Tag Archive for: branding

“Why do I need a brand story? Can’t I just talk about my company?” I work often with tech and B2B leaders and hear this from time to time. Given that many of my clients are analytical and logic-oriented thinkers, I get that the concept of a “brand story” seems squishy. Unnecessary. They much prefer to lean into facts and numbers as opposed to storytelling.

But as I counsel them, a brand story is far more effective than numbers and charts. Done right, a brand story will cause your audience to remember you, develop empathy for you, and ultimately care about you.

What’s A Brand Story, Anyway?

A brand story is a communications mechanism that conveys the crux of your brand strategy in a compelling way. It’s a byproduct of your brand strategy, which zeroes in on and defines your company’s inception, what you do and for whom, your mission today and vision for the future. Your brand story is all these elements, but told in a narrative that’s easy to understand and draws people in. 

Neuroscience proves that storytelling is best way to capture people’s attention, bake information into their memories, and forge personal bonds, so brand strategists use a brand story to crystallize your messaging for the people who matter most to you. A brand story has all the essential elements of a traditional story: a protagonist (your customer) who struggles to overcome a challenge (problem) that your product / service solves (solution) so they can go on to do great things (resolution). 

At this point you might be thinking: Wait.
Did she write that correctly? My brand story and I’m not the protagonist?

Hot Tip: It’s Not About You

Your brand story is about your company and your journey but it’s not actually about you. 

It’s understandable that, in developing your brand strategy, you want to convey what your business is all about. But hold that for a minute because your brand story is actually about your customers. It’s about their journey and struggle, and how your products and services help them meet their goals. It’s for business prospects, partners and future employees. And if your brand story is compelling, your audience will not only remember you, but will like you and develop a preference for you, and ultimately be persuaded by you.

Let’s Get Started On Your Narrative

So perhaps you’re considering writing your brand story and using it to effectively tell your company’s story. What are the elements you should work in? You’ll want to use the basic elements of storytelling: context, protagonist, conflict, resolution, denouement. 

Context – the environment in which your business operates. What trends are happening in your sector that you need to be aware of? What competitors are emerging or growing? How are they communicating, what are they saying, how are they capturing attention? Also think about your customers: what trends are they facing that are impacting them? What’s happening culturally that is relevant to your business? Answering these questions help build the context for your story to take hold. 

Protagonist – let’s shift the focus to your customer. What do they need or want? And what does success look like for them, and what is standing in the way of them achieving it? What will happen if they don’t achieve success? Why have they turned to your company – what do you offer them that they need in order to achieve their wants? 

You’ll want to go deeper into these questions and get at the customer mindset to address that mindset in your brand communications. What do they believe about your category? What beliefs do they hold about themselves in relation to your category? How do they approach your category: with joy or hesitation? Why do they hesitate (if they do)? What are they currently using (competitor or substitute offering) if they aren’t using your product? Why is this attractive for them? 

In designing your Protagonist section, you will want to be able to frame their mindset, articulate why they turn to you, what they deeply value that you offer. These are important feeds for the next section.

Conflict is Crucial to Your Brand Story

I always tell clients, “there is no story without conflict.” It’s crucial to every story, and especially to understanding what your clients value about your offering. You’ll want to examine what truly vexes your customer. Where is there palpable tension in their journey to reach success? What do they struggle with? 

Many times, the Context section of your brand story can provide insights into the Conflict – it could be a cultural trend shaping the industry, or a challenge they are grappling with as a result of new market trends. Or it becomes apparent when exploring the protagonist and understanding their mindset, or their hesitation towards the category. 

It’s important to highlight the conflict in your brand story, so your brand can address how it tackles this tension for the protagonist, and how it helps your protagonist win.

Some examples:

  • A timely example for Tax Season: TurboTax’s campaign “All People Are Tax People” focuses on the conflict that ordinary people face in doing their taxes. It seems ordinary people are able to achieve all manner of great things in their lives, but these same people suddenly feel hopelessly confused and incompetent when it comes to doing taxes. As a result, they hesitate and avoid doing their taxes, or overpay someone to do their taxes for them. The conflict in this story is feeling incompetent. The fix is that TurboTax software overcomes that.
  • A client we recently worked with is in the criminal justice research space. In writing their brand story, we realized the context of their story – the increasing polarization of America and the politicization of our judicial system  – was central to how their products and offerings would be received by their target audience. The problem is polarization and politicization. The fix is unbiased, nonpartisan and high caliber criminal justice research.
  • Hello Fresh!, a food service and delivery company, realized its target customer desperately wants to cook but lacks the time for grocery shopping, prep work (like chopping), or creativity in coming up with new meal ideas. The conflict is prep time, shopping time, and research (coming up with creative meal ideas). The fix is to provide everything needed except the cooking so their customers can feel like a creative chef at home.

