Archetypes can provide differentiation in life science marketing

In regulated life science industries, where the work process and the work product are often very tightly controlled, differentiation is crucial. But how can you create this differentiation if the core of your offering—your products and processes—is essentially the same as your competitors’? The proper use of archetypes can differentiate you from the pack.

Even in life science industries that are largely unregulated, such as scientific research instrumentation, archetypes can aid in creating differentiation. In fact, some of the best examples of the use of archetypes occur when there is little actual difference between the product or service being offered—Coke® and Pepsi®, or McDonald’s® and Chick-fil-A®, for example. Without much difference in the product or service, any differentiation must appear exclusively in the brand-story. (For more on the role of the brand-story in marketing, read here.)

But choosing an archetype can be a daunting task. I’ve already outlined some sixty archetypes that can be thought of as a “standard package,” and in practice there are many, many more. The archetype you choose should last for years, so it’s important to look ahead—but without much experience in using archetypes, many marketers are confused about how to make a lasting, effective choice.

Before you pick begin this process, I recommend you read the other three white papers related to archetypes, starting with Volume 6, Number 2. With that background, let’s demystify the process of selecting an archetype for your life science organization by breaking it down into ten concrete steps.

The ten-step process for choosing an effective archetype for your life science organization.

How do you choose an archetype for your own life science organization? This ten-step process can serve as a useful guide. Please note that some of these steps have been covered in previous issues of this whitepaper series. And while this entire process may feel lengthy and involved, choosing an archetype is an important part of creating high-performance marketing in the life sciences. You’ll be living with your choice for a while, so it’s important to get it right.

1. Identify the archetypes of your audiences

The archetypes your prospects exhibit may or may not be related to job title or function, so identifying the archetypes of your different life science audiences requires your care and consideration—not to mention some sophistication.

In the last issue, I pointed out that “Medical Directