How well do you know your brand?


LEGO advert from 1981 with text 'What it is is beautiful'

LEGO advert from 1981

I’ve sat down with first-time entrepreneurs in Cape Town, young creatives in Johannesburg as well as colleagues in a global non-profit. When I ask them to describe their brand, their response is usually a string of positive words like this:

“It’s innovative”
“It’s friendly, for everyone”
“It’s cool”
“It’s trustworthy”
“It says quality”
“It’s brave”

The problem with this is that one brand can’t be everything. You might like all those descriptions, but in the mind of your audience or customers it needs to be one concept. I have a favourite quote from The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding that goes:

So you can forget about the laundry list of wonderful attributes your product has. You can’t possibly associate them all with your brand name in a human mind. To get into the consumer’s mind you have to sacrifice. You have to reduce the essence of your brand to a single thought or attribute” – Al & Laura Ries

This quote highlights a key part of selecting a strategy or a brand: sacrifice. You have to choose an identity and stick with it.

This useful wheel makes it easier to visualize that choice. It prevents you from making the common mistake of wanting your brand to stand for everything. It forces you to choose an archetype:

12 brand archetypes - Impending Boom

I first encountered this wheel of 12 brand archetypes at a workshop in Cairo. It’s based on The Hero and the Outlaw, a very dense book, but you can save some time by flipping through these slides by Bianca Cawthorne. I’ve since added my own examples of brands that fit each archetype to the wheel above.

Here’s an example of how to use the 12 brand archetypes wheel. Let’s say you’re a bar owner and you want the place to have a new identity. You put the wheel down on the table and debate with your co-founder, designer or friends what archetype suits your business. You’ll want to consider what archetypes your competitors fit in to and how best to position yourself in relation to them. The brand archetype you select will determine the name of the bar, the logo design, the décor as well as the tone of voice you use on the bar’s website and social media. All these things need to reinforce the same concept. If it’s inconsistent, it confuses the customer and weakens the brand.

The 12 brand archetypes can even help people who are working for decades-old brands. I’ve seen people disagree in meetings because they actually have completely different ideas of what the business is about and what it should represent to the public. The archetypes wheel is useful because it allows them to point to one of the options and say “This is how I see the company!”

Without the wheel, we all just end up nodding to a long list of positive descriptions. What you need is to decide on one and commit to it.


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