Do you know your Chinese Archetype? You need to!


Archetype research is a very powerful insight tool, but in a market as complex and ever-changing as China  it is essential to brand success – ensuring powerful positioning outcomes.

Archetypes are a theory on human personality types, pioneered by Carl Jung, a contemporary of Freud.  Jung’s insight was to divide people into different fundamental characters, such as heroes, carers, rebels and jesters.  While a full appreciation of Jung’s contribution would require some dense paragraphs, I will skip it for the sake of this post – and say,  imagine if mankind was represented by 12 different Marvel superheroes, what 12 different characters (personalities) would be present so as to capture the core subsets of human character.  By doing, this you will get somewhere near Jung’s Archetype theory.


A visualisation of the 12 Archetypes

Archetypes and Research – How to use?

In terms of brand and consumer research, I have always been a fan of how Archetypes can shed light on positioning and localisation challenges.  Archetypes provide a lens to view both brands and consumers from the perceptive of personality and character.

For brands, understanding your brand and competitors as Archetypes can make category roles and positioning super intuitive.   So using consumer perception to imagine brands as Archetypes – you would see Harley-Davidson as a Rebel, Disney as a Magician, Huggies as a Caregiver, Red Bull as an Explorer and Apple, as initially a Rebel who has become a Regular Guy.  By using semiotics to decode brand communication, you can understand your category as a collection of competing characters – like a room with a group of very extroverted guests trying desperately to get the attention of a bunch of strangers.

Seeing the category in this way, creates a clear sense of the ideal category role for a brand, and the supporting personality the brand must communicate to get the attention of the those ‘strangers’ – the consumers.

Archetypes are also incredibly powerful in terms of understanding your consumer target.  Often ‘target consumers’ manifest as a bar of a graph or a number/percentage.   Seeing your target as an Archetype allowing you to visualise your audience in a much more personal way – see a personality that you need to communicate with.

A SMART example, is our work on the Boutique Mums in China, a new type of mother that has emerged as a result of rising incomes, one-child family and professonalization of women.   For marketers, these modern ladies are a goldmine, as they invariably control the purse strings for the entire modern middle class family in China, as well as being heavy spenders on their own image, beauty and desire to ‘never age’.

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China’s Boutique Mums and their brands  – Heroes and Explorers

Looking at Boutique Mums in China, it is interesting to see that their personality and the personality of the brands they identify with share the same Archetypes – Heroes and Explorers.  Through this lens – the required marketing is clear in terms of both consumer engagement and brand expression.

But are Archetypes useful in China, after all Jung was Swiss?
Yes, more than ever!

China is still, surprisingly, a market where category insight and consumer segmentation are not considered fundamental – instead, for whatever reason, brands focus on short-term sales, and forget the most important things that sustain success over the long term.   One particular failure is the absence of clear category positioning vis-a-vis key competitors – actions beyond pricing to key strategic concerns such as tonality and identifying a clear category role.

By looking at your category and your consumers through the prism of Archetypes, you can see at a human level what action is optimal, and what is superfluous to your brand success.   Specifically in China, the issue of brands not establishing a category role becomes obvious, as consumers simply point-out that everyone one in the category is the same personality and is saying the same thing, which is not consistent with the archetype they associate with the category – bingo, cue for your brand to be a Hero, or a Ruler, or a Jester, or an Explorer … you get the drift.

Archetypes is one of the many approaches we leverage at SMART, to ensure brands have a clear plan of achieving long-term success in China – it is all about staying true to your character, or should I say, Archetype.

About Author

Jerry Clode

Jerry Clode is Head of Digital & Social Insight at Resonance. He leads Resonance SMART, providing leading-edge research, strategy and naming for brands in China using bespoke methodologies. Jerry also produces Resonance's popular China Social Branding Report, a bi-weekly publication covering modern marketing methods of the world's top brands.

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