What is Your Brand? 12 Archetypes for Understanding Yourself and Your Image

Find your dominant archetype. Develop your personal brand based on your strengths and communicate them through your archetype to effectively reach your highest potential.

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Have you ever thought about yourself as a brand?

Whether you have or not, people who know you already have a mental image that most likely connects you with one or more universally recognized types. Understanding others’ perceptions of you, and how your own personality and values might fit those types, increases your self-awareness and helps you take control of your real self and your image.

Brand

A brand is the perception that others have of something like a product or person. It’s the feeling and image that comes to mind when people see or think about the object. It reflects the core values and spirit inside; it’s much more than a catchy logo or slick marketing. We usually associate brands with companies, but we can think of ourselves as a brand as well.

Archetypes

If we want to understand what brand best suits us, it is helpful to understand archetypes. An archetype is a universally recognized story reflecting values that transcends time, place, and culture. The word comes from Greek and literally means “a primitive (or first) model”.


Greek Heracles (Roman Hercules), the archetypal Hero. Source.
Carl Jung

The creator of the modern concept of archetypes, psychologist Carl Jung, said that “The contents of the collective unconscious…are known as archetypes.” He proposed that all humans will inherently recognize archetypes. Whether you buy into the controversial “collective unconscious” idea or not, archetypes have great power for communicating to others.

In 2001, authors Margaret Mark and Carol S. Pearson rocked the marketing world by applying archetypes to branding strategies in The Hero and the Outlaw: Building Extraordinary Brands Through the Power of Archetypes.

According to Mark and Pearson, “Understanding and leveraging archetypal meanings – that is, finding the soul of your brand and then expressing it in ways that tap into universal feelings and instincts – are key prerequisites to effective marketing in today’s intensely competitive and complex environment. Archetypes – which can be found in reoccurring patterns in art, literature, myth and fables – show us the way.” They propose 12 archetypes with descriptions and numerous examples from business, public personalities, and the arts. Take a look at the 12 archetype categories below, with typical examples from film, art, or public life, and see if you can immediately recognize what is meant by each type.

Before we dive into descriptions of each of the archetypes, let’s first examine the relationship between motivational factors and archetypes. The 12 types can be divided into 4 categories, according to basic human motivations that they primarily satisfy. Those 4 categories may in turn be divided into 2 diametrically opposed pairs.

Choice Versus Connection

The first pair of motivational factors recognizes a tension between the need to express and to fulfill our individual desires while maintaining close relationship with a community. People need autonomy and freedom to make individual choices; but the more they act as a lone individual, the less they will be a part of a group. As social creatures, people are also motivated by connections to community and purpose. This usually means subjugating the individual to the group.

The Explorer, Sage/Guru, and Innocent archetypes align with people whose personality and values seek happiness and personal fulfillment. The Citizen, Lover, and Jester/Joker archetypes are ones that favor community, and give people a sense of love, purpose, and belonging.

Control Versus Competency

The second pair of opposing motivational factors illustrates the tension between our need for structure versus our need to grow. People have a basic need to feel safe and secure, in a structured environment. But stable environments don’t allow for taking risks and testing one’s limits. We also have a need to develop and learn new competencies. (For more on motivational factors, you can read more about Why Rewards Don’t Work, but Satisfying 3 Critical Needs Does  and How Distinguishing the 6 Types of Motivation Can Improve Your Productivity and Well-Being).

The Ruler, Creator, and Caregiver archetypes provide structure and control, allowing people to feel safe. The Hero, Rebel, and Magician, on the other hand, encourage taking risks and striving for one’s highest potential achievement.

We can summarize the motivation factors and archetypes in the following illustration:

External Self-Awareness and Your Personal Brand

To develop an awareness of your personal brand, and how you can manage it, is to develop your external self-awareness. Especially if we are a supervisor or leader, people are always observing us, and our words and behaviors continuously affect our image.

What do we mean by “external self-awareness”? Dr. Tasha Eurich, in her book Insight, attempts to nail down this concept with her own definition:

“Self-awareness: The will and the skill to understand who we are, including things like our values, patterns, and impact on others (internal self-awareness) and how others see us (external self-awareness).”

There’s a close link between internal and external self-awareness. First, we need to honestly examine our own values, personality, and behavior patterns. With an inward understanding, we then contemplate our effect on others, and the way that they perceive us. The exercise of describing and developing your brand at work builds on the authentic you, while also consciously working on a brand that showcases your strengths and the ways that you can add value to others.

Which Archetype Fits You?

