Music, mountains, and moths: using archetypes to find your brand identity

If your brand were a song, what would it be?

If your brand were a place, what would it be?

If your brand were an animal, what would it be?

Recognize these questions? They are a common part of exercises to help determine your brand identity. Answering these questions helps you determine the archetypes that reflect who your brand really is.

Carl Jung defined archetypes as universal ideas or images that carry meaning across people and cultures. For example, most people have an idea of what a queen represents, even if they have never encountered a queen before. Most people have an idea of what the ocean means, even if they have never seen the ocean before.

When you identify the archetypes of your brand, you begin to have a deeper understanding of the meaning of your brand—and the alignment of your brand. 

Let’s start with music. 

While the name of a song is meaningless if you haven’t heard the song before, once you’ve heard the song, it carries great meaning. You immediately feel the song. It doesn’t matter what the composer meant when they wrote the song. All that matter is what the song means to you.

This is the same with branding. It matters less what you mean by your brand and more what your brand means to your customers.

So, pick a song for your brand.

Let’s say you pick L.L. Cool J.’s “(Mama Said) Knock You Out.” What does this song mean to you?

To me it means power. “Watch out … I’m coming to get ‘cha.” It’s got a rhythm that makes you want to move and sway. It carries you forward.

Now, pick a place.

Maybe you pick a wave, one that’s crashing and large enough to ride. What does that mean to you?

To mean it also means power. “Come with me, and I’ll take you places. But watch out, or you might fall off.” If you feel confident and in control, it may make you want to ride it to the shore. If you feel out of balance, it may make you want to step away.

Finally, pick an animal.

Maybe you pick a mountain lion. What does that mean to you?

Again, to me it means power. “I’m on the prowl. I know how to get what I want. I will find you.” Mountain lions are fierce. They are stealthy hunters, and yet they are also protective. They defend their territories and their offspring. It may make you want to look at it in awe. Or it may scare you away.

So, how do you put all of this together?

Find the themes—the overlapping and the disparate ones—and integrate them into one complete whole.

All of these examples have the overlapping theme of power. Your brand would scream strength and confidence. It would be telling the world, “I’m here. I’m in control. You can’t ignore me. I know how to get what I want.” This would be a powerful message to tell your competition.

Like the L.L. Cool J. song and the wave, you would have the ability to move people and bring them along with you. This would be a powerful message to tell your customers.

Like the mountain lion’s protective side, you would be telling your brand and your team, “I will defend you. I will keep you safe.” This is a commitment to managing your assets and staying true to yourself.

When you know who your brand really is, it’s easy to pull out your message and convey it to your audiences: your competition, your customers, and your company. It’s easier to stay in control of your territory, your position in the competitive landscape. Using archetypes this way is a fun and effective way to find out who your brand really is. Try it out for yourself.

Sample creative brief for Manhattan boutique hotel

It’s not just about how you look. It’s about who you really are.