Applying Archetype Theory to Develop Brand Voice
Updated: May 14, 2019
Purpose or Personality?
In the early days of my practice, I allowed teams to combine two archetypes they were equally drawn to, but I’ve come to the conclusion that the grounding is strongest when there’s only one core desire at the very top, whether that is freedom (Explorer), order (Ruler), or transformation (Magician).
When teams are split between two different archetypes (especially archetypes from different quadrants), I’ve found that often they are conflating the why with the how. Ideally the why should align with just one archetype at a fundamental purpose level—Why do we exist? What are we here to do? But how that archetype is outwardly expressed—the personality—can absolutely be influenced by another.
For example, consider Men in Blazers and The Daily Show—both smart, funny TV shows. You might be tempted to say that both fuse Jester and Sage. But I would argue that at a purpose level, they are distinct. The purpose of Men in Blazers is to celebrate the sport of soccer and its community in a quirky, high-spirited way—they are Jester with some clever Sage details.
By contrast, the purpose of The Daily Show is to inform, and Trevor Noah uses humor as a powerful tool, just as Jon Stewart did. It’s Sage influenced by Jester.
More Than One Way to Be a Sage
When I worked with the Espresso Supply team to develop the Motif line of home coffee brewing equipment, we quickly aligned around the Sage archetype. The company's founder felt strongly that anyone could make great coffee at home, with the right equipment and a little understanding. In Laura's words, "It's science, but it's not rocket science!"
We established the brand’s purpose as “To make the knowledge of how to brew the best possible coffee at home, and the tools to do it, widely available.” The articulation of our purpose was strongly influenced by the Everyperson archetype, which celebrates inclusivity and counters the elitism that colors the specialty coffee industry. But deep down, even though Everyperson appealed to the team, we knew that the purpose of the brand was more about independence and autonomy—knowing how to brew great coffee at home, beyond simply pushing a button—than it was about belonging and community.
The lure of the Everyperson helped us zero in on what kind of Sage we wanted to be, however.
We examined a wide range of Sage brands from a wide range of categories, including Harvard University (traditional and academic)...
America’s Test Kitchen (rigorously methodical)...
New York Times (authoritative and expansive)...
and ChefSteps (bold and cheeky).
Ultimately, we were especially drawn to the approachability and wisdom of Oprah...
...and the geeky irreverence of MythBusters,
...both Sages who embrace experimentation and share their knowledge in broadly appealing, non-academic ways.
We also took a closer look at Sage brands and attributes within the home coffee brewing category, including Bunn’s corporate-feeling white papers (nope),
iCoffee’s faux-sciency SpinBrew Technology (hard no),
Breville’s PolyScience and Thought for Food initiatives (intriguing),
Oxo’s Barista Brain product line (clever),
and Chemex’s clear, informative publications like Filter Folding 101 (excellent).
We also took note of how Espresso Supply’s own Bonavita line was encroaching into Sage territory with “coffee 101” tweets like this one, and how important it would be to keep those lines clearer in the future.
Developing Vocabulary and Voice
Once we had our grounding, we articulated some emerging themes and vocabulary.
We then developed Motif’s voice guidelines to express the Sage archetype in a distinctive way, infused with the accessible and relatable Everyperson spirit:
Approachable: Knowledgeable but fun and easy to talk to, with a little healthy irreverence in the mix. Gifted at demystifying through simple explanations, memorable facts, and unexpected analogies.
Short and Sweet: With design and with words, less is more. Respectful of customers’ limited time and attention. Clear, crisp, and concise, but always with an underlying warmth.
Encouraging: Upbeat, patient, and supportive of individual preferences and varying levels of knowledge; never judgmental or dogmatic. New ideas and points of view are welcome.
To take this series full circle—yessssss, I felt pretty strongly that Cranium was a Sage brand, one brimming with personality and color and nuance. It was clear to me then, and even clearer now, that there's more than one way to be a Sage.