brands are so captivating, but also how businesses can harness that power in order to make their own brand more competitive. She outlines more in her book, The Hero and the Outlaw.

Why Are Brand Archetypes Important?

Human beings are wired for story. We have been since the beginning of time. Brand archetypes tap into that emotional well so that businesses can create a strong, relatable bond with their consumers via storytelling. 

Your startup’s brand archetype not only helps you shape your overall brand personality or any potential marketing strategies down the road – it’s the genetic makeup of your startup. Think of startup storytelling as an art form – one that will distinguish your startup from the rest of the crowd by building a strong foundation with your customers that’s built on trust and relatability. 

The 12 Brand Archetypes

There are 12 brand archetypes outlined by Carol S. Pearson that can help you create your startup’s brand identity or persona: 

The Innocent

The Innocent (or, sometimes, the Idealist) is a cheerleader, optimist, and generally childlike or playful in nature. Startups that identify with this archetype may find that traditional barriers are easily ignored, and they’re able to keep faith and positive thoughts in their values. On the flip side, though, these startups should be cautious of not denying real problems that need to be faced head-on or resistant to change/innovation. 

Brands that align with this archetype include: 

  • McDonald’s 
  • Dove
  • Coca-Cola

The Everyman

This brand archetype (also known as the Realist) is just that – made for everyone. They’re practical, egalitarian, and have a strong sense of community. These brands seek to meet their consumers where they’re at with their products. While Everyman brands are hard workers, they should be wary of becoming cynical or creating an “us versus them” mentality. Remember, you’re in this together. 

Brands that align with this archetype include: 

  • Gap
  • Target
  • IKEA

The Hero

The Hero is all about overcoming obstacles and challenges in order to deliver a stellar product to their consumers. Hero personas typically go above and beyond when it comes to their customer base. However, if your startup falls into this archetype, be sure not to rush into action or see others as your enemy. Always think things through. 

Brands that align with this archetype include: 

  • FedEx
  • Nike
  • Tesla

The Outlaw

Outlaws are often unconventional thinkers who enjoy challenging the status quo. They’re successful at developing radical ideas that change society for the better. While they love to go head-to-head with “the way things have always been done,” Outlaw archetypes should be careful of coming across as too reckless or stubborn. 

Brands that align with this archetype include: 

  • Apple 
  • Harley-Davidson
  • Uber

The Explorer

Also known as the Seeker or Individualist, these archetypes tend to be on their own unique path. They’re blazing their own trail and are often successful at following/adhering to and even predicting trends. While they’re always providing others the opportunity to learn and grow, brands that follow this archetype should be careful they’re not overlooking the needs of their consumers or unwilling to pick a path for themselves. 

Brands that align with this archetype include: 

  • Starbucks
  • Patagonia
  • Jeep

The Creator

The Creators always have the bigger picture in mind. They excel at developing distinct, original products that flourish and are all about expressing themselves. If your brand skews toward this archetype, just be mindful not to take on too many projects. Remember that things don’t have to be perfect – they can just be.

Brands that align with this archetype include: 

  • Crayola
  • Adobe
  • YouTube

The Ruler

Ruler archetypes are all about using their influence for the greater good. They thrive when they can bring order to an otherwise chaotic market and are all about helping others strive to be the best versions of themselves. Rulers hold themselves to high standards, so be sure those standards aren’t too high or that your organization isn’t getting bogged down with politics or hierarchy. 

Brands that align with this archetype include: 

  • Microsoft
  • Rolex
  • Mercedes-Benz

The Magician

The Magician is all about realizing a shared vision, usually in an intuitive or insightful way. They help their consumers believe that anything is possible and strive to create win-win situations for all parties involved. Still, just because they’re charismatic doesn’t mean Magicians should strive to manipulate others with their power or lose patience when others can’t see their vision right away. 

Brands that align with this archetype include: 

  • The Walt Disney Company
  • Netflix
  • MasterCard

The Lover

Lover brands are all about building and maintaining relationships. They form strong bonds with their consumers, want others to feel desired and cared for, and even strive for better work-life balance situations. Lovers should be cautious of forming any “in-crowds” and steer clear of emotional drama or conflict avoidance. 

Brands that align with this archetype include: 

  • Victoria’s Secret
  • Hallmark
  • Godiva

The Caregiver

Caregivers are all about altruistic service for others in order to make a difference in the lives of their consumers. They always provide high-quality service and go above and beyond for others; however, this can also be their downfall. If your brand aligns with this archetype, make sure you’re not burning yourself out. Don’t forget to take care of yourself, too. 