Understanding the context of how the 12 Jung-based archetypes fit in with human motivation, let’s now apply them to personal branding. The 12 types may have overlapping characteristics, and individuals may see themselves in several different categories depending on the situation. Several authors have classified some of the brands that I mention below differently, all in archetypes that have similar characteristics. The Sage-Guru and The Magician, for example, imply a special knowledge that can be transformative. The Explorer and The Rebel are two archetypes that share an image of a loner going her or his own way.

However, Carl Jung believed that most people fit one dominant archetype, and warned against trying to arbitrarily fit oneself into a category. When applied to commercial brands, the authors Mark and Pearson warn against diluting or confusing brands. The same advice probably holds for managing a personal brand archetype as well.

Some archetypes are obviously incongruent. If we portray ourselves as a Ruler one day, but try to play The Rebel on another, we won’t look credible. A Caregiver archetype is also far from the Rebel.  The lone, freedom-loving Explorer archetype probably won’t make a good conformist Regular Citizen. And the gravitas associated with The Sage won’t fit well with the playful Jester.

With those warnings in mind, see if you might recognize yourself in the following archetypes.

The Explorer

The Explorer seeks autonomy and self-fulfillment by journeying out into the world. Think Indiana Jones, or Captain Kirk boldly going where no man has gone before. The Explorer is independent, curious, and rugged. Explorer brands include Jeep, Starbucks, and rugged clothing companies like Patagonia.

The Explorer archetype might be a good fit for you if you help people feel free and pioneering, if you are rugged and independent, or you are curious and prone to try new things.

This Jeep ad employs both space (2001 Space Odyssey) and wild nature to express The Explorer archetype.

The Sage/Guru

The Sage finds autonomy and fulfillment through inner development. The Sage is an ancient archetype that calls to mind figures like Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings, the Buddha, or Confucius. The Sage demonstrates intelligence, wisdom, and enlightenment. Sage brands include Google, TED, Oprah Winfrey, and many colleges or medical institutions.

The Sage archetype might be a good brand for you if you often provide expertise and information to others, or encourage others to think.

Observe how Google positioned itself as a Sage/Guru archetype with this advertisement.

The Innocent

It might be hard to see how The Innocent fits neatly as a response to human need for autonomy. The connection comes from The Innocent’s desire to Be and Let Be. Innocents are optimistic, idealistic, and prefer the simple things of life. Characters such as Forrest Gump, Samwise in the Lord of the Rings, or Opie in the TV classic Andy Griffith Show illustrate the Innocent Archetype. Innocent brands hearken back to an ideal happy time, like McDonald’s and Coca Cola, or evoke images of purity and cleanliness, like Ivory soap.

The Innocent archetype is good for people who are skilled at providing simple answers to identifiable problems, who put values like goodness, morality, simplicity in the forefront, or who have roles that involve cleanliness, health, or virtue.

McDonald’s promotes its Boomshakalaka happiness promise in this ad.

The Regular Citizen

The Regular Citizen is much like The Innocent in his/her simplicity, but with more of an emphasis on conformity and fitting in. Jimmy Stewart’s old movie characters were regular citizens; Morgan Freeman and Jennifer Aniston often play downhome, likeable characters that fit The Regular Citizen archetype. Reliable, authentic, and wholesome, Regular Citizen brands include Toyota cars, Budweiser beer, Wendy’s hamburgers, or Nivea skin and beauty care.

You can develop the Regular Citizen archetype if you are strong on including everyone in a non-hierarchical community, or if you identify with common values and don’t like to stick out.

Notice how this unpretentious but reliable Toyota commercial is different than cars with other archetypes, such as a Mercedes Benz.

The Lover

The Lover encourages relationship and community with her commitment, passion, and intimacy. Entertainment is full of The Lover archetypes, including Beyonce, Katherine Hepburn, and Leonardo DiCaprio. Brands Chanel, Godiva, Victoria’s Secret, and Hallmark all use the promise of love and intimacy to express their brand.

The Lover is your archetype if you like to help people find love or friendship, appreciate and display beauty in dress and manner, or often get passionate and fiercely loyal to a cause.

This Chanel story of lovers on a train exudes the passion and intimacy of The Lover archetype.

The Jester/Joker

Using fun to fit in describes the Jester, or Joker, archetype. Jesters look for the lighter side of life and encourage others to come together through laughter. They are spontaneous, playful, and fun. Will Smith, Steve Martin, and Jackie Chan often represent The Jester archetypes in their films. Doritos snacks, Pepsi Cola, Geico Insurance, and other products that invite people to lighten up and enjoy life fit The Jester archetype.

