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  • Writer's pictureCatherine Carr

Applying Archetype Theory to Develop Brand Voice

Updated: Aug 22, 2022

In Part 1, Why I Geek Out on Brand Archetype Theory and Part 2, How I Geek Out on Brand Archetype Theory, I explained the power of archetypes for focusing and clarifying brands.

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.

Men in Blazers - example of Jester archetype with 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.

The Daily Show - example of Sage archetype 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.

Exploring Range

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)...

Harvard University - example of Sage archetype

Philosophy (skin-deep)...

Philosophy, example of Sage archetype

America's Test Kitchen (rigorously methodical)...

America's Test Kitchen, example of Sage Archetype - Creative Commons image by LCBGlenn

New York Times (authoritative and expansive)...

New York Times, example of Sage Archetype - Creative Commons image by Elias Rovielo

and ChefSteps (bold and cheeky).

ChefSteps, example of Sage brand archetype

Ultimately, we were especially drawn to the approachability and wisdom of Oprah...

Oprah, a wise and approachable Sage - Creative Commons image by nayrb7

...and the geeky irreverence of MythBusters,

MythBusters, a geekily irreverent Sage - Creative Commons image by reedkavner

...both Sages who embrace experimentation and share their knowledge in broadly appealing, non-academic ways.

Considering Context

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),

Bunn corporate white papers

iCoffee's faux-sciency SpinBrew Technology (hard no),

iScience - faux-sciencey example of Sage archetype

Breville's PolyScience and Thought for Food initiatives (intriguing),

Breville - example of Sage archetype

Oxo's Barista Brain product line (clever),

Oxo Barista Brain - example of Sage archetype

and Chemex's clear, informative publications like Filter Folding 101 (excellent).

Chemex - Example of Sage archetype

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.

Emerging Sage 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.

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