Jeff Bradford, an Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) member in Nashville, is the founder of the Bradford Group and President of Bradford Dalton Group, a full-service public relations and advertising agency with offices in Atlanta, Jacksonville and Nashville. We asked Jeff about the benefits of telling your company’s brand story using archetypes. Here’s what he shared:
I recently read a book about Carl Jung’s concept of synchronicity, which is basically meaningful coincidences:
- You’re thinking about fish
- On the front page of today’s newspaper is a big fish that somebody caught
- There’s an aquarium at the restaurant where you had lunch
- And–a month ago–you RSVPed for a party tonight at a sushi restaurant
Jung would say, “Hey, something is going on with this fish thing. What is it?”
Jung was the pioneer of holistic psychology, espousing the idea that there is a central force, pattern, story, etc., connecting the spiritual, emotional, and physical worlds. That is, we can interact psychically with the material world–and vice versa. Jung had a word for it: psychoid, the merging of space, time, and spirit.
Archetypes are eruptions of the Universal Unconscious, the mysterious lore that is common to all cultures. Nestled in this deep layer of humanity’s legacy are timeless ideas like the wise old man, the great mother, the trickster, and the hero. Like Zeus, Hera, Hermes and Odysseus. Like Morgan Freeman, Oprah Winfrey, Joaquin Phoenix, and Mel Gibson. You get the idea. Archetypes are the building blocks of our culture, religion, and literature. They are the stories that underlie every story.
So, if you think Jung is on to something (and I do), you should design marketing programs that call up and connect with archetypes. That is, tell stories that evoke stories that already exist in our hearts and minds. It’s always easier to latch onto an idea that’s already there than to implant a new one.
Tell the Story
First, find the storyteller in your company. Mine the company’s lore, stories about how it started and where it’s going. The struggles, the successes, the setbacks, the eventual triumph, and the bright future. There is usually one person, maybe two, who knows the story best. And she won’t be hard to find, because she tells stories to everybody.
Realize that your story is not going to emerge fully clothed from your storyteller like Athena from the forehead of Zeus. You’ll need to schedule several interviews. And creatively engage the storyteller.
After you’ve gathered the story, look to archetypes for story themes, direction, and plot. An excellent place to start is Greek mythology, which is packed with ready-made archetypes.
Then tell your story in a way that evokes your chosen archetypes. Maybe your goal is to establish the CEO as the “wise old man.” So, you place columns with his byline in national publications. You find opportunities for him to speak to professional and industry groups. You start a regularly scheduled podcast–aural or video–where he interviews the leading lights of your profession.
Need inspiration? Prime your imagination by identifying archetypical wise men in pop culture, like Obi-Wan Kenobi, Fred Rogers, Gandalf, or Yoda. Think about what sets them apart, what made people believe in them, respect them. Then find or create stories that emphasize these traits.
Every organization has a culture and a personality, whether they want one or not. Dig into your culture. Look for stories that verify and expound on the culture. Then think about your company/organization like a person. What kind of hero is your company?
Does it provide structure to the world? Then its archetype might be the caregiver/great mother or the king/creator. How does a caring mother or honest and good king act? How do they manifest their power?
For example, if you want to evoke the caring mother archetype, emphasize how your company protects people, just as Volvo–perhaps the ultimate “great mother” company–has long emphasized. (“They’re boxy, but they’re safe.”)
Thinking about marketing through the lens of archetypes is not guaranteed (or even likely) to spark a synchronistic event that amazes customers and dumbfounds competitors. But it might.
What it is very likely to do is force you to think about your marketing in terms of telling a story. That’s worth doing because people like to hear stories, and they especially enjoy listening to stories they already know, that are already part of their being. It also gives your marketing a strategy, an overall direction, and consistency, rather than being simply a random collection of tactics. In short, thinking mythologically can have very real-world results.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.