How Human Is Your Brand?

A look at the use of archetypes to create more human connections between brands and their fans

How Human is Your Brand

In our post, Turning Like to Love: Fostering Consumer Affection in the Modern Age, we touched on brands and their powerful use of archetypes.

Identifying and integrating archetypes into a branding strategy helps capture the essence of a brand in a way that no other approach can. That’s because people intuitively and deeply respond to archetypes. We recognize human qualities like control, independence, risk and belonging. After all, these themes play out in our everyday lives. Why are some of us adrenaline junkies while others happily nest at home? Nerds versus popular kids? All archetypes. 

How Human is Your Brand

Archetypes say a lot about us; they’re a mirror into our deepest thoughts, dreams and desires. But how did they start? In our review of Archetypes: Signs, Symbols and Themes, we provided an introduction on these powerful symbols, describing psychologist and philosopher Carl Jung’s system. He posited that humans experience patterns of thoughts and symbols through the past collective experience of humanity and that these are present in the unconscious human mind. Jung called these the imago, which is rooted in our personalities and behavior. In short, archetypes work because they are human.

That’s why brands that want to climb the brand food chain, past the tangible features and benefits of their goods and services, would be wise to embrace their human side. The top-level branding today is taking place around human ideas and experiences rather than concentrated on the product itself. Just one look at any viral video and you’ll find human qualities at the center. Yes, even in cat videos! We anthropomorphize them into little fuzzy humans with funny thoughts and distinct perspectives that relate to our own (sometimes off-kilter) understanding and criticism of the world. 

Even in our supersonic, high-tech culture, people still crave human connection and organize their lives around relationships. Look at the explosion of smart phones, for example. Some critics have blamed smartphones for social isolation, but the primary function for these devices is inherently human: social connection. Whether it’s SnapChat, Facebook, Twitter or any other platform, social media engenders powerful archetypes. It allows us to create our online persona – our outward facing identity – and find our own tribe – similar or aspirational archetypes – to connect with. 

How Human is Your Brand

Brands are no different. We no longer embrace a brand based solely on its features alone. According to Archetypes in Branding, “Today’s brands are increasingly defined by their interactions and relationships. Customers are demanding greater accountability and integrity from businesses. Workers are craving a deeper sense of meaning from their careers. And companies are continually seeking ways to achieve more powerful and resonant brand engagements. Applying the phenomena of archetypal wisdom facilitates a more authentic, holistic and human way of being in business.” 

While brands themselves may not be human, they are made up of human beings. We often call this culture – all of the human elements that add up to your overall brand. Your customer service, your workplace, your fans and how all of those communities communicate and rally around your brand promise. Every workplace, every store, every brand has a certain je ne sais quoi to it, something you feel and are drawn to, but may not be able to necessarily describe or name easily. Archetypes help you give that certain element a voice or a language to connect.

Authors Hartwell and Chen say, “An organization, while not actually a person, has a distinct character that is embodied in your brand and culture. Sometimes this character can be hard to recognize and bring to life. This is where archetypes can be used, with powerful effect. Applying an archetypal approach helps to set the stage for the kinds of experiences and relationships you have with your customers. The moment you think of a brand like Harley Davidson and the word Rebel is used – most people make an intuitive, and instant, connection to the archetypal story that underpins that brand.”

So while intuitive, archetypes are not always obvious, especially to those closest to the brand. That’s why it’s important to walk through a brand assessment, ask and answer the tough questions about your brand. What is it that you want to stand for? How close is your current state to the aspirational state? What are you going to do to reinforce your archetype? Understanding that emotions, not rational thoughts, are truly what steer our decision-making process, brands that create a vibrant space for human connection both inside and outside their organizations, will reap the benefits in the long-term.

But archetypes are no one-trick pony. The process of archetyping must be approached and developed thoughtfully so these brand beacons align with your overarching brand strategy. According to Hartwell & Chen, “When revealed, and made intentional, these universal patterns of behavior can help individuals and companies stay true to their mission and brand promise. Functioning as a sort of compass, this creates loyalty with all stakeholders… If a brand is about what you stand for, then embodying your organization’s archetype can guide brand development and connect people to your organization, in subtle yet powerful ways.”

In our next installment on archetypes, we will provide an assessment of some brands, their archetypal categorization and how they brought the essential elements of the brand archetype to life.

Related Insights