Resolution: The Focus Shifts to Your Role

Once the Context, Protagonist and Conflict have been mapped out, your story shifts to focus on how your brand addresses these issues. In the resolution section, the basic brand aspects are addressed, such as:

  • brand features and attributes (what your offering delivers);
  • functional benefits (what your customers get when they partner with you);
  • emotional benefits (what they feel as a result of working with you); 
  • your key differentiator – that which sets you apart from the competition that your customers deeply value that few can emulate;
  • your values – what behavior informs you and your team and allows you to live into your brand promise;
  • what you promise your customers with every interaction;
  • proof points – important reasons for your customers to believe in your brand promise and trust your brand;
  • your brand mission and your brand vision;
  • your brand archetype (for more on this, you can read this post), and
  • the Big Idea behind your brand – what you ultimately stand for.

How Your Brand Story Comes Together

The Denouement section pulls it all together. It shows how the resolution section is conveyed in your tagline, your brand colors, font selection and logo design. It showcases how your brand attributes and differentiator comes together on your website with suggested copy that explains how you do what you do better than anyone else (and why it matters to your target). There might be a particular methodology to help explain your approach in a way that highlights how your approach is unique. Or there might be a creative mechanism to better bring your brand archetype and brand personality to life. 

The idea in the denouement section is to show you how your brand articulation – the resolution section of your story – addresses the protagonist’s struggle and the conflict they are wrestling with, and demonstrates how to “solve” that conflict in various communications touch points.

If you’re designing your own brand story, you can definitely do a lot of this heavy lifting on your own! This article might be helpful in getting at your protagonist’s mindset. And this article might be helpful in understanding the nuances of functional versus emotional benefits. This article might also be helpful in articulating your proof points – what they are, and why you need them spelled out succinctly.

Finally, if you’re stuck and need help, or want to bypass the DIY and hire a bonafide professional strategist, we’re here to help. We’ve got over two decades of branding experience helping make brands magnetic to success. We can do that for your company, as well.

Magnetic Brand Strategy is located in Northern Virginia and serves a global market seeking a methodical approach to branding. Learn more about us.

“A rose by another name would smell as sweet.” – Shakespeare. Or would it?



Truth: no other investment you make in your business or product will last longer or be used more than its name. Getting your brand or product’s name right can have awesome benefits – a great name will help people understand what you’re all about, cause them to remember you, endear them to your brand, and can even connote your brand’s personality. Consider the following names:

The Whopper, Burger King’s famous sandwich;

Chubby Hubby, a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavor;

SalesForce, the CRM software company;

CounterCulture, a coffee brand;

Bed Head, a haircare product line;

Oracle, the computer technology company.

Not only are these names memorable, but they resonate with you. You like the brand a little more. They even create a visual in your mind. That’s the power of a great brand or product name.

Conversely, getting your brand name wrong can have painful consequences, with your customers having confusion, frustration and even repulsion at a name that’s difficult to understand, pronounce or spell. Here are some of my favorite losers: 

Xobni (a software company; yep, that’s “inbox” spelled backwards); 

Speesees (a no longer existent baby clothing line);

Tronc (short for Tribune Online Content – when said aloud it sounds like the Tin Man falling down metal stairs); and

American Scrap Metal (um, the url: americanscrapmetal.com). 

So it goes without saying: it’s really important to get your brand name right to avoid being stuck with one that will give you issues down the road. Here’s how to do just that.

Criteria for your Brand Name 

At a minimum, your business’ name should connote what you do, be memorable and easily pronounceable / spellable, and it flexible enough so it remains relevant as your business grows. As well, it needs to work well with today’s technology – for example, it should translate well into a url, and if you’re in a field that’s heavy with acronym names, your name should convey a good acronym. This should be your minimum criteria naming checklist. We also use another set of criteria to evaluate brand names, the SMART criteria:

Suggestive – evokes something about your brand
Memorable – makes an association with the familiar
Accurate – correctly represents your proposition
Repeatable – sounds good when spoken aloud
Tonally appropriate – the feeling the name evokes, the expectations created

But you can meet all these and still wind up with a dud of a name. This SCRATCH checklist makes sure you can avoid these name deal-breakers:

Spelling challenged – names that look like there’s a typo (Netflix is one thing; yooneek.com is another)
Copycat – something that resembles the competition ( i- anything is a big no)
Restrictive – a name that works for today but limits future growth
Annoying – Seems forced, frustrates customers
Tame – feels flat, uninspiring
Curse of Knowledge – a name that speaks only to insiders
Hard to pronounce – confuses and distances customers (seriously: Xobni?)

These are important criteria as well. You never want to land on a name that only you appreciate, or one that feels flat or uninspiring, or feels like a knockoff of a bigger, better well-known brand.

