In this issue's guest editorial, Carol S Pearson discusses the role archetypal branding can play in the success of a company and how family businesses are particulary suited to it
In business, meaning matters. Customers are attracted by products, services and companies that they associate with feelings and images which connect with their deepest desires and values. Companies that demonstrate fidelity to the values associated with their brand(s) generally do so because the associations they weave into their marketing reflect who they really are. Family businesses may have an advantage in this regard as families generally have actual identifiable values. Publicly-held corporations, on the other hand, may see themselves as value-free except for a responsibility to make money for investors. A branding study, conducted by Young & Rubicam Advertising Company and summarised in The Hero and the Outlaw: Building Extraordinary Brands Through the Power of Archetypes, explored the clusters of images, emotions and values associated with the 50 most global brands by identifying the archetypes associated with their meanings. The study revealed several different archetypes, including the 'hero', the 'jester' and the 'ruler'. The clearer the archetypal identity and the greater allegiance to that identity, the greater their Market Value Added (MVA) and Economic Value Added (EVA). In short, of the products and services studied, those with clear archetypal identities generated greater profits than those with weaker or vascilating archetypal allegiances. If you think about products that have become brand icons, powerful archetypal associations are always involved:
- Ivory Soap has been the number one best-selling soap for a hundred years, in part, at least because it is associated not just with cleanliness, but also with purity, simplicity, and renewal – that is with the archetype of the 'innocent'.
- Starbucks does not just sell coffee, it associates buying a cup of coffee with exotic lands, exploration, and individualism – the archetypal values of the 'explorer'.
- Nike promotes not just athletic shoes, but also the can-do attitude to life ("Just do it. ") associated with the archetype of the 'hero'.
- Apple does not just sell computers; its commercial messages advocate thinking and living outside the box ("Think different"), and in that way associates itself with the revolutionary values of the 'outlaw'.
The word "archetype"was coined by psychiatrist CG Jung to mean the underlying psychological emotive and meaning structures found in art, literature, religion and the human psyche. These, he posited, remain constant over time, and although affected in their styles by culture, recur in all cultures. They are powerful motivators because they are the link between the deepest human motivations and the experiences that satisfy them. For example, although the wishing star, the navigational North Star and the Star of Bethlehem all have different meanings and contexts, they all share the basic structure associated with a star in the sky. In addition, they are all associated with feelings of hope and faith, reflecting the need all people have, especially when things are tough, for guidance, assurance and even rescue. Jung's work, when complemented by Abraham Maslow's theories of human motivation, provides a map that matches customer motivation with the symbolism and narrative patterns that most captivate human consciousness.
Furthermore, archetypes galvanize attention because they speak directly to the unconscious. The images and ministories associated with them are already known and understood by the audience. How is it that advertising mini-stories (like those of greeting card and phone companies) can get the viewing public to tear up when they only have a few seconds to touch the heart? Because the viewer already knows the story and can fill in the details. The story expresses an experience that he or she yearns to know or does know, and values.
The twelve types
The twelve archtypes most important to branding range from 'innocent'to 'ruler'. The values are often exactly what their names imply: the 'innocent'is wholesome and good while the 'ruler' is powerful and in control. Archetypes also can help make approaches to life more understandable. A 'lover's' approach to life would connect business culture to Venus, Cupid or the heroine and hero of so many wonderful love stories and thus help make tangible what abstract words like 'quality' and 'customer service' mean in practice within a particular family business. 'Caregivers' or 'heros' might use the same words, but the intangibles of how these are delivered would be different. The 'caregiver's' approach would be nurturing, implicitly saying we care about you in a parental (or maybe even in a good old fashioned motherly) way. The 'hero's' approach would focus on doing what it takes to measure up to standards of quality and customer service achievement. The 'lover'enjoys quality goods because they are a pleasure to use and customers as people know and enjoy. Thus, archetypes say alot about the image a company promotes and evokes.
Living the archetype's values
In the research conducted for the study of archetypal brands (see The Hero and the Outlaw: Building Extraordinary Brands Through the Power of Archetypes, McGraw-Hill, 2001), it was found that the most successful companies did not simply associate their product with an archetypal image. Rather, they also lived the values associated with it. This is especially true for family businesses. You can think, for example, of how Johnson & Johnson reacted to fatally contaminated Tylenol. At that time, CEO Jim Burke ordered a massive recall, costing millions and read by others as a dangerous admission of culpability. Why? Even though he did not think the company was responsible for the tampering, he knew the company had to be true to its commitment to quality and to care, a commitment fundamental to its public image and the health of its soul. The results of this fidelity to the values of the archetypal 'caregiver' increased public confidence and brand loyalty even in the wake of deaths from the use of the product.
