Defining your brand personality: you can be scientific, engage the team, and still have fun
We receive a number of questions about what we do to actually define brand personalities with our clients. We rely heavily on a complementary approach called brand archetypes: a structured, globally applicable platform grounded in the cross-cultural psychology and mythological studies of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell.
Plus, it is tied to the world’s largest consumer data-base, BrandAsset (R) Valuator, or BAV. It combines art and science, is easy to understand, and prompts serious, important, novel and totally fun team discussions in the pursuit of defining a company’s brand personality.
How brand archetypes work:
Brand archetypes are based in a grid of four quadrants: thought, energy, emotion and substance. Twelve archetypes from global mythology are arranged within it, based on their characteristics and core meanings.
For example, there is the warrior, standing for power, the sage who stands for wisdom, the jester standing for creation through rebellion, and the explorer, standing for self-discovery. Each is distinct and unique; each defines a specific trajectory for a brand’s performance, development, communication and recruiting. If you are a Jester, for example, you are a very different kind of brand than if you are an earth mother or a sage or a companion.
See the grid below for all 12 archetypes and their core meanings
Here is a video-link to a more detailed explanation of how archetypes work.
Insights from global database:
Through correlations in BAV, we know that consumers around the world understand brands to function as one of these 12 archetypes.
- We know, for example, that Disney and MacDonald’s are seen as (family-friendly) Companions; that Nespresso, Swatch and Uber are (category-transforming) Magicians; that IBM is a Sage (“Think”) and that Apple (“Think Different”) a Jester. Even Apple’s grammar is rebellious.
- Car brands span the gamut, with Mercedes and BMW being the more established Patriarch and Sage, Porsche and Jaguar capturing the allure of the Lover, and Volvo providing the Guardian’s security.
- Many start-ups are in the energy quadrant; banks and insurance skew to thought, chocolate and confections to emotion, while food and household providers cluster around substance.
Absent being in the BAV database, which is almost universally the case among B2B companies, B2B of all sizes and categories profit from applying Brand Archetypes to their own situation. Typically, in management workshop settings, they use the grid to self-assess their current personality, possible future brand positionings, and related growth and development.
We have found over time that brand archetypes offer B2B companies wholly new insights into staking out differentiation, category ownership and competitive advantage. Some recent examples, adapted to preserve anonymity:
Escaping a “sea of sameness”
An investment company struggling to escape their category’s deep “sea of sameness” convened their management team to decide on a differentiated path. As archetypes establish identity and differentiation in both rational and emotional terms, for the first-time ever, the team was faced with soul-searching questions about their reason-for-being. There was vigorous initial disagreement over what archetype the company was: guardian, companion, sage or jester for new beginnings? Ultimately, they decided on warrior as the archetype they wanted to be, although they were not there yet, as it would distinguish their particular kind of service and so separate them from competition. Warrior has defined a very distinct, important path forward for the company, one that they had never anticipated before the exercise.
Navigating corporate cultural issues
A very successful, B2B global earth mother company has been looking to M&As to achieve even further growth. The issue: several of the companies acquired by this earth mother, who stands for being down-to-earth, stable and nurturing, were anything but in their own cultures. Rather, they skewed to energy, being jesters, rebellious and irreverent, and Explorers, highly independent and daring. The values and behaviors that drove the success of the M&As are not now consistent with those of their new corporate parent; nor vice versa, in spite of the fact that they are all in the same industry. There is no immediate, off-the-shelf answer to this issue, but the company is employing the brand archetypes grid to literally bring everyone to the “same page” to provide direction towards a common, bespoke solution.
Assessing growth and development strategies
More than one CEO has taken ownership of the exercise. Typically, the CEO has one idea where their company is currently and where they want to see it headed. There is a big cultural shift, e.g., between being a “safe pair of hands” (Guardian) and offering “anything is possible” (magician). However thrilling making such a shift is, trade-offs in changes to R&D, sales training, messaging and hiring are huge. But growth, leadership and development begin with a dream.
What we recommend:
Should brand personality be an issue in your company, plan for a workshop setting, ideally including your management team. Come prepared with post-its so participants can identify their choices publicly on a screen or wall.
Note: There is no superior quadrant or archetype, only the one that is right for your company’s growth and development. Though you may struggle to identify just one archetype to represent your company, resist combinations as this dilutes brand strength.
- Which archetype are you today?
- How do your customers see you?
- Who is your competition?
- Are you all sages or jesters, and is this good or not?
- Most importantly, where do you want to be? What archetype will define leadership in your category, and what will it take you all to get there?
- Who needs to be involved in the decision?
Brand archetypes are not just for companies. Consider generating management interest with a warm-up exercise: Which archetype does your team think is Mr. Trump? Mr. Johnson? M. Macron? Ms. Merkel?
Download this free, practical guide on how to find out what brand experience is, why it’s important in B2B, and how to ensure your experience is consistent across touchpoints.