Types of Names for Your Brand

What kind of name should your brand have? Sometimes, your brand name can simply be a descriptive name that explains your business – like General Motors or Hotels.com. But if your brand or product allows it, you can choose to go with an evocative or metaphorical name, such as Oracle or Nike, which conveys so much more emotion and personality. There’s a spectrum of creative naming options; here are the various naming schema:

FOUNDER’S NAME: Ford / McDonalds / Ben & Jerry’s / Christian Louboutin

DESCRIPTIVE: General Motors / Toys “R” Us / E*Trade / Whole Foods

FABRICATED: Pinterest / Kodak / Activia / Häagen Dazs / Zappos

METAPHOR: Amazon / Nike / Patagonia / Monocle / Tesla / Hubble


MISSPELLED MEANING: Flickr / Tumblr / Netflix

COMBINATIONS: AirBnB / UnderArmour

There are benefits and drawbacks to each of these. Fabricated names – like Zappos, for instance – are empty vessels, so you can assign a meaning to them – but it might be expensive to build up brand recognition (people didn’t readily associate Zappos with shoes for a long time). Conversely, a name like onlineshoestore.com easily tells the customer what the brand is all about, but loses the creativity and the feeling of speediness that the name ‘Zappos’ implies.

Competitive / Tone Check

When thinking about a name for your brand, it’s helpful to start by looking at your industry and to see what your competition is doing, so you can avoiding what everyone else is doing. A client of ours was in the accounting sector. When we looked at the competitive landscape, we noticed how many accounting firms used founder names. We opted to avoid that route for the brand.

You also want to think about your business, and what type of name might best lend itself to your business. We recently renamed a not-for-profit organization in the justice sector. Given the seriousness of their field, it would’ve been inappropriate for their new organization’s name to be a fabricated word or a hip misspelled name. 

Brainstorming: How to Land on a Great Name

A great name often comes from creativity; a great deal of patience and effort; word, phrase & imagery association; and finding creative ways to articulate your brand’s big idea. When I’m naming a brand, I’ll often start with the brand attributes that make up the brand or the product; I’ll also look at the functional or emotional benefits, and even the brand’s archetype for naming inspiration. 

I’ll then write down all the power words associated with my brand, ideally working with between 6 -12 power words. I’ll then hit up my thesaurus for word associations, do image searches of each of these power words to find additional associations, and look for new idioms or expressions to convey each of my power words. It’s imperative to write everything down!  You never know: what you felt was ‘meh’ at first blush could turn out to produce your dream brand name.

Tools are essential and in this exercise, my go-tos are my thesaurus, my dictionary and visual images (pinterest, instagram). Thesaurus – helps expand your word association options. Dictionaries are important because they have more than just definitions. Instagram and Pinterest are key because an image is worth 1,000 words. You never know where inspiration will strike or what will surface so it’s important to use all your resources, write everything down and keep looking for inspiration. 

Once you have an ample list of words – and for me that’s usually pages and pages of notes and words – you start mining your list of words for gold. What sounds particularly appealing when said aloud? What word or set of words convey the main idea or captures a key essence of the brand? Naming can be incredibly time consuming or immediate, where the name instantly comes to you. Be patient with the process. 

Let Your Unconscious Do the Work

It’s important to work intensely for a while and absorb all your research, then get up and leave and do no thinking for a stretch. That’s right: go goof off. Creativity is actually not a rational, conscious thought process but an unconscious one. Ever notice how great ideas just “come out of nowhere?” That nowhere is your unconscious. To get great ideas, you need to feed your conscious (rational) mind lots of great facts, information and idea starters… and then get out of the way. Your creative unconscious mind will work brilliantly and serve up great creative ideas once your mind is turned off.

Finally, trust the process! If you embark on a naming effort, you will undoubtedly come up with at least 1-2 great descriptive options for your brand or product, and possibly a few other more creative naming options. Don’t give up! It can be a time intensive process, but you’ll be so grateful when you have a name or two that you really like in hand.

Final Step: Check your Work. 

If you land on a few options that you like, it’s important to make sure your name:

-doesn’t have a double meaning that’s negative (checking urbandictionary.com is a must);
-isn’t already taken (uspto.gov to see if it’s already been trademarked);
-can translate into a workable URL (check godaddy.com if your url is available); and
-your name options pass the SMART and SCRATCH tests (above).

With that: go forth and brainstorm, and good luck! If you’re still stumped about naming options, give us a shout; we’d be happy to consult and see if we can’t help make your brand name more magnetic. 

Recently, a business leader asked how to make his presentations more engaging. As the owner of a networking monitoring company, he typically started his presentations by talking about solutions, network optimization and cloud architecture. I recommended he scratch all that, and instead tell a story his audience could imagine themselves dealing with. To his surprise, audience engagement and prospect interest skyrocketed. 

Why are stories so effective?

Here’s a not-so-well-kept secret: we humans are biologically wired for stories. Really. Studies show, stories engage us on a systemic level

  • When you listen to a story that references color, the part of your brain that processes color lights up; in your mind, you can “see” the colors. 
  • If the story involves sensory issues – like the feel of something, or distinct sounds – the part of your brain that processes sensory lights up, and it’s as if you could feel or hear those parts.
  • When you listen to a story that involves motion, the part of your brain that processes motion fires up, and your heart rate accelerates. 

