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Why is the Prince of Wales the Prince of Darkness? Or: Why personas lead you astray.

You know how you recognise a complete idiot? For example, when he tells you he knows how to make successful stories, films or advertising/PR/marketing communication. The truth is: nobody knows. Nor do I. Legendary Oscar®-winning Hollywood writer William Goldman said the only sentence that makes sense: "Nobody knows anything." Because how else can you explain that celebrated directors, music superstars and advertising legends not so rarely make spectacular flops? Because they have forgotten how to do it in between? Certainly not. But nobody knows anything.

We want to know everything.

Predictions are always difficult, especially when they concern the future. But we would still like to know everything, to be on the safe side, to know the one magic formula so that we can produce the most gripping stories and the most seductive campaigns and definitely not waste our time and, above all, our money. That's why we have invented various tools and methods to create security. Or at least the illusion of it. And we forget about one of the most powerful tools that we all have built in anyway: Intuition. Albert Einstein had this to say about it: "The intuitive mind is a gift and the rational mind a faithful servant. We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift." The catch is: Intuition is only effective when it is fuelled by courage. And we humans tend to be brave rather than courageous. - So it's back to tools and methods after all.

What makes us tick?

The most important thing for us in marketing and communication is that we know what makes people tick. If we have a method for this, then we can send the right messages so that everyone does what we want. The unconscious defencelessness of the end consumer as a maxim for action, so to speak. And that is our plan:

  1. We have to look into the heads of the people. (Note on the side: Let us rather look into their hearts, because in the heads we find nothing that helps us).
  2. Then we have to categorise, target and group people so that we can shove our stuff in front of them as precisely as possible thanks to perfectly crafted media plans. Whether they want it or not. (Side note: they don't want to).
  3. Bingo!

We have known that socio-demographic target groups hang around in the Has-been-Corner ever since we first caught a Jaguar peacefully next to a duck in the IKEA car park. However, this has not diminished our hopes for the homunculus, which has been circled in terms of advertising technology. There is still something to be done. Sinus milieus, for example, in which the lifeworlds of potential customers are described, i.e. basically what they do, think or want, where and how they live, what they like to buy, what media they consume and what their so-called attitudes are. That already helps.

Two princes one persona.

And then we have personas, which are becoming increasingly popular and are used for everything that walks on two legs and used to be a target group. We use them to create customer profiles and then the appropriate customer advisor profiles. Or in recruiting: What do ideal personas of potential employees look like? And also in brand management, personas shoot out of PowerPoint slides like mushrooms from the damp forest floor. I can't remember a single company I've advised in the last 24 months that didn't work with personas.

I asked most of them this: "Please give me your opinion and help with the following persona. A man in his so-called prime, father of a daughter, international marketing communications expert, media freak, entrepreneur, founding member of the digital bohemian movement, commutes between Vienna and New York, always under time pressure, urban type, loves pop art, R'n'B, contemporary American literature, film and theatre, likes design - especially classics from the 50s & 60s, reads a lot, Apple user, food-conscious hedonist - LOHAS, quality-obsessed ... what car do you think this guy drives?” The answers to these questions came in abundance, and cheap was not one of the cars mentioned, nor small. Even greater, however, was amazement and disappointment at the truth. This guy doesn't have a car at all and he's happy about it! Believe me, I know, because that's me. And many people are like me, more and more. The attitude towards cars has changed fundamentally because paradigms and the hierarchy of values have changed massively in recent years. (A side note: the so-called best years are not even the second best).

Another one? Man, 1948, lives in England, second marriage, two children, successful, rich, loves dogs and likes to holiday in the Alps. Clear persona, isn't it? Fits Prince Charles perfectly. And Ozzy Osbourne. If you can play the piano to tell the difference between the Prince of Wales and the Prince of Darkness, you might have a career as a pianist, but you definitely won't have a brand story that's any good.

Methods like personas are useful tools when it comes to measurable things - who, what, how, where and how much. But not in the development of brand stories. Why is that? Exactly why: stories are about why and not about what and how. Or it's only much later that it's about what and how, in the implementation, in the dramaturgy, in the staging. But not during the discovery and development of the story.

