Understanding what your brand really stands for is the first step to working out how to write, as these examples reveal.
As consumers, we’re undoubtedly more brand-literate now than at any point in history. Think about how the characteristics of advertising have evolved: early ad copy was straight-laced, making benefits clear to readers, then in the second half of the twentieth century, as television began to dominate, advertisers capitalised on story-telling and advertisements were often built around characters and narratives. In the age of the internet, advertising has become focused on problem-solving. It’s become more ‘niche’ as businesses have had to find new ways of expressing their brand through text, visuals and moving image across a range of platforms. User generated content and social proof of a value proposition are now fundamental in influencing people to buy in to a brand, seeking, perhaps, an emotional hit as much as the product itself.
There’s a lesson we can learn here: the importance of knowing intimately not just what your brand does, but who your brand is. Understanding the way your brand is positioned in relation to your customers and clients will help you to understand the role your brand plays in their lives, how they perceive it and what problems it solves for them. When your brand’s persona is captured in visuals, user experience and written communication, so much the better.
Do you understand your brand’s archetype?
Archetypes are a crucial aspect of storytelling. They inform how we understand the world around us, how we process events and how we create cognitive schemas. The psychiatrist Carl Jung proposed that we humans have a collective understanding of events, motifs and figures which have universal meaning and symbolic value. Jung’s theory of archetypes has primarily influenced psychology and narrative theory, but Margaret Mark and Carol Pearson argued in their book The Hero and the Outlaw: Building Extraordinary Brands Through the Power of Archetypes that the theory also applies to how we construct and perceive brands. Through exploring our brand’s archetype, we can truly understand how it relates to those we serve.
We can broadly group Marks’ and Pearson’s brand archetypes into four triads, each with some shared attributes, as you can explore below.
Certain brands are more likely to be found in certain sectors. For example, the lover archetype is often found in brands such as fragrance, chocolate and lingerie. In many instances, archetypes speak to kindred spirits, so the Ford Motor Company positions itself as an everyman, but Mercedes-Benz communicates as ruler.
It’s likely that your brand is represented by more than one single archetype: perhaps you can identify a primary and a secondary.
Allow your brand’s voice to amplify the archetype
By exploring the language of brands which represent each archetype, we can begin to build a toolkit of language — what copywriters call voice guidelines — as these examples reveal.
Under Armour is the archetypal hero: products are defined in terms of their functionality. The declarative phrase ‘We cracked the code…’ conveys a heroic, problem-solving ethos. There’s a hardworking, can-do attitude. Products are defined functionally and described technically: ‘airflow’, ‘sportsmask’, which suggests the product is designed to deliver.
Ice cream maker Häagen-Dazs is a brand that’s aligned with the archetypal lover. The writing emphasises spontaneity, indulgence and hedonism, characterised by imperatives such as ‘Get caught up in the moment…’ and second-person pronouns such as ‘you’ and ‘yourself’. The brand’s voice is playful and sensual.
Adventure, opportunity and hardiness are unmistakeable qualities in Berghaus, an example of the explorer archetype. The copy consists of three simple phrases as functional and as rugged as the product. The noun ‘AW20’ even refers to that season’s collection in terms of something utilitarian and ascetic.
Adobe taps into the creator archetype. The omission of the auxiliary verb and second-person pronoun ‘Have you..’ when the reader is asked ‘Missed the creative bash of the year?’ emphasises the informality of the voice. The after-party metaphor is also cleverly designed to appeal to the creative mindset, offering a sense of inclusivity and belonging — but playing very subtly with the reader’s fear of having missed an opportunity.
Dyson is the archetypal magician, an archetype that’s often associated with technological wizardry. Their content uses vocabulary from the semantic field of science, such as ‘lab’, ‘virtual’ and ‘immersive’. These brands are often strongly associated with a key figure, in this case, the inventor James Dyson. Apple, primarily associated with the creative archetype, leveraged this secondary brand archetype when Steve Jobs was CEO.
One of my favourite brands, BrewDog, is the archetypal rebel, a maverick who likes to disrupt the status quo and challenge what it sees as outdated attitudes so the world can be a better place. Its voice reflects this: it’s optimistic, bold and collaborative and it can be found consistently across all of its written content. ‘Buckle up, relax and enjoy the ride,’ urges the well-crafted copy on their website. ‘Beer will never be the same.’
Ice cream maker Ben and Jerry’s is the archetypal jester. The language is playful and idiosyncratic, involving the reader with questions. ‘Which mélange of scrumptious sweetness best describes the uniqueness that is you?’ The copy doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it lets the reader in on the joke.
Wilco, the British home and garden store, positions itself as an everyman. It’s inclusive and it offers value, but at the same time, modest enough to be relatable and straightforward.
The skincare range Simple is the archetypal innocent. Its content conveys positive emotions, the implicity of living kindly and faith in bigger things. It also dares to dream big, emphasising the brand’s social conscience and ethical agenda.
Britain’s National Health Service, unsurprisingly, positions itself as a caregiver. The language is accessible, straightforward, and focused on positive outcomes. It doesn’t offer false reassurances, but nevertheless, phrases things positively: ‘Check your BMI using our healthy weight calculator and find out if you’re a healthy weight.’
Swiss watchmaker Phillipe Patek is the archetypal ruler. Vocabulary is formal and precise: ‘This emblem of horological excellence goes beyond any existing standards of the Swiss watch industry,’ the text assures us (horology is the study of the measurement of time). The copy utilises the plural first-person ‘we’ and there’s a sense of tradition, patrilineal power and inheritance.
Consciously change the tone of your brand’s voice in different contexts
If the overall voice of your brand amplifies the significant archetypes, it’s important to get the tone of that voice right depending on context and purpose.
Compare these two sentences from BrewDog’s popular blog, both announcing the opening of new bars. The first is from December 2019, before Covid-19 had shut down the hospitality industry, when BrewDog opened a new bar in Swansea. The second is from June 2020, when many bars and pubs were still closed, but BrewDog opened a bar in Rotterdam.
‘It’s been five years since we opened up our first hideout for the people of Wales, and BrewDog Cardiff has been going great guns ever since.’
This sentence, like Brewdog, is without doubt optimistic, bold and collaborative, but the tone is irreverent and a little bit defiant.
The second sentence is also optimistic, bold and collaborative. The tone, however, is empathetic and reassuring:
‘During this enormously challenging time for the catering industry worldwide, it feels strange to open a new BrewDog bar. But we are optimistic about the future and super excited to finally open our great new brewpub.’
Context is key when you’re deciding which tone of voice to choose. The voice itself — the foundations of your writing style — remains the same, reflecting your values consistently. But in different contexts, the tone will vary: serious or funny? Formal or casual? Respectful or irreverent? Matter of fact or enthusiastic?
How to get started finding your voice
Establishing your own brand voice is important. You’ll find it emerges more strongly the more you write. Conversational style can be great, but it’s become ubiquitous in marketing content and copy. It can often feel at best a bit contrived, and at worst, inauthentic. A more authoritative style can be effective but still friendly and straightforward.
Can you create a visual mood boards, either physically or digitally, which bring together a collage of images you feel represents your brand? Are there any established brands with whom you feel a sense of kinship? Can you identity your brand’s core values? What words might best describe your brand?
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A note about screenshots and fair use
In preparing the screenshots that accompany this not-for-profit, educational blog post, I’ve evaluated the screenshots selected from websites against the four factors that determine whether the use of the images can be classed as fair use. Fair use defines using copyrighted works for education, research, scholarship, criticism and comment as being protected under the Fair Use Doctrine.