ArchetypesBy Andrea Goulet Ford

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

You’ve probably heard that saying.

Sure, it’s a cliché, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true.

Once a crisis breaks, it’s a resource-intensive endeavor.

I should know, because I’ve been there, on the front lines and around the clock, when a social media crisis happened to a Fortune 100 client.

That experience taught me that the best way to manage a crisis is to make sure it doesn’t happen in the first place.

Archetype Your Audience

Archetypes, or storytelling patterns, have long been used for developing brand personalities.

They’re also a fantastic tool to understand the deeper motivations of a customer segment when you don’t have the time to do comprehensive messaging research.

And if there’s one thing you don’t have during a crisis, it’s time.

By putting in the effort to understand which archetypes apply to your audience, you empower your content creators with valuable information to help them create highly-resonant messages quickly.

Archetype messaging should never be used to avert the issue or displace responsibility.

Instead, they can add a subtle level of personality to messaging that often comes across as canned (which can then lead to its own mini-crisis within a crisis.)

Use Archetypes for Effective Messaging

Here’s an example of how this would work in a real-life situation.

Recently, Free People launched a clothing brand for ballerinas, surfers, and women who do yoga. They encountered a crisis because they didn’t use a trained ballerina in one of their commercials that promoted clothing for dance.

Had Free People done some research ahead of time, they would have probably found that dancers identify as a Creator archetype and that when marketing to a creator, the details absolutely matter.

That understanding could have influenced their casting choice and the crisis could have been averted.

Or, if a blunder had been made, they could have quickly come up with messages in response.

Major Archetypes and Their Messaging

There are dozens of archetypes to help you understand your audiences.

One of the best resources out there for learning about how archetypes can work for your organization is the book Archetypes in Branding: A Toolkit for Creatives and Strategists by Margaret Hartwell and Joshua Chen.

In the book, Hartwell and Chen present 60 archetypes.

Here are their top 12 along with messaging guidance.


Driven by an innate need to serve others, Caregivers are kind, optimistic, and respond best to supportive and empathetic messaging.


Personal integrity and a sense of responsibility to their community define the Citizen. Your best bet is messaging that gives context, demonstrates influence, and shows the bigger picture.


Motivated by a deep need for self-expression, creators are non-linear thinkers and are often perfectionists. Use messaging that shows tremendous amount of respect for the work, and pay attention to the details.


These folks constantly seek new experiences and stimulation to feel alive and expand their horizons. Open-ended questions can help engage an Explorer.


Heroes love a challenge and pride themselves on their strength, stamina, and self-sacrifice. Using an encouraging tone and focusing on the reward will motivate your Hero.


With almost a childlike nature, Innocents see life as pure and endless wonder. Use positive language that focuses on what the world could be and avoid sarcasm or cynicism.


If the archetypes had a class clown, the Jester would be it. To the Jester, life is too short to be taken seriously. They’ll appreciate a good joke and respond well to satire, parody, and wit.


Using the senses is of utmost importance to the lover. They appreciate beauty in all forms and yearn for closeness and connection. Use messaging that focuses on intuition and emotion over reason.


This deep thinker dreams big, knowing the universe, both within and without, is limitless. Don’t use concrete language with a magician. To them, there are many paths to the truth.


Not wanting to conform is the Rebel’s main cause. This archetype is progressive, provocative, and thrives on personal power. Challenge your rebel to try something new and push the boundaries.


Analytical and rational, the Sage is diligent and steady. Use logic and facts to earn trust with a sage. They often dismiss those who rely on intuition over intellect.


Tradition is a value that runs deep with the Sovereign because it creates a legacy that will stand the test of time. They’ll appreciate a more formal tone because it’s a sign of respect.

So how about you? Have you used archetypes in your communication? Do you think they’d come in handy in a crisis?

Let’s keep the conversation going in the comments!

photo credit: katerha via photopin cc

Andrea Goulet Ford

Andrea Goulet Ford is the human voice behind some of the world's largest brands. Her firm, BrandVox™, helps business leaders document their visions, train their teams to speak in a cohesive brand voice, and create content systems that scale their brands. You can also find Andrea working on her first book, Culture of Content: How to Win in Business Through Prose, People, and Process.

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