Not only this, but stories actually alter our body chemistry as we’re hearing the story:

  • As the protagonist encounters conflict, the listener’s body creates cortisol, the stress chemical, creating heightened duress and attention. 
  • As the story unfolds, the body also produces dopamine (the reward chemical) which keeps the listener engaged in the story for the outcome.
  • And last but not least, during the story the body produces oxytocin, bonding the listener to the protagonist and the outcome. The power of story is that it can transport the listener into the story; it’s as if they’re living it themselves. 

All this engagement from simply telling a story? It’s true. Storytelling is simply the most effective communications medium — ever. Which is why at Magnetic Current, we use storytelling strategy when branding businesses, to make client brands magnetic to the people they need to reach.



What is storytelling strategy?

Whether you’re giving a presentation about your products, writing a case study, or delivering your company’s brand story: there’s a strategy for telling stories. In our experience, the best story strategy for B2B brands borrows heavily from the hero narrative structure, constructed by famed mythologist Joseph Campbell

We recommend the following structural storytelling elements in your brand story: 

Source: Magnetic Current, 2020.
  1. Context: You want to describe enough about the situation so the listener is transported. The more details – visual, motion, auditory cues – the better.
  2. Present the Protagonist: create an opportunity for the listener to immediately identify with the protagonist. The listener should understand and relate to the protagonist, and be challenged when…
  3. The Protagonist faces Conflict. Conflict is everything in a story. There is no story without conflict! It’s essential to any story, and certainly to the hero narrative, because it’s the turning point where our hero realizes she has a problem, attempts to fix it, and cannot. Frustrated, she’s about to give up when…
  4. She Encounters A Guide who has The Key. A new character appears, someone who helps her see things differently, and offers her a solution.
  5. Resolution: With this help, she masters her conflict. She returns from her “journey”, triumphant, having overcome a seemingly insurmountable challenge and…
  6. Denouement: is able to go on and do great things. 

We love this simple formula for B2B brands – it’s highly effective in showing (not telling) how your offering can truly help your customers overcome their problems and emerge better than before.




Other elements for storytelling strategy

The things to remember about storytelling in business: while it’s your story, it’s important to remember who undergoes the transformation, who benefits in your narrative, and who is rewarded by your offering. Your customers. They are always the hero in your story. Resist the temptation to turn your story into a company press release. Stay on script, stay in the background and let the flow of your story position you in the right light.

As well, you want your brand archetype to emerge as part of the story, and in tone and style. What is an archetype? It’s really the use of psychological motifs and metaphors in branding, and is a powerful way to further draw connection with your audience. For more about archetypes, we recommend this article.

Also, add the right touches to make your story compelling. Start with a great hook. A startling statistic, a vivid description, a compelling question or a gripping statement: you want to grab your listener’s attention. For more on hooks, this article is a great read. 

Finally, we love open loops to build intrigue and keep readers engaged. Open loops are when information is presented in the story, but not immediately explained. A shotgun is introduced in the first scene – why? We learn the protagonist can talk to animals – why? Our brains are wired for conclusions, and when the answers aren’t provided, the brain engages, waiting until the answer appears. Open loops are a clever way to keep your audience curious. You can read more about open loops here



How can I use these elements to tell my business’ story?

With this map in front of you, study your business. Begin designing your business’ brand story by answering the following questions: 

  • What is the context for your customers?
  • Who is the ideal protagonist?
  • What problem do they encounter that causes them to stumble? 
  • (You are the guide, and your business solution is the key)
  • What would resolution look like, in terms of solving the problem? 
  • And finally, what denouement would you end the story with?

Now, put together the pieces of your brand story. As an example: if you are the networking monitoring company mentioned above, the context could be a situation or event where network uptime is essential. Say, an event like CyberMonday. The protagonist would be a business that depends on being online for revenue purposes: an online retailer. The conflict: their website goes down. The guide and the key? That’s the networking monitoring company and their solution that never-ever goes down because of triple redundancy measures. The resolution is that the guide and the key help the online retailer fix their site so they never go down again. Denouement could be: next holiday season, they triple online sales. 

Once you know your brand story, you can use storytelling for many customer-facing interactions: presentations, case studies, even as a conversation starter to talk about your business solutions and how you help make your customers’ lives better. If you need help with your brand story, connect with us, we’re here to help make your business magnetic to success. 

Although we’re known for brand strategy, when working with clients, we often begin by asking to review and (if necessary) update their business plan. Why? Because a sound business strategy is vital to creating a viable, thriving business. Your business strategy is the plan for how your company will make money, and brand strategy is your business strategy from your customer’s perspective. So you want to have a solid foundation in place to make sure your business is primed for growth. 

