How To Run A Brand Archetypes Workshop Without Inciting Mutiny

In this final instalment of our “How To Run A Creative Workshop” series, we’re going to learn how to use one our of favourite workshop tools to uncover a brand’s personality; brand archetypes.

Archetypes are universal characters that have existed for thousands of years, tracing back to Ancient Greece.

The best known and most loved is The Hero; that courageous girl or boy who overcomes the odds to improve their world. Whether it’s David’s defeat of Goliath in the Bible or Katniss Everdeen’s triumph in the Hunger Games, The Hero has appeared in human stories for millennia.

The Magician is also instinctively familiar. Think of Merlin or Willy Wonka, that mysterious persona who can conjure up something from nothing; transforming ideas into reality, almost magically.

Archetypes are useful in branding because they help to create likeable and relatable personalities. In today’s oversupplied world, your brand personality is often your biggest competitive advantage. This is why giants such as Guinness, Nike and Innocent Drinks have consciously applied the theory of archetypes to express and grow their brands.

Understanding which archetype your brand represents can also give you clarity on the role you want to play in people’s lives and the story you want to tell about who you are and what you stand for.

But uncovering your archetype in a workshop can be tricky. It’s not easy to gain consensus and the last thing you want is a mutiny because people can’t agree or worse, everyone just going along with what the CEO thinks!

In the video above and in the instructions below, I explain how to navigate these common stumbling blocks.

This exercise can be run with a larger group, but it’s easier with a maximum of 8-10 people. Allow 45 minutes for this session.

1) Buy your card deck! You can get it here.

2) Make sure you introduce the aim of the exercise. For me, the aim of the archetypes exercise is to pin down those intangible characteristics that form a brand personality. It prevents me as a creative from making assumptions or going off-track. It also helps me see and articulate patterns and hidden meanings.

3) Introduce archetypal theory. Perhaps use classic films and stories to illustrate how the typical archetypal characters show up, e.g. The Hero and The Magician. Explain that using the language of archetypes is a shortcut to feeling familiar, likeable and being instantly understood by customers.

4) Give each person a set of archetype cards, with at least one card from each of the 12 core archetypal families in their individual set.

5) If you have a small group, they’ll have a lot of cards to work with so ask them to lay them on the table in front of them and sort the cards into YES, NO AND MAYBE piles based on the images alone.

Once they have three piles, they can discard the NO pile and read the descriptions of the others to narrow them down to one YES pile.

6) Pair and Share. Split the group into pairs. Person A must share the archetypes in their YES pile while person B listens. Then they need to swap roles.

7) Ask them to choose their favourite archetypes to feed back to the rest of the group, giving reasons why they chose the cards they chose.

8) At this point, you might decide to bring the group together to select the final three archetypes that best fit their company.

Alternatively you could swap cards around and repeat step 4 to 6 so that everyone has a chance to review the archetypes before putting the final decision to the group.

9) If you have time, you can ask the group for proof that they have chosen the right archetypes by asking them to share stories of how these characteristics show up in their work or in their interactions with customers. This will give you further valuable insights into the brand’s strengths and value proposition.

Common pitfalls of the archetype workshop

It’s not what you do that matters: Almost everyone will choose archetypes that most describe “what” they do, e.g. creative agencies will always choose Creator! That’s OK because that fundamental archetype is part of the fabric of who they are and why they do what they do…but it doesn’t make them unique in their industry. It’s the other archetypes they choose that will help them to build a standout brand.

Everyone is an Entrepreneur! The Director of the company will probably identify most with the Entrepreneur archetype but it’s unlikely that this is the right for the brand as a whole. Visionary may also resonate with company leaders but isn’t necessarily reflective of the brand as a whole.

When consensus is tricky: If everyone has trouble coming to a consensus on the final three, you can use the ‘dotting’ method to put it to the vote. This simply means using coloured ‘dots’ to vote for the archetype you believe reflects the business best.

You can learn more about expressing your archetype in your branding in our blog series, or in a 90-minute Brain Blitz with me.

About the Author: Anna McLoughlin

Anna McLoughlin, Copywriter

Anna is Director of Inkspiller. An incurably curious writer and brand strategist, she has made it her life's mission to truly see others, then reflect their brilliance back out to the world.

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