Man writing on board

Each semester, I guest lecture at a brand management class at Iowa State University and talk with students about how we help our clients with branding. I always include a slide about “when” clients decide to reexamine their brand.

The most common reasons I’ve noticed are:

  • A significant upcoming company milestone
  • A high-profile upcoming event
  • A big new acquisition or product/service addition
  • A new website
  • An increase or change in competitors’ activities
  • New leadership who wants to make a mark
  • And even, “It’s been a while.”

If you pay attention to advertising and brands, you notice that campaigns, messages, and even logos change periodically for those reasons and more.

But underpinning any of the changes in look or message from a brand is likely a consistent core of who they are. That’s why in most cases, even with changes, you notice they are still “on brand.” That’s a comment said frequently, but what do we actually mean when we say “on brand?”

Identifying your brand archetype

Nearly all brands have a primary brand archetype, or core story, that they align with. These universal, human stories are ideas that everyone can relate to and understand. Strong brands align themselves with a primary brand archetype that helps guide their behavior, what they stand for, and how they communicate.

There are many great references available that explain archetypes and provide various options to consider for your brand. The Hero and the Outlaw and Archetypes in Branding give excellent overviews of the archetypes.

Although terminology may differ, here are the 12 primary brand archetypes and some key positive traits of each:

The Ruler: power, authority, excellence

The Hero: courage, sacrifice, transformation

The Explorer: discovery and new experiences

The Lover: beauty and passion

The Jester: comedy, humor, irreverence

The Caregiver: compassionate, calm, positive

The Sage: thought, intelligence, expertise

The Rebel: risk, bravery, power

The Regular Guy/Gal: integrity and goodness

The Magician: clever and charismatic

The Creator: creativity, ideation, imagination

The Innocent: virtuous, optimistic, wholesome

While most brands (and people) primarily align with one archetype, they draw on secondary archetypes or can behave in different ways depending on the situation. Think of Apple, a classic Creator archetype. They’ve often behaved like a Jester in their advertising and some may perceive them as a Ruler, but at their core they are about creativity and imagination. Or think of Richard Branson’s Virgin brands; they are Rebels, shaking things up and operating in the world a little differently than everyone else. Creative, yes, but they primarily are zagging where others zig.

There’s no “right” or “wrong” brand archetype — all have value and merit. But knowing which story you align with makes telling your story to others much easier.

Our agency archetype

As part of Two Rivers Marketing’s recent rebranding effort, we took a step back and looked at our own brand archetype. As a B2B agency that really digs into our clients’ complicated products and services, we’ve always been a bit of an Explorer, but that didn’t quite fit. As a creative agency, obviously there’s a bit of Creator in us, but given our industry niche, that really isn’t what drives us.

We looked further into the related Explorer archetypes and aligned on the Seeker. This archetype has a little more purpose to the exploration, is a little more deliberate, and explores to build knowledge. Seekers are proud of their independence and ambition, which aligned with our traits as an ESOP (employee stock ownership plan) company. We hire a lot of people who are curious, and who aren’t afraid to dig into complicated topics, and then write about them or design materials that connect with a more technical, mechanical, agrarian, or financial mindset. Their personal archetypes often align with our company story.

Check out our new website and see if you think we have lived up to our archetype and remain “on brand.” And think about your brand’s archetype. Are you telling a strong story?

Whatever your archetype, we’re always looking for people to help us help our clients tell their stories and bring their archetype to life.