The case For A Sound Business Plan

A solid business strategy – or plan, or model; the terms are pretty interchangeable – helps avoid misuse of resources. It helps you focus on accomplishing core deliverables and objectives. Having a plan in place can help you right-price your offerings, and can help you avoid getting blindsided by your competition. It can help you prioritize so you don’t get sidetracked with distraction projects and fall victim to over-promising and overhype. The landscape has many examples of failed businesses that didn’t have a solid business strategy in place and relied on brand and marketing to do the heavy lifting. See: Pets.com, webvan.com, and the like. Please avoid this fate. 

We work with our clients to first update their business plan, so they have the best chances for success. Once this is in place, we turn our efforts to branding. It’s simple: we don’t want to spend our time and our clients’ money building a brand that will never reach profitability because of an unrealistic business model. 

How to Evaluate Your Business

We begin by taking our clients through our business strategy framework, which ensures a solid foundation. For smaller companies looking to DIY strategy, you can do this exercise yourself: 

  1. Begin with a solid SWOT analysis for your business: objectively assess your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. 
  2. Zero in on your business competencies and clarify the problems you solve. Focus on the core problem your business addresses.
  3. Highlight your target market, their needs, and how your business fulfills these needs. Draw the direct connection between customer needs and your solution.
  4. Decide on the resources you need to deliver customer solutions. 
  5. Determine pricing for your services. Make sure your fixed and variable costs are covered, as well as your overhead and that you still make a profit.
  6. Single out the best partners and suppliers for supply chain optimization.
  7. Know your competitors and what they are delivering (and importantly: what they are not); zero in on the opportunities for differentiation.
  8. Explore external factors that can impact your business, e.g.,  political / economical / socio-cultural / technological / legal / environmental. 

Analyzing these areas will help you build a solid business strategy, which will point out potential pitfalls to address, and help position your company for growth. This is a key step before turning to brand strategy. Importantly, this work can also highlight opportunities for differentiation and new revenue streams.

For more guidance on how to structure your business strategy, we recommend The Business Model by Alexander Chernev, a short but dense read on business strategy. If you’d like to reach out to us directly, we’re also available for business strategy consultations. 

How well is your business positioned for resiliency and growth? The silver lining is that one day (soon, hopefully) this all will pass, and we will make it through. When we emerge, there will be companies standing strong and ready for growth. How can you ensure your business is one of those?

Earlier this month I was a guest lecturer for Washington Building Congress and gave a lecture on how brand can drive resiliency and growth in these times. Here are my notes.

Reality, Today

With unemployment skyrocketing and a record number of businesses and schools shuttered, our economy is awash in great uncertainty, stress and anxiety. People are switching from proactive to reactive mode, and progress and momentum is stalled.

This uncertainty is causing many of us to retreat and avoid customer relations. Maybe we don’t have a clear message to convey, or we feel like we don’t have anything optimistic to say, so we don’t communicate. 

But this causes important relationships – like the ones with our best customers – to become distanced, when what we need is actually to come together. Our collective power can help us more quickly achieve a common goal, insulate our business from future crises, and position our brand for resiliency & growth.

You can build for resiliency & growth in your business by doing three things:
1. Go within and align on your brand;
2. Engage your best customers; and
3. Innovate to fix your business’ and your customers’ new pain points. 

Go Within

Brand strategy is your business strategy seen through the lens of your customers. It is not how you look; it’s how you act. So you’ll want to plan for resiliency and growth by first underscoring what you unwaveringly stand for, to your customers. Ask:

  • What is the value you bring them?
  • How do you distinguish your business from other competitors?
  • What do you promise every customer with every interaction?

These question will reorient you on your core offering and values, keeping you aligned while you innovate.

You will also want to study what your customers deeply value that you offer that no one else can deliver. This is your unique differentiator and the backbone of your brand (for more on how to craft your unique differentiator, see this post). Articulate this clearly in order to build on it. We’ll get to innovating in a bit, and you’ll want to innovate with new business ideas that enhance and deepen the value you already bring your best customers, instead of offering them something that’s shiny and new, but irrelevant to their needs. 

Engage Your Best Customers 

Next, you’ll want to reach out to discover how your customers are coping and how their needs have shifted. Most likely their problems have changed, so you’ll seek to understand what matters to them today in this changed landscape.   

Begin by connecting with empathy. Truly connect for the sake of connecting; this is not the time for a sale. This is the time to be honest. It’s a scary time for all, and none of us know how or when this will end. So be genuine in your concern for them, their welfare and wellbeing.

Listen and resist the urge to solve their problem right away. Often, in our haste to provide value, we jump right to problem solving. But if we don’t have the right problem, we’re retrofitting an existing solution instead of listening for a new potential opportunity. So listen to find the problem first; listen to hear their pain points. Approach this exercise with humility and openness and seek to understand instead of being understood.  

Innovate & Pressure-Test

Channel these learnings into innovation sessions. From your brand vantage point, begin by interrogating your reality and discussing the new challenges facing you and your customers today. Be honest. Global supply chains are broken. Many of your customers may be shut down; millions of consumers are out of work. Some core aspects of your current business model may be upended. Discuss what you’re struggling with, and discuss what your customers are struggling with. What needs to change within your model for you to succeed? What needs to change in order to address your customer’s new problems?