Brands that align with this archetype include: 

  • Johnson & Johnson
  • Campbell’s Soup
  • TOMS 

The Jester

Jesters lean into the humor and irreverence of their brand, oftentimes making it a cornerstone of their marketing strategy. They’re playful, spontaneous, and silly, and they ultimately want to entertain their consumers. Brands aligning with these archetypes should be careful not to use humor in a way that harms others and understand the importance of staying on task. 

Brands that align with this archetype include: 

  • Ben & Jerry’s
  • Geico
  • Old Spice

The Sage

Brands that align with the Sage are intelligent, thoughtful, and seek to share their knowledge with their customer base. They are excellent at gathering information and disseminating it so it’s useful to others. Sage archetypes should be careful not to fall into any “ivory tower” thinking or coming across as unfeeling/lacking empathy.

Brands that align with this archetype include: 

  • Google
  • TED
  • Discovery Channel

Determining Your Startup’s Brand Archetype

How exactly do you determine your startup’s archetype? With 12 to choose from, things can seem overwhelming, especially when things start to overlap (i.e., your Caregiver starts to look a lot like a Lover, or your Innocent leans into some Jester tendencies). 

Do a quick self-assessment and ask yourself these questions about your startup: 

  • What are your core values and mission? 
  • Which archetypes are most prominent in your industry/niche? 
  • What kind of brands does your target audience already resonate with? 

It’s important to note that even if these questions help start you down the path of building a brand archetype that’s best for your startup (and especially if they don’t), it’s completely acceptable to test and refine strategies until you find the one that works for you. Sometimes you have to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. Don’t be afraid to implement a strategy and then clarify your chosen archetype based on the feedback you receive.

Things to Avoid

Remember, building any successful business doesn’t happen overnight. While it can seem crucial to know exactly which archetype to align yourself with right away, there are a few things you should avoid: 

  • Chasing Trends: Things change over time – don't pick an archetype based solely on what's trendy at the moment. Trends fade, but your brand's identity should remain consistent and true to its core.
  • Overcomplicating: While there may be overlap with some archetypes, don’t blend too many together (this can lead to confusing brand messaging that can alienate your audience)
  • Ignoring Feedback: While staying true to your vision is important, ignoring feedback from your audience or stakeholders can be detrimental. They offer invaluable insights that can help refine your archetype to better align with market needs.

Bringing Your Brand Archetype to Life

Remember, your brand archetype isn’t just the foundation for your startup – it’s the foundation for your relationship with your audience, too. Don’t be afraid to get creative and remember that consistency is key! Your archetype helps you relate to your audience. Inconsistency in your messaging has the potential to alienate or confuse them. 

There’s plenty of fun to be had in building this part of your startup. Here are some tips and tricks that can help you bring your brand archetype to life in a successful, memorable way:

Translate Your Brand Archetype into Visual Identity

Lean into your inner Idealist/Innocent and tap into your playful side. What are the colors, typography, or even basic imagery associated with each archetype? Which ones jump out at you/seem to fit your business needs best based on your self-assessment? How can you take those elements and make them fit your startup? 

You could always reverse it, too, by taking brands you want your startup to emulate and create a vision or mood board based on the images their branding evokes. This can also help you maintain consistent messaging by having a reference point to return to time and again as your startup evolves. 

Check out our list of the best design tools to help turn your brand archetype into a stunning visual identity.

Tell Your Startup Story Through Your Archetype

Your brand archetype can be essential in helping craft your startup story. Honing in on your archetype can help inform your brand narrative, as well as future marketing/advertising campaigns, social media content, and other content marketing like newsletters, blogs, podcasts, etc. 

Ask yourself: What problem does my startup solve? Why does solving this problem matter? Why now?

Create Brand Experiences Aligned with Your Archetype

Once you’ve pinpointed your brand archetype, building memorable brand experiences aligned with that identity is a great way to bring consumers in and make them feel a part of something significant. Define what customer touchpoints are most accessible and aligned with your archetype: is it your website? An in-store experience? (The Lover, Caregiver, or Jester archetypes might find these particularly successful.)

Whatever route you choose, immersing your audience in your brand archetype will only strengthen that relationship and leave them wanting more.

Listen, Learn, Refine

Creating a successful startup lies in the ability to adapt. Listen to what your target audience has to say about your branding by gathering feedback via surveys, social media, or even direct engagement. 

Market dynamics and trends change at the drop of a hat these days, so it’s important to understand how to evolve while still staying true to your startup’s core brand archetype and values.

The Bottom Line

It’s time to be the hero of your startup’s story. Knowing your startup’s brand archetype is only going to strengthen your business. Take the time to sit down and explore all 12 archetypes in order to find the one that best aligns with your brand identity. 

Storytelling is an integral part of any startup – it’s human nature – and creating a winning brand persona will only help draw consumers in and create a long-lasting relationship that will keep them coming back for more. 

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