Of all the tools for brand development, only one can give your brand the strength of a profound, shared experience dating back tens of thousands of years. That tool is brand archetypes, the most powerful way to humanize and differentiate your brand.

A Brief History of Archetypes

Archetypes are as old as storytelling itself. The Greek philosopher Plato first explored the idea of archetypes when he spoke of “elemental forms,” the ideal templates on which everything in the material world was based.

Many great thinkers over the years have had similar theories of primordial “categories” or “imprints,” but it was the psychologist Carl Jung who brought the idea into the modern world. Jung suggested that our unconscious thoughts and behaviors could be explained by age-old stories that all humans understood—stories that date back to the earliest instance of human consciousness.

The famed mythologist Joseph Campbell took the archetypal ball from there, exploring how archetypes explain mankind’s ongoing search for meaning in the world through mythology, religion, art, literature, pop culture, and beyond.

Whether it’s the story of a hero’s epic quest, a caregiver’s benevolent healing, or a lover’s amorous pursuit, archetypes are the stories we all instinctively understand.

The Power of Brand Archetypes

Identifying and leveraging your brand’s archetype is the most powerful way to unlock its true potential. This is because archetypes represent a universal and enduring expression of meaning, behavior, and communication. They instill humanity into your vision, mission, and values. They enable you to profoundly differentiate your brand from the competition.

Brand archetypes allow you to pinpoint your brand’s deepest, most authentic truth and bring your brand story to life in ways that magnetically attracts ideal customers.

It’s this instinctual, unconscious connection to the mind of your customers that’s the real value of brand archetypes. Brand archetypes speak to your customer’s primary motivations—motivations that ultimately drive engagement and purchasing behavior.

The bottom line is when your customers are aligned with your brand’s archetype, they are predisposed to trust your brand’s message. And trust is the foundation of a deep and lasting brand/customer relationship.

The 12 Fundamental Brand Archetypes

Which archetype is your brand? To answer this question, first you have to look at the range of archetypes available. There are 12 fundamental archetypes used in branding:

creator brand archetype

Creator

The Creator is passionate about imagination and self-expression. A champion of design and aesthetics, this archetype addresses societal needs for imagination and innovation. Brands include Walt Disney, Adobe, LEGO, and Pinterest.

ruler brand archeytype

Ruler

The Ruler is a leader who embodies power and control. This archetype is confident and commanding, and exalts in its deserved status as a chief within the tribe. Rolls-Royce, British Airways, George Washington University, and Lloyds TSB.

caregiver brand archetype

Caregiver

The Caregiver is all about the selfless care and nurturing of others. Compassionate and generous, the Caregiver believes that it is its responsibility to help those around it. Brands include Dove, Amnesty International, and Allstate Insurance.

jester brand archetype

Jester

The Jester’s goal is not only to bring levity to the world, but to do so in a way that calls truth to power. The Jester is a trickster who mocks convention with humor that is sometimes self-effacing and sometimes satirically sharp. Brands include GEICO, IKEA, Ben & Jerry’s, and Jack in the Box.

citizen brand archetype

Citizen

Driven by a sense of integrity and fairness, the Citizen acts with the community in mind, finding purpose in service and stewardship. The Citizen values things larger than profit or personal gain. Brands include Habitat for Humanity, TOMS Shoes, AAA, and Kickstarter.

lover brand archetype

Lover

Amorous and emotive, the Lover has an affection for the beautiful and a penchant for the collaborative. This archetype fosters blissful experiences both sensual and nurturing. Brands include Chanel, Häagen-Dazs, eHarmony, and Tiffany & Co.

hero brand archetype

Hero

The Hero is society’s savior and redeemer. Characterized by courage, self-sacrifice, and achievement, the Hero seeks personal transformation in its quest to triumph over adversity. Brands include Nike, Under Armour, US Army, and Doctors Without Borders.

magician brand archetype

Magician

Dynamic, charismatic, and clever, the Magician leverages its understanding of the hidden workings of the universe to turn dreams into reality. The Magician is a deep thinker and trusted advisor. Brands include Apple, Oculus, Genentech, and Google.

rebel brand archetype

Rebel

The Rebel is an outlaw and harbinger of social change. The consummate provocateur, the Rebel seeks to challenge the status quo by pushing the envelope on conventional values. Brands include Virgin, Harley-Davidson, Levi Strauss & Co., and MTV.

explorer brand archetype

Explorer

Forever pushing boundaries in the hopes of discovering new frontiers, the Explorer is innovative and ambitious. This archetype is characterized by wanderlust and freedom, and seeks always to establish its independence. Brands include REI, Patagonia, Starbucks, and NASA.

sage brand archetype

Sage

The keeper of wisdom and intelligence, the Sage is the archetype people turn to for counsel and advice. The Sage seeks truth and clarity through diligent research and rational thought. Brands include Harvard, Rosetta Stone, Mayo Clinic, and The Smithsonian.

innocent brand archetype

Innocent

The Innocent is the embodiment of purity and virtue. An eternal optimist, the Innocent calls to mind simpler times of childlike wonder free from corruption and cynicism. Brands include Ivory, Nintendo Wii, Method, and Volkswagen.

Unlocking the Power of Archetypes for Your Brand

Unlocking the power of brand archetypes starts with understanding your brand at the deepest level. Who does your brand serve? What are its motivations? Why does it exist? By answering fundamental questions like these, you’ll start to understand which archetype best defines your brand.

Identifying your brand archetype is just the beginning, though. The idea is to use that archetype to uncover and bring your brand’s story to life. Brand stories built on archetypes are stories that have an instinctual, magnetic attraction for customers. Because they’re infused with enduring meaning, archetypes have an immediate visceral impact and provoke deep and lasting affinity in customers.

Creating brand stories that are rooted in the rich inherent meaning of archetypes ensures that your brand’s expression is purposeful, authentic, and aligned. Archetypes give your brand an instantly recognizable narrative that is universal to the human experience. If your customers can relate to your brand on such a powerfully fundamental level, imagine what kind of valuable, lasting relationships you can build with them.

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A prolific blogger, speaker, and columnist, Brian has more than a decade of experience in design and branding. He’s written for publications including Forbes, Huffington Post, and Brand Quarterly.