Then start exploring new ideas for innovation. Challenge orthodoxies like “we’ve always done it this way.” Consider wild constraints like ‘how could we operate with only half our staff?” Today, more than ever, people are open to new approaches and new ways of doing things. 

As you and your team come up with ideas, begin to pressure-test them. Evaluate how these ideas solve customer pain points and shape the value equation for your customers. Run ideas by a core close group of partners and trusted customers for feedback and refinement. Give yourself the freedom to fine-tune your ideas as you go.


This strategy exercise is time-consuming and demanding, but the outcome is that your brand is resilient and poised for growth. Your relationships with your best customers are strengthened, and they see you as an empathetic partner in a difficult time. You’ve identified opportunities for innovation that will add to the value you already bring, positioning you and your business for resiliency and growth, even in the face of a crisis.

If this all sound helpful but also daunting… we can help. We guide brand positioning and innovation sessions as part of our brand building efforts with clients. Please connect with us; we’d love to help make your business magnetic to success.

Ever notice that certain brands make you feel a certain way? That’s not accidental. Companies use psychology in branding – better known as Archetypes – to create an emotional bond that drives connection, likeability and loyalty. Here’s how it works, and how it can work for your brand.

Ever notice how Harley Davidson can automatically make you feel a bit bad? Devious, mischievous, even rebellious?
Or how that American Express card in your wallet makes you feel a bit…taller? More confident?
Coca-Cola might make you feel suddenly lighthearted, more carefree; like it’s time for a break.
Or put on those new Nikes, and suddenly you’re more energized, almost invincible in the face of a tough workout.

Isn’t it interesting? These brands connected to emotions.
Why is that so? Aren’t we just talking about products?

Psychology to Create Connection

The science of why people buy what they buy is complex, and “need” is just one factor of many in the equation. Nuanced research shows that people buy based on emotion and how we feel about the product or brand. Then we rationalize our purchase decisions with facts or functional benefits (Tesla: “well, it gets 45 miles per gallon.” or Starbucks: “their coffee beans and almond milk are organic.”). 

For these reasons, many brands seek to build an emotional connection with their customer base. Emotional connection builds a stronger bond, shortens the purchase cycle and makes their product the more likely and obvious choice. And one of the most powerful ways to do this is to use psychology in branding: archetypes. 

Archetypal Analysis

The study of archetypes came about from Carl Jung (a student of Freud’s), who in 1917 codified 12 main archetypes – motifs that appear throughout art, history, literature and culture – as universal symbols that powerfully reflect our humanity back to us. 

Source: Archetypes in Branding by Margaret Hartwell and Joshua C. Chen.

When we encounter a story that has a familiar archetype – say, the coming-of-age adolescent who must grow up quickly on his/her own – we are subconsciously reminded of our own childhood experiences when we were in a similar situation, and as a result, we become vested in the outcome of the story, and bond unconsciously with the protagonist. As an example: David and Goliath; Jacob and the Coat of Many Colors, Huckleberry Finn; Romeo & Juliet; Hansel & Gretel; Beauty & The Beast; Dumbo; Elsa in Frozen; Dory in Finding Nemo, and countless more: in each of these stories, the character suddenly becomes intimately familiar to us. We are reminded of our own experiences and how we acted and reacted in the face of similar challenges. This recall bonds us to the protagonist and story, and we become emotionally vested in the outcome; we’re hooked.

Archetypes in Branding

Archetypes have been around for thousands of years but only started to become popular in branding in the 50s and 60s, as brands sought to draw closer emotional connections with consumers. Advertisers realized that brands that express these archetypes can – and do – create deeper positive feelings with their customers. 

Here are some brands and their archetypes:

The Innocent – CocaCola, Snuggle
The Sage – TED, Harvard, The Economist
The Explorer – North Face, JEEP
The Rebel – Harley Davidson
The Magician – Intel, Disney
The Hero – Nike, The Marines
The Lover – Victoria’s Secret, Godiva
The Jester – Cheetos, BudLight, Geico
The Citizen – Levi’s, Ikea
The Caregiver – J&J, Nivea, Tom’s Shoes
The Sovereign – American Express, Rolex
The Creator – Apple, LEGO

Example Archetype in Action: The Innocent

You might be thinking “okay, but how does psychology in branding play out, exactly?” So I’ll ask you to think back to your childhood, to your best childhood memories: maybe it’s playing outside, or riding a roller coaster; the weather is probably warm, the sun is shining; there are friends and laughter and balloons; there’s happiness, a lightness, and life seems simple and uncomplicated; for a minute you can take a break and just float your worries away.

This is the memory Coca-Cola strives for in their communications, with their use of The Innocent archetype as a means to create a more carefree, fun and happy brand. Consider that their most recent advertising campaign is entitled “Unbottle happiness.” And here are the words from their popular jingle coined in 1971:

I’d like to build the world a home
And furnish it with love
Grow apple trees and honey bees
And snow white turtle doves. 

