Persona vs Archetype: Making Sense of the Similarities and the differences

by | Aug 5, 2021 | Brand Experience, Customer Experience, Employee Experience, User Experience | 0 comments

With Women’s Month upon us, the topic of buyer personas recently came up around the Interact RDT office, as it has with a number of our clients over the years. This is not uncommon in communications, consumer research, and marketing circles, and it doesn’t require Women’s Month to bring it to the fore.

But what we’ve started to notice, when buyer personas come up, is how often the word “archetype” is introduced to the discussion – invariably being used both interchangeably with persona, and as its own independent concept.

As you can imagine, this sort of imprecise communication, especially in a professional space defined by both precision and communication, can sometimes lead to problems.

So, it seemed appropriate this month, to dedicate some of our digital real estate to clearing up these muddy waters to discuss what persona is, what archetype is, and how each can be used in developing your understanding of your customers. 

What’s the difference?

As you may by now have guessed, persona and archetype are not the same thing. And if you’re wondering why your marketing team disagrees, it’s not their fault.

Both concepts have deep roots in psychology and philosophy, they have overlapping dictionary definitions, and both have been adopted into and adapted to fit within different professional contexts.

Persona

Directly translating from Latin as “mask”, the word persona derives from the masks worn in the theatre performances of ancient Greece and Rome. The term was later adopted as one of Jungian Psychology’s four major archetypes, and it referred to the version of oneself that we show to the world.

However, in fields like market research, customer experience and user experience, a persona is not a mask. When we build profiles of buyer personas, we are developing them based on our best understanding of who our customers really are.

Buyer personas, therefore, are accurate representations of customer behaviour patterns identified through research and experience. Buyer personas are also prescriptive, in that they offer a clearer view of solutions because they provide the customer’s perspective as a lens through which to see problems. This keeps your team from taking action based on their own assumptions about customers.

But, if a buyer persona is essentially a description of the buyer’s personality and habits, inferred from analysis of their behaviour patterns, then what is archetype?

Archetype

Depending on which entry you read under “archetype” in any given dictionary, you could well believe that the term is completely interchangeable with the above definition of persona.

But the definition used when it comes to crafting a brand experience and engaging the market is more closely aligned with research by Carl Jung and the influential storytelling theory laid out in The Hero’s Journey, by Joseph Campbell.

According to this framework, archetype ignores the prescriptive facts, figures, and details that might accompany a buyer persona, and taps directly into emotional and aspirational motivations.

Carl Jung theorised that humans use symbolism to organise and arrange complex thoughts, and he believed that this symbolism was universal. The archetypes he developed were drawn from commonalities his research uncovered in cultures across the globe.

His archetypes would go on to be repurposed for use in brand differentiation, where they have seen continued use and development by marketers and branding experts for decades.

Why Persona Matters

Buyer personas are a market segmentation tool. Backed by careful analysis and research, they enable an organisation to identify and build a profile of its ideal buyer/s.

This process might start as a speculative one – with an experienced team, brainstorming buyer profiles based on their understanding of their market – but when fully refined, it gathers data from all channels and platforms, to build an informed and accurate picture of ideal customers.

The internet is overflowing with articles on buyer personas, and for good reason.

Well-developed, buyer personas can be incredibly powerful tools; lenses through which to view all customer-facing and customer-adjacent operations.

When well-researched, a buyer persona will give you important information about your customer, such as:

  • Why did they initiate contact?
  • What specific goals do they want interaction with your brand to achieve?
  • What obstacles stand between them and purchasing?
  • What does their average day look like?
  • How do they make decisions?

Information like this will allow you to craft experiences specifically to suit your customer’s lifestyles and temperaments.

Why Archetype Matters

Archetype is predominantly a method of differentiation. By aligning your brand and tone with an archetype that resonates with your market, you can provide your customers with an emotional motivation to engage with your company.

By way of example, first consider Carl Jung’s 12 archetypes:

HeroCaregiver
RebelRuler
MagicianCreator
ExplorerLover
SageJester
InnocentEveryman

Now consider Chicken Licken and KFC. Or Pepsi and Coca-cola. Both sell very similar products, both utilise very similar branding. And both long ago stopped trying to compete based purely on only the quality of those products.

Instead, they differentiate themselves by their archetypes. Chicken Licken and Pepsi are Jesters. While Coca-Cola and KFC have both indulged in the sentimentality of the Innocent archetype.

Archetypes attempt to tap into deeply held and very human cultural iconographies. And, when successfully executed, these archetypes will reflect in all brand communications and collateral. Thus, allowing the audience to fully associate the brand with its archetype, and identify with it on that basis.

OUTSurance is the Everyman, Diesal is the Rebel, SpaceX are explorers, and Discovery is a Caregiver. The list goes on, and often a single brand will encompass multiple archetypes. For example, Disney is a Magician, but they are also Innocents and that’s why they are very careful about having any PG-13 content in movies produced under their banner.

Because of their innate subjectivity, archetypes are not used to gather or collate information. Rather, they are used to inform communication and to differentiate oneself from one’s competitors, creating both an emotive brand and employee experience.

Enhancing Your CX With Personas And Archetypes

At Interact RDT, we understand how to craft compelling and comprehensive brand experiences, utilising the best in both quantitative and qualitative methodologies to get to the core of who your brand is and what your customers want.

A part of this, is understanding how to leverage personas, archetypes and other tools drawn from a diverse pool of resources. Contact us today, and find out how we can help to develop your engagement with and ability to serve your audience.

RECENT POSTS