You can develop your Jester/Joker archetype if you like to use humor to help people feel comfortable and welcome, or if you like to help people be less serious about problems.

Doritos takes The Jester archetype to the extreme with its famous series of Superbowl ads.

The Ruler

The Ruler meets people’s need for order, protection, and security. They take charge with confidence. Public figures like US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and US President Franklin Roosevelt represent The Ruler archetype. Rulers are orderly, powerful, and responsible. Ruler brands plug into the power theme, such as Mercedes Benz, Rolex watches, and many financial institutions.

If you dislike chaos, are comfortable with taking control of situations and people, and want things to be structured, the Ruler archetype is suitable for you.

Notice how Mercedes Benz significantly differs from Toyota in its branding. This ad clearly positions Mercedes as The Ruler.

The Creator

Creators provide structures for the world, but in their own original style. Artists like Georgia O’Keefe and Picasso, along with entrepreneurs like Elon Musk, typify The Creator archetype. Creators are imaginative, innovative, and visionary. Creator brands tap into the yearning to make something new, such as Legos, Crayola, and YouTube.

If you like to express your unique self, take control of your own work to do it in your own way, or create things that break the mold of doing things in standard ways, then you might develop a Creator archetype.

Legos gives you control to “rebuild the world” in this ad, demonstrating its Creator archetype.

The Caregiver

Caregivers provide safety and security through nurturing others. Altruists like Mother Theresa, TV and movie doctors, and kindly mothers all represent The Caregiver archetype. Caregivers are compassionate, nurturing, and helpful. Brands of companies that provide relief, nourishment, and support, such as Johnson & Johnson, Campbell’s soups, Salvation Army, and some insurance companies align with The Caregiver.

The Caregiver archetype fits people who are strongly empathetic, who feel the need to nurture and protect others, or who like to express care and concern for others.

According to this ad, Johnson and Johnson is a “Take-care-of-you-your-whole-life” company—A Caregiver.

The Hero

The Hero represents the intense, driving desire to achieve something worthwhile. This archetype is easily recognized in today’s Hollywood movies, particularly in all the Marvel Comic productions or action series like James Bond, Mission Impossible, or Jason Bourne. Concerned with making a mark in the world, often alone, the hero is brave, focused, and persistent. For brands, think Nike, US Army and Marines, or FedEx.

The Hero might be your archetype if you often show persistence and strength against steep odds, are competitive, or you feel you have a mission to change the world.

Nike uses underdog athlete stories like this ad to portray its Hero archetype.

The Rebel

Rebels strive for competency and success by going their own way, even if it means fighting “the system.” The swordsman Zorro, Robin Hood, and many rock stars embody The Rebel archetype. Rebels are unconventional, revolutionary, and unique. For much of its history, Apple has branded itself as a Rebel bucking trends in technology. Other Rebel brands are Harley Davidson, Virgin, and many liquor brands.

The Outlaw archetype is for you if you like to challenge the status quo and go for revolutionary methods.

Apple produced the iconic Rebel archetype ad in 1984 when it introduced the Macintosh.

The Magician

The Magician dares to do the impossible, pushing people out of their safe zones to become something magical. Magician archetypes in film and arts are clever and capable, such as Mary Poppins, Merlin of the King Arthur legends, Yoda in Star Wars, or Harry Potter. Magicians fulfill people’s needs for competency and challenge by being transformative, inspirational, and miraculous. Walt Disney, with its Magic Kingdom and world of possibilities, typifies The Magician archetype. Many tech or audio companies, like Sony and Bose, position themselves as Magicians.

The Magician may be your archetype if you see yourself as transformative. You may like to expand people’s self-awareness, or use technology or new methods to produce “miracles”.

Disney is all about the magic, even in pandemic times!

A Personal Brand Isn’t a Mask—It Should Reflect the Real You

Insight author Tasha Eurich calls self-awareness “the meta-skill of the twenty-first century.” She asserts that “the qualities most critical for success in today’s world—things like emotional intelligence, empathy, influence, persuasion, communication, and collaboration—all stem from self-awareness.” Understanding how your personality and values align with one of the 12 archetypes is a key part of self-awareness.

I don’t intend for this idea of managing your own brand to be some sleek marketing trick. I suspect it would lead to disastrous results if you tried to manipulate an archetype to project something not true to yourself. But I do believe it will be helpful to explore your image and impact as seen by others. The archetypes ring true to us because they are so deeply ingrained in our psyches, and we can use that depth to communicate our best selves. Understanding our dominant archetype can inspire us to further develop and communicate our strengths, so that we all reach our highest potential.

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