I’d like to teach the world to sing
In perfect harmony
I’d like to buy the world a Coke
And keep it company.

Source: Coca-Cola Corporation, 1971.

Archetypes Strengthen Your Connection with Customers

Archetypes can be powerful emotional connectors for your brand and can deepen the bond you have with your customers; they can shorten the customer journey and build trust and likeability faster. How to use psychology in branding to your advantage?

First, determine your brand’s archetype. A brand strategist can help you with this exercise, or you can try and ascertain your archetype by yourself (there are a few books on archetypal analysis that I can recommend: The Outlaw and The Hero by Margaret Mark and Carol Pearson, and Archetypes in Branding by Margaret Hartwell and Joshua C. Chen. There are also some online quizzes to help you crack your company’s archetype). You’ll want to explore your brand story origin, your values and purpose for clues about your archetype.

You’ll also want to determine how and to what extent the archetype shows up in your brand. Some brands allude to the archetype in their logo and color selection; others use it as their voice to come through in communications. Some brands rely heavily on their archetype in messaging (Harley Davidson, Victoria’s Secret, Nike); others are more subtle (Microsoft is the Ruler; Salesforce is the Explorer). What’s right for you is entirely subjective and depends on your preference for your archetype and how you choose to bring it to life in your branding. If you’re interested in learning more about archetypes and how to leverage them for your brand, let’s connect and schedule a time to discuss your brand. 

ICYMI: In February 2020 Burger King Corporation  launched an ad campaign announcing no more preservatives in its food… with this daring image. A rotting burger.

Yes, it’s a bit tough to swallow (ha!), but as far as a jaw dropping ad campaign goes, it is also freaking spectacular. 

The Goal of Advertising

Recall what an ad campaign is supposed to do: it’s supposed to get your attention. It’s supposed to be provocative and edgy, so you can absorb a relatively banal topic (no preservatives? Yawn) with interest. It’s meant to educate you and make you think about the product / service / offering differently. If done well, it’s meant to do all this and elicit an emotional response and leave you feeling differently about the brand. 

So let’s go back to the Burger King ad now. Consider it. Then ask yourself:

-Does it get your attention? 

-Did you try to understand the message?

-Do you have an emotional reaction to it? Maybe more than one?

-Is it provocative? 

-Do you now know something about Burger King that you didn’t before?

-Did your perception of Burger King change?

Ad Campaign Analysis: A Whopper Win

For me, this ad campaign hits it out of the park on every one of these points. Not to mention the emotional spectrum this brand delivers: my first initial feeling (disgust) to digesting (ha!) the ad and its message (neutrality) to seeing the brand differently (likeability) as a result of this campaign. All in one ad! 💥

This is a fantastic example of effective advertising at work, and let’s take a minute to appreciate the guts to run this. If you were head of marketing for a food company, would you’ve run this ad? Fantastic work from agencies Ingo, Ogilvy and Grey. And hats off to Fernando Machado, the Chief Marketing Officer at Burger King, for the courage to run this. 

What do you think?
Does this change your perception of Burger King?
Do you find the ad compelling?

Your company’s small and resources are tight. Should you try DIY branding?

In talking with a prospect the other day, she brought up the topic of DIY branding. “You know, I’ve downloaded one of those DIY brand kits off the internet. What do you think about those? Can’t I just save a lot of money and do my brand that way?”

Great question. 

I regularly encourage my clients to do their own branding and marketing (what do you think this blog is all about?!). There are many good DIY branding guides online and if you have the time, aptitude and desire to do it, doing it yourself will make you a better marketer and steward of your brand AND you’ll grow an appreciation for great branding. 

To reinforce this point, I offer a few DIY toolkits and workbooks that inform parts of your brand (this one is great: “How to Craft Your Own Unique Value Differentiator” and so is this one: “How to Create A Customer Profile.” Check my blog for the accompanying articles). But these are just a few of the many aspects that go into building a brand (competitive research, customer insights, target profiling, brand DNA & benefit statements, archetypal analysis… to name a few). Most guides on the Internet cover just a few of these areas. Until I write my own book, I can recommend Forging an Ironclad Brand by Lindsay Pedersen, a how-to-brand guide that’s very comprehensive and multi-dimensional.

In short: I am ALL for empowering you to craft your own branding communications and marketing. This said, having done branding for over 2 decades, I’m also realistic. It comes down to your time & aptitude, being able to get out of your own way, and seeing behind your blind spots.

DIY Branding Requires Patience.

Brand building is the painstaking exercise of crafting the right message for your business and then ensuring everything you put out is “on brand.” There’s a process to it, and from my experience, it’s not something that’s inherent in most business leaders. If it was, it’d likely be your “zone of genius” and you’d likely be running a branding and marketing business instead of the business you’re in.

But if you still want to DIY, my recommendation is to budget time and patience. It’s a challenging exercise to come up with something catchy and compelling (but also creative) that encompasses customer needs, your competitive white space, your intention, heritage and vision, your brand promise, beliefs and the value you bring. I recommend doing the analysis and writing it all down, and then editing and synthesizing your message down to its essentials.

It Also Requires Objectivity.

Building a brand also requires objectivity. A lot of brand work is inward looking, which means it triggers all those fun psychological reactions to feedback and criticism. And we all come to the table with deep bias around:

  • customers and their attitudes around the category / service / price;
  • the category and the key players that we compete against;
  • patterns and trends that can influence customer behavior;
  • perhaps most importantly: our capabilities and the value we bring our customers.  

Sometimes we’re aware of our bias but more often we’re not. I’ll work with clients who insist their business runs a certain way or that their customers have a particular fixed mindset. Only when I present them with research findings do they digest how much bias has shaped their interactions with partners, stakeholders and customers.

In order to build a great brand that defines the value you bring and what’s important to your customers, you need to get out of your own way, and that can be hard when you’re doing the branding yourself. My recommendation: find an external partner to point out category and behavioral assumptions that you take for granted. Look for someone who is industry-adjacent but not in your space; use them as an editor to weed out your biases.

And Check for Blind Spots.

Like bias, but different: we all have blind spots about our business, industry and customers, and sometimes we can’t see a brand play at all. I once had a client who discounted her expertise as part of her offering. She insisted that her competitors brought the same level of industry knowledge and refused to charge more for her vast subject-matter expertise. Finally – after pestering her for more than a year – I got her to experiment with communicating about her expertise. She was flabbergasted when she was able to TRIPLE her rates. 


Blind spots work like bias to skew our perception of our brand value, but they’re more insidious because they’re usually our strengths that we discount (“Oh, my put-you-at-ease bedside manner? But that’s a given,” or “My ability to neutralize workplace conflict? But everybody does that,”) and we discard what could be an astonishing point of differentiation. 

If you’re intent on DIY branding, I recommend doing some research to discover why your best customers return, and also partner research to discover why partners choose you over other options. You must throw out easy answers like “convenience,” “great work at a good cost,” and “because I’ve always used them.” The good stuff lies beneath. 

I also recommend running your DIY work by someone who knows you and your business. Not an employee, former customer or partner (too involved), but again: an industry-adjacent peer, or a listener with good intentions at heart who can absorb your point of view and point out potential strengths you’re keen to overlook. 

I’m Innit to DYI-it!

“Juliana, I still want to do it.”

All right then! Forging an Ironclad Brand by Lindsay Pedersen is a great brand building guide to use. Here are the areas you’ll want to analyze to get at your brand and what you stand for, what your customers value, and what makes you unique:

  • Market research. What’s going on in your industry? Where is the market headed, and where are the opportunities?
  • Competitive analysis. Who is your competition? What do they offer? How do they communicate their offering?
  • White space. Where’s the opportunity for you to zig where your competition zags?
  • Cultural trends. What trends are culturally happening that relate to your work?
  • Stakeholder feedback. Why do your customers & partners come – and return – to you? What (pain) brings them to you? What do they deeply value about how you solve that pain?
  • Target market. Who is the customer that deeply values all that you offer? Use this guide to build out their personas.
  • Mindset & behaviors. How do your customers approach your category? What’s their mindset & behavior?
  • Brand DNA. What do you do and why? Think through your offerings, what pain or problem do you solve for your customers? Consider the benefits you bring your customers – both emotional and functional.
  • Unique Value Proposition. What do you do that your customers deeply value that few others can do? This guide can help you.
  • Brand Promise & Values. Think about the promise you make to your customers, at every interaction. What values do you insist on, so you / your team can make this promise true?
  • Brand Archetype. If your brand were a person, what would be its personality and image? Is your brand the sage or the creator? Maverick or jester? And how does this show up in your brand communications?! Strategist Kaye Putnam has an archetype quiz to uncover your brand archetype & good examples of how brands use their archetype to create differentiation.
  • Logo, font, colors. Work with a graphic designer to bring all these insights into your brand’s look and feel.
  • Storytelling. What’s the story you can tell about your impact on your customers? How do you help them? How do you transform their woes into successes?

These areas will inform and form your brand identity and positioning. Don’t be daunted if that seems lengthy! Especially if you’re just starting out, there’s plenty of online guidance to tap into, and to be honest, most startups do the branding themselves until they’re big enough to outsource it to a professional.

And the work is absolutely worth it.

When you’ve landed on it, brand amplifies your marketing efforts. It brings results you couldn’t imagine. It makes everything so clear and easy to digest. You’re so much more confident about your business and what you stand for and what sets you apart.

So do the hard work. 
Build your brand. 
But if you want all this, but are reconsidering the DIY part, that’s cool too. Let’s connect and zoom or chat. My team and I are passionate about branding small businesses; we’re here to bring that incredible brand your business already is… to life.