Many companies today make a great show of articulating their values. However, the resulting values statements may tell us more about what is respected in society and about the business's desire to sound good rather than what makes people get up in the morning. For example, a company's value statement may articulate quality, customer service and accountability as its primary values. While the company may truly believe in and strive to meet these goals, the value statement by no means tells us anything special or unique about the business. In fact, any number of companies could and do have virtually identical statements.
Thus, however heartfelt such statements may be, it is difficult to know in practice what they mean until the archetype behind them is discovered. For example, a certain family-owned pasta company has a garden varienty "quality-customer sevice-accountability" values statement that doesn't tell anyone much about the company. But when you walk into their headquarters, you would immediately be struck by the beauty of the place, the art on the walls, and the grace and charm exhibited by the most humble of employees. By the time a meeting, over an elegant lunch, is completed, it is impossible not to notice what good friends the chief executives were, even with those who were not family. Everyone seems to be treated as special and to feel valued. Later in the day you see some of their commercials: this company's approach to selling pasta was sensuousness personified. These ads are in subtle contrast to the expected 'caregiver'associations that might be expected in typical pasta ads – with nurturing mothers, providing comfort foods. But knowing what the company is truly like from a visit to headquarters, you understand that this is not your typical company. This is a 'lover' company. Thus, in any company you do not really know what the values are until the underlying archetypal story being lived out by the family business is discovered.
The family pasta business mentioned above did not have to understand the archetype at the root of its family and company culture for many years simply because their unconscious commitment to it was so strong. It was naturally communicated in everything they did, including the commercial messages that they liked and thus authorised.
Nevertheless, over time, in any family business younger members of the family begin to take over. As a company becomes larger and larger it employs ever more non-family members. At this point an unconscious archetypal identification, no matter how strong, can become diffused and unfocused, resulting in less internal coherence and a loss of morale internally. The archetype that determines "how we do things"is like a maypole that management and employees dance around, providing not only institutional coherence but also personal meaning. If that archetypal identity is weakened, it generally also results in external fuzziness so that the brand identity becomes muddled. Put these two factors together, and profits and customer loyalty would inevitably decline. That is why even a family business had best understand their archetypal imprint at a conscious level.
The active archetype in family business
When trying to understand and identify a family business's archetype, start by identifying the values of the family itself. In addition, you can also reflect about the family's defining stories – those anecdotes told about past and present family members, and how people in the family think and act, especially in terms of the business. Sometimes these stories evoke the kind of chuckle that demonstrates recognition. For example, the zany exploits of Uncle Charlie who started a computer business in the garage, worked all night and then took the afternoon off to shoot baskets or go to the movies and raised money by all sorts crazy schemes might reflect the liveliness of the 'jester'. The story about Aunt Sarah's cuttingremark that stopped her competitor cold might signal the toughness of the 'hero'. The way that grandfather socialised and joked with the guys on the assembly line might carry resonance with the 'regular guy/gal'.
The next step in understanding and identifying a family business'es archetype is to pay attention to how your business actual operates. You can ask yourself how your employees are expected to act. This will allow you to explore expectations about employee behaviour – to discover the archetype of an organisational culture by recognising its unwritten laws and taboos. In addition, as in the example of the pasta company above, notice the decor in the headquarters as well as the retail shops, factories or other settings. Notice how people are dressed, how they act and what behaviours get rewarded or punished. For example, at free-wheeling 'jester' Ben and Jerry's, lively wall murals based on the ice cream flavours signal a playful spirit. Employees are given bonuses in ice cream and at one point the company even had a position for a 'Minister of Joy'. If these behaviours seem unlikely in more conservative organisations, you might instead note the motivations behind the polite men and women wearing three piece suits: are they most motivated by power, prestige and duty (indicating the 'ruler'), beating out the competition ('hero'), showing good citizen care and concern for customers and the larger society ('caregiver'), and so on. Just because people act in what is apparently ordinary businesslike ways does not mean a great mythic story is not being enacted in your organisation.
Next, explore the archetypal identity identified with the brand in question at its best. Ask yourself how your primary brand helps customers feel. This will help identify how and whether the need in the customer is met by a primary product, product line or service. Identify the most successful marketing messages to date and what story they are telling. Notice the characters, the setting, the plot – and ask yourself, "Is this a love story? A war story?", and so on. Be assured that each archetype is the main character of a plot you have been exposed to by television, books, movies, and the stories families and friends tell around the dining table. Everyone knows them.
Of course it is also essential, before settling on the brand identity that is right for any endeavor, to conduct market research to make certain the approach is attractive to current and prospective customers or clients.
People in family businesses may find that they naturally have alignment between the archetype or archetypes active in their family legacy, their business and their marketing messages. If this is the case, making the process conscious allows this wisdom to be passed on to others. If what you see is a muddle, then an archetypal branding process may help the business in question expand its market share and/or maintain its competitive advantage.