So we can't use anything scientific, anything tried and tested, to help us? Yes, archetypes!

What to do?

Archetypes differ from personas and other models of explaining human types in that they describe the character of the person, detached from concrete life circumstances such as age, gender, profession, education and social status, i.e. they focus on aspirations and values. And only through this do we get a useful approach for a connection with our brand. Because a brand story also develops from the why, from the longings and values and is then later implemented in the how and what - best experienced.

Archetypes are used, for example, in analytical psychology, as well as in literature and the performing arts - everywhere where it is necessary to get to the root of human understanding. The Swiss psychiatrist C. G. Jung, founder of analytical psychology, created a lot of knowledge on this subject. If you are interested in this, and you should be, then get this book to start with. More up-to-date and also more business-oriented than Jung, the American psychologist Carol S. Pearson has written a lot of books on this subject, one of which I recommend to you is full of very applicable knowledge .

In the Hero Branding® toolkit I developed, we have just under 100 archetypes at our disposal. However, we often work with a basic set of twelve archetypes, which is sufficient in many cases. These twelve main types are: The Nurturer, The King, The Warrior, The Lover, The Magician, The Fool, The Creator, The Discoverer, The Innocent, The Orphan, The Wise, The Destroyer. All of them naturally come in male or female form. And: Just as you develop an archetype for your customers, you must do the same for your brand. Because our model of brand story communication means that the brand and the audience are in conversation, i.e. two personalities.

Archetypes live everywhere.

Besides human accuracy, working with archetypes has another advantage. An archetype lives independently of all socio-demographic parameters. You can find a magician in all classes, there are young and old queens, seekers can be found in the smallest village and in every metropolis, orphans have families and large or small incomes ... An archetype-based brand story therefore gives you the priceless opportunity to interpret the core of your story, i.e. its world of values, into different life worlds and thus to address a much broader audience than you have been able to do so far. By the way, this is not only an opportunity, but an absolute necessity, especially since an effective brand story always has to be activated in your company first, so that it also works with your other audience groups. And your employees have a fundamentally different perspective than your customers. A guy recently wrote a pretty interesting article on this topic. You can find it here.

Four good tips.

In principle, every human being carries all the qualities within him or her, but is actually shaped and driven by a few. My experience has shown me the following when using archetypes:

  1. For once, start with the development of the brand archetype and not that of the audience.
  2. When discovering your audience's archetype, you often discover another facet of the brand archetype that feeds your audience's longing. Combined brand archetypes are then quite possible, meaningful and exciting - e.g. The Nurturing Magician.
  3. One and the same person can also correspond to different archetypal models when talking to different product categories. For example, an explorer type may well be described as the innocent one in terms of nutrition.
  4. Almost without exception, the respective brand and audience archetypes form antipole pairs, which is logical. After all, the brand nourishes a longing of the audience.

When you have polished the facets of your archetypal diamonds, then a continuation into a persona model or the conquest of sinus milieus is quite sensible and useful. The concrete lifeworlds say a lot - quite concretely about shopping behaviour, mobility or media use, i.e. about places where you can come into contact with your audience.

As always, the two principles of "Tools, not Rules!" and "Nobody knows anything!" also apply when working with archetypes. Archetypes are an excellent tool that works very powerfully and effectively, but not a panacea, not a magic trick and certainly not a simple paint-by-numbers recipe for success. Thinking for yourself makes you smart!

Whether you are a global corporation, an SME or a small business - every person, every brand, every company has an image, some kind of story, has a character, stands for something, even if it is nothing. So if you don't just want to talk about price, but respectfully engage with your audience, then discover the archetypal magnetic power of your brand, which appeals to the archetypal desires of your audience. This applies equally to B2C and B2B, because the truth is that it's always about H2H - human to human. Every business is local and also personal.

To all those who say: "You can't do that with my brand!" I would like to remind you of what William Goldman said: "Nobody knows anything! And of course the battle cry of my grandmother, old Story Dudette, who didn't know everything either, but one thing was guaranteed: "No Story. No Glory."


Image reference Cover image:
Prince Charles > > Licence
Ozzy Osbourne > Wikimedia

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