I’ve been a devoted Patagonia customer for years, but Cotopaxi’s neon candy colors pulled me in. The tag included phrases like “Gear for Good” and “We all have a story,” plus a prominently placed B Corp symbol. Maybe I pay more attention to language because of my career choice, but the more I read, the more it resonated. I learned about the Del Día line and that Cotopaxi gives a percentage of their revenue to issues I care about. I strapped on the Bataan bag, paid for it, and exited the store feeling like my choice mattered, like I was a better human because of my purchase.
I chose the Cotopaxi bag because the brand spoke to me. They used their voice to tickle my heartstrings. To help clients discover their voice, we use brand archetypes. By clearly defining and setting perimeters for the way you talk, write, and sound, you can cut through all the noise. You can speak directly to the audience that is listening. Like Cotopaxi did for me.
Our deepest connections occur through authentic conversations. And in developing these relationships, we either click, or we clash. It’s the same with brands. In the early twentieth century, psychologist Carl Jung began to use archetypes (for people, not brands). He believed that we all inherit an archetype in the same way that we inherit instinctive behavior patterns (the unconscious). And so brand archetypes eventually became a tool to provide a direct path for brands to communicate with their audiences. Like with people, archetypes are the personality of a brand — determined by drives, fears, goals, and voice. We all have basic desires (e.g., power, control, safety, enjoyment, innovation), and they contribute to our personalities, our character. And they connect us with others. Or not.
There are twelve brand archetypes. Branding agencies use them to help businesses uncover their voice. You probably recognize several of them. Nike speaks in the hero archetype. This voice is brave and determined to outwork the rest, putting its mark on a more positive world. Nike is a massive company. It is full of people acting on instruction, not instinct, and requires simplicity to keep everyone on-brand. And with years in the industry, Nike feels immediately familiar to everyone. But in the last decade, they have spoken up on social justice and racial equity, challenging their audience to confront racism. It’s as if they have become more human, relating to what real people are experiencing.
This lean pushes Nike outside the hero voice, adding characteristics from the outlaw, sage, and even the caregiver archetypes, curating a hybrid voice that once felt robotic. Perhaps brand voices are more complex than what one archetype can dictate. Like people. Instead of strictly following the general recommendation to stick with one archetype, we believe an individualized approach (more on that in a bit) helps businesses connect with their audience and differentiate from their competition.
Humans crave connection. Who we are talking to matters. And if you know who you are talking to, then you’ll know what to say. Or at least how to say it. Have you ever listened to someone on the phone with their grandmother? Everything sounds a bit different: their voice, their tone, the subject matter. It’s probably not the same voice they use when canceling a credit card — although that might be a good tactic. It’s perfectly human to alter your voice for different audiences. For example, we sound different when promoting an event than when talking about racism. That phone call with your grandmother? It’s endearing. You are listening, and she feels heard. That’s what a consumer or client wants too. And when we feel understood, we want more.
Differentiation is another voice-maker. Look around at your competition. Is there a lever you can pull that others aren’t? We don’t view a crowded market as a bad thing; it forces you to figure out how to stand out. We are currently working with a new direct-to-consumer company that is selecting high-quality goods and selling them online. When we began researching, we came across hundreds of other companies doing something similar, if not the exact same thing. But we noticed that many are not language-forward; they don’t have a distinct voice. They set a tone with photographs, price tags, and customer service — all critical pieces — but it isn’t clear who they are communicating to. Our client’s products are not one of a kind. But they are hand-selected, tell a story, and altogether curate an experience. A customer will come back for the products, but not just for the quality. They will return because of that curated experience, that feeling they want to replay.
Brands need individualized voices as they become more intricately tied to their audiences, as they grow closer to the people. And people are complex. We run brand archetypes exercises to help clients develop their voice. Instead of pressuring them to align with one archetype, we mix the traits up. We spend time discussing what gets them out of bed every morning, what keeps them up at night, and what their ultimate goals are. More often than not, they identify with a few different archetypes. Collecting these traits, we intentionally build them a recommended voice that’s flexible. It has breathing room to adapt and evolve as the business grows and changes, just like people.
If you want to develop stronger brand loyalty, you should spend time clarifying your brand’s voice. Doing a brand archetypes exercise is fun, but you shouldn’t feel like you need to choose one personality. Determine your audience and accept that they are complex. An individualized voice will bring out the human in you and tune out the noise. Let us know if you need help.