A Marketer's Guide to Customer Archetypes

Ellie Diamond
Casey Horgan
Published: Feb 08, 2024
Last Updated:
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The customer archetype is one of marketing's best-kept secrets. It goes beyond standard personalization to find out what truly drives your customers on an emotional level. 

Customer archetypes reveal how your customers see themselves and who they want to be. Your buyer isn't just a skincare enthusiast — they're the Girl Next Door. They want to look effortlessly youthful and fresh without "trying too hard." 

You might also have a Royal — a refined palate who only wants the best.

Without understanding archetypes, a brand could easily lump these two very different buyers together.

Keep reading to learn more about customer archetypes, how to develop them, and how they can transform your marketing efforts.

What Is a Customer Archetype?

The idea of a customer archetype comes from psychology and literature. Developed by early 20th-century psychoanalyst Carl Jung, the archetype was originally a role or personality type that lives in the subconscious. 

According to Jung, these roles are universal to the human experience. There are 12 Jungian archetypes, from the service-motivated Caregiver to the liberated Rebel. 

Archetypes also appear in all kinds of stories. Their universally human nature makes them both relatable and compelling to watch. Take the Hero, for example — a fixture in stories from Homer's "The Odyssey" to the contemporary Marvel superhero universe.

Archetypes are powerfully human, so it was only a matter of time before marketers harnessed their potential. Today, archetype marketing helps brands go beyond demographics, portraying a company's ideal customers on a more human level.

How Are Archetypes Different From Buyer Personas?

Creating a fictitious character to represent your audience isn't new. It's common practice to create a buyer persona, also known as a user persona, to envision your target customer as an individual.

Customer personas are fictitious characters with unique names, ages, careers, and personalities. They let you stop writing for a generalized group like "business owners in their 40s" and start writing for Elizabeth, a 43-year-old consignment shop owner who struggles with social media.

Buyer personas personalize your target audience. However, they don't reveal much about the fictional buyer's deeper motivations. You might know that they want to grow their business and can afford to outsource. You don't know what a successful business means to them personally.

Customer archetypes fill that gap. They tell you that your target customer is a Renegade at her core. She wants to grow her business because she believes in breaking new ground and upsetting the status quo.

By understanding that deeper motivation, you can provide more personalized service and reach Elizabeth where it matters most.

How Do Archetypes Differ From Audience Profiling?

If you're familiar with user personas, you've probably also heard of audience profiling — the process of interpreting data about your target audience.

The user persona is one possible result of audience profiling. Many brands use data on their target customer's age group, income level, and niche interests to create vivid character personas.

Archetype development happens on a deeper level. While profiling relies on demographics, archetypes are based on psychographics. Psychographics are psychological needs, preferences, and values that drive a person's purchase behavior.

You need to understand those deeper motivations to develop an archetype for your target customer. Archetypes come from what drives your customers on a personal level.

Why Do You Need to Create Archetypes of Your Customers?

Creating a customer archetype adds to your audience research process, which is probably already packed with tasks. Still, the value you'll get from understanding customers on this level is well worth the effort. Read on to learn what archetype development can do.

Provides a Deeper Understanding of Their Values and Wants

An archetype has always symbolized a core desire. Jung's Artist is a passionate innovator. The character archetype of the Mother will move the earth to protect her child.

These deep-seated priorities drive action when nothing else can. If you tell a Mother that your new jogging stroller is convenient and easy to use, she may be open to learning more. But if you convince her that it's safer than any other model on the market, her protective instinct will kick in and she'll be more likely to act.

Improves Customer Engagement

Engagement is non-negotiable in today's experience-focused market. According to Harvard Business Review (HBR) Analytic Services, 92% of business leaders say engagement is "critical" to their success. Customers are engaged when they have meaningful interactions and an ongoing relationship with a brand.

Yet, only 4% of HBR respondents believe they have excellent engagement. The remaining 96% struggle to cultivate strong relationships — which, as any psychologist would tell you, develop through intimate conversations.

You don't need to have individual heart-to-hearts with customers to build engagement. You do need to know what matters to them, however, and archetypes give you that deeper insight.

Tailors Messaging for More Effective Communication

Personalization is more important than ever to marketing success. According to Twilio Segment's 2023 State of Personalization Report:

  • 62% of businesses retain more customers after strengthening personalization efforts
  • 56% of customers become repeat buyers after a personalized experience
  • 69% of businesses are investing more in personalization, even in a challenging economy
  • 50% of businesses struggle to gather accurate personalization data

Customer archetypes provide data that goes beyond the basic, offering a deeper personalization based on what buyers value.

For example, you only need a social media account to learn that most of your customers are fitness enthusiasts aged 25 to 45. It's easy to highlight the importance of cardio for long-term health and check off the "personalization" box. But what if your audiences have other goals?

With the right fitness customer archetypes, you can get more personal. You can speak to the Wellness Enthusiast, who views health consciousness as part of their core identity. That copy will be different than what you create for the Athlete, a competitive individual who wants to be the best.

This type of targeted marketing feels more personal because it speaks to core motivations rather than demographic-related assumptions. 

Improves Your Decision-Making in Product Development

Meaningful marketing is important, but customers will quickly jump ship if your products and services don't meet their needs. Archetypes tell you what those needs are.

Take the Wellness Enthusiast archetype. Even if you convince them that gym membership will help them prevent illness and build long-term strength, they're not a sure sale. They might go elsewhere if your facility doesn't provide overall health amenities, such as ergonomic equipment and yoga or Pilates classes.

The same goes for any industry. The more you know what drives your potential customers, the stronger your advantage will be. 

Creates Content That Truly Resonates Beyond the Obvious

Content may be king, but yours isn't the only one in the throne room. Competitors also use videos, newsletters, blogs, and social media posts to convert your shared target customers.

Archetypes are the secret to cutting through the noise. 

Traditionally, content marketing has relied on basic data about audience demographics and keyword popularity. That information leads content creators to topics that are relevant but only skim the surface of what people need.

By identifying customer archetypes, you can uncover key values and motivations other marketers don't address. For example, imagine a nutritional supplements company finding the Innocent archetype in its customer base. 

The Innocent longs for safety and believes in an idyllic world. Learning it serves this archetype persona, the supplement company starts creating hopeful and aspirational content. It creates blog posts, videos, and articles featuring healthy people doing good in the world. 

That content creates an emotional connection that competing material doesn't. That deeper connection sets the brand apart, showing how well it understands what the audience truly values.

Refines Your Marketing Strategy and Campaigns

The more you know about your target audience, the more effective and memorable your marketing will be. Archetypes answer a key question that other segmentation methods don't: What types of people buy from us?

The goal isn't over-generalizing but matching your unique selling proposition (USP) with your customers'  motivators. It's the difference between "Don't miss out!" and "Tomorrow isn't good enough. Get a safer car seat today."

The second option refines the message to address the Mother archetype's core desire. She wants to keep her kids safe more than she wants great savings or the best design on the market.

5 Tips To Create Customer Archetypes

Archetypes answer a question that other personalization strategies can't:

How does your target customer want to see themselves?

When you answer that question, you've found the core reason people buy your products or services. Consumers choose products that resonate with their perceived identities, avoiding those that seem to be for another "type" of person. 

It's a powerful process, but it requires a more in-depth look at your customers as people. To create a successful archetype, you need to learn what your customers think and believe. This process requires a deep dive into customer data.

1. Start With Analytics Tools To Gather Data

Data-driven marketing is no longer optional. With the widespread availability of analytics tools, including free options such as Google Analytics, even small businesses can learn their audiences' preferences and buying behaviors.

These observed behaviors tell you what your customers want. Since your ultimate goal is to develop customer archetypes, you need to zero in on their motivations for those purchases.

Focus on intention and motivation-related metrics, such as:

  • Social media engagement
  • Click-through and conversion rates
  • Website pages per session
  • Session duration

This data will show you what your audience is most interested in. From there, you can determine the ambitions that drive those interests.

2. Conduct Market Research To Gain Valuable Insights

Observed behaviors give you direction. They show you how your customers' intentions play out, but they can't tell you what thoughts drove those decisions.

Market research takes you to that next level. It gathers information from and about consumers to reveal their pain points, unmet needs, and preferences.

Market research can be primary — direct from the customer's mouth — or secondary, meaning someone else has investigated and interviewed. Both ultimately involve direct consumer responses, but primary research gets closer to your customer profile.

There are many methods of primary market research, including:

  • Focus groups
  • Customer surveys
  • Individual interviews
  • Social media listening

Some brands conduct this research in-house; others hire a third-party research group. The important thing is to focus on customers' core needs and brand-identity alignment.

3. Leverage First-Party Data To Dig Deeper

Your customers reveal their core needs every day. Better yet, you have access to all of it through first-party data.

First-party data is information you collect directly from customers through owned online channels. 

  • Solicited or unsolicited customer feedback
  • Lead generation forms
  • Customer service chats
  • Sales conversation records

First-party data is more valuable than many marketers realize. And when you're building customer archetypes, it's a necessity. 

Customers provide first-party data to tell you how to meet their needs. When someone signs up for your newsletter, it means the content you're offering is worth their valuable time. When they contact customer service or submit feedback, they tell you what critical problem your company can solve.

Look at your first-party data and find what thoughts, issues, and motivations your customers have in common. That information will point you toward an archetype.

4. Create Customer Segments Based on This Information

By this point, you're almost ready to identify your customer archetypes definitively. You understand your customers' core motivators, and now it's time to turn them into interest groups.

As you've learned, segmentation means sorting your customers by what they have in common. Now that you have data about what your customers truly want and value, you can turn that knowledge into segments.

For example, suppose you've learned that many customers want to customize your product or service to create something out-of-the-box. These buyers respond to creativity-focused messages. You also have customers who want to use every feature you have available so they can truly excel. These customers buy when you reference ambition.

5. Introduce the Qualitative Element To Outline Your Archetypes

Qualitative information makes the difference between traditional segmentation and archetype-based marketing. Qualitative data provides the kind of customer insights you can't measure.

To make that leap, you need to interpret your newly collected data. Take the customers who seem to seek new customization options continually. These buyers see themselves as creative individuals. 

Now, you have the start of an archetype. You can even call this group the Individual — unless something else resonates more strongly.

As long as you're confident your buyers will relate to the archetypes you've created, you're on the right track.

What Are Some Examples of Archetypes You Can Build?

Jung started with 12 archetypal figures, and brands still use them to identify customers. These classic archetypes include:

  • The Everyman: An archetype of solidarity. Also known as the Common Person, the Everyman is down-to-earth and values feeling like a hardworking community member. 
  • The Sage: An archetype of truth and objectivity. The Sage checks their facts and values transparent sources.
  • The Warrior: An archetype of strength. The Warrior needs a cause to fight for and an enemy to defeat.
  • The Creator: An archetype of expression. The Creator always looks to make something new and reflect their identity to the world.

As an exercise, think of customer needs that could fit into each one of those archetypes. For example, maybe the Warrior is your justice-oriented customer. They buy from you because of the causes you support.

Use these archetypes whenever you want, but don't get stuck in them. For you, they might be primarily helpful as starting points. 

There are many other shared human experiences, and each can be a customer archetype. Maybe your fitness customers are Reachers, always looking to push their limits. Maybe your bakery buyers are Indulgers, always ready for a treat.

It can be a customer archetype as long as it's relatable to a large group.

How Do You Create a Marketing Strategy Based on Your Archetypes?

The customer archetype will change the way you look at marketing. But don't worry — you don't need to alter your approach entirely.

Strategically, archetypes function similarly to customer segmentation. The main difference is that archetypes group customers by psychological needs rather than demographics. 

An archetype is essentially a character that people aspire to or relate to. Once you have a set of customer archetypes, you can create segmented strategies that speak to those aspirations.

Think about what motivates each archetype. That motivation is the core message of your marketing for that segment. 

Take each of those core messages and use them to create message maps. Message maps are diagrams that visualize your primary marketing message and each supporting message that develops from it. 

With an archetype-based strategy, those supporting messages target each segment's essential

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