#10 How to use Archetypes to define your customer and your communication strategy
April 27, 2021
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In this week’s episode, we are going to talk about how to use archetypes to create a general idea of who your customer is. These portraits in broad strokes offer a notion of the personality you are communicating with. You would not speak to a child the way you speak to an adult. Similarly, you will learn not to speak to a joker the way you speak to sage. We will begin by defining an archetype, then we will talk about a very useful one size fits all archetype, and finally take a brief look at more precise archetypes and discuss how they fit together in a great marketing strategy. 


Jung’s Theory of Archetypes

Swiss psychiatrist and philosopher Carl Jung was fascinated with myths. Examining them, he concluded these tales reflect universal fundamental concepts of human nature and human experience. As a creative child, he created his own totems and rituals. Later, he realized ancient cultures had similar practices. He posited there must be some ancient universal source of these basic ideas that seem to be expressed in all cultures from their earliest stories onward. Specifically, Jung hypothesized that there is a “collective unconscious” that stores universal primitive symbols that arose in the minds of the first humans. He called these symbols archetypes.

Exactly what symbols can be regarded as Jungian archetypes is a matter of some academic debate, and his own views varied over time. For the modern marketer, the most important kinds of archetypes are personality archetypes and story archetypes, or, perhaps, you might say the story archetype. Archetypes help us guess at our customers deep psychological needs. By presenting an archetype personality or an archetype story, you connect with the customer because these archetypes are immediately subconsciously recognizable. By leading the customer through an ancient story pattern, you can turn them into an evangelist for your brand. 


The Archetypal Story Structure

Stories can take many forms, and certainly there are exceptions to the rule, but broadly speaking, you can fit a lot of stories into a single structure, the basic archetypal concept of “story” that differentiate telling a story from merely relating an event. A story conventionally has three parts. A setup is followed by a conflict leading to an end in a resolution. This is a universally recognizable pattern.

How can we apply this idea? There are many ways. For a simple but powerful example, imagine you want to get a customer to return to a touchpoint, be it a website or a social media place or a performance or a broadcast. If you create a setup and introduce a concept and then just stop…

Everyone understands that they are 2/3rds of the way through a story. The brain does not like unfinished business and loose ends. People feel compelled to find out how a story ends. 


Campbell’s Story Archetype: The Hero’s Journey

Sociologist Joseph Campbell was also fascinated by myths. He described a more specific version of the universal archetype of a three act story. He observed a cross cultural tradition of telling stories that have a main character who begins with an ordinary life, hears a call to action, decides to leave the ordinary world for adventure, has a crisis, triumphs, and returns home transformed. This is the famous “Hero’s Journey” template. Campbell breaks it down further into twelve steps. 

At first, the Hero has no problems that they are aware of. Then they hear the call to adventure and begin to be aware something is missing. There is more out there. But they are fearful. A mentor arrives and helps them overcome fear. They commit to do something about the problem and make a change. They experiment with the new ideas and prepare for a change. At the threshold of making the change, they must overcome obstacles and defeat fear. They seize their reward for change. They go home changed and solve problems along the way. They return home newly improved bringing the benefits of their struggle to their community.


Using the Hero’s Journey In Marketing

In “The Writer’s Journey,” Disney structuralist storytelling wizard Chris Vogler writes

Fairy tale heroes have a common denominator, a quality that unites them across boundaries of culture, geography, and time. They are lacking something, or something is taken away from them.” 

Like the heroes in the stories, customers are trying to achieve or obtain something that will change their life. Like the hero, the customer embarks on a journey that will involve leaving the familiar and comfortable and confronting the unfamiliar, searching for knowledge, asking questions, weighing answers, facing fears and doubt. And like the hero, the customer can be seen at a particular time at a particular stage in the journey. 

By recognizing what stage the customer is in, you can create the perfect touchpoint and message to guide them through the steps to a purchase. Is your potential bad-breath lozenge customer smell-blind? Maybe they don’t even know they have a problem. But if you can find them, you can turn them into lucrative lifetime customers with grateful friends. Targeting customers who are not aware of the problem is tricky, but with some imagination you can come with strategies to test. To land that problem-unaware customer, you could use untargeted humorous advertising about how it’s hard to tell someone they have bad breath that suggests giving the lozenge as a gift to a friend with stinking breath. You will also have potential customers whose friends have been kind of enough to tell them. For those customers, you might seek SEO traction for keyphrases like “how to cure bad breath” and “halitosis cures” along with some SEM spending to get immediate results.  

Understanding what your customers want and need in their journey at the particular stage they have reached allows you to provide exactly the right thing at the right time and guide them from the stage they are on forward. Whether they start at  being unaware of the problem, or have progressed to understanding the problem, to knowing your solution, or have even arrived at buying your solution, you will guide them to the next step until you have brought them to the final step: loving your solution and telling their friends. 


Jungian Personality Archetypes

Building on Jung’s general theory of archetypes, author Carol Pearson and her co-author Margret Mark posited twelve specific personality archetypes. To some degree, some people truly fit well into these categories. To a greater degree, everyone recognizes these categories and can identify with them, even though people are obviously much more complex. You can use this list of categories to describe the possible personalities of your most likely customers. Once you have decided who you are speaking to, you can craft your message to appeal to them. After all, what is more interesting? Something that is for everyone? Or something that is for you.

Consider whether your potential customers fit into one or more of these recognizable simple categories: Innocent, Regular Guy/Gal, Hero, Caregiver, Explorer, Rebel, Lover, Creator, Jester, Sage, Magician, or Ruler. If you think someone is a caregiver, show your compassion and appeal to theirs. If you think they are a rebel, show your wild side and cast the action you want them to take as rule breaking. Most of these categories are pretty obvious, but the Magician merits a little explanation. This archetype refers to people (and the brands they love) that offer an amazing change.

If you have a tech product that allows people to monitor productivity in an office, you might want to appeal to the Ruler archetype. If you have a beer to sell, you might see your potential market as a mix of Regular Guys and Gals, Jesters, and Rebels. You might try speaking to them differently, or you might narrow your focus and brand yourself, as you will see beer companies do, as a beer for Regular Folks, or a beer for Rebels. If you have an information product that delivers knowledge for the sake of knowledge, you might want to speak to Sages, but the Explorer might be interested too. 


These digital marketing tips only work if you use them

We hope you find this insight on digital marketing excellence useful. This knowledge can improve your results, but you have to put it into action. So find a way to apply it and test it. Take a baseline measurement and compare your new improved outcome. Join the Viral Octopus collective and share and discuss your results with others who are striving for excellence. And come back and join us next week for more powerful new marketing tips and tricks. Don’t get left behind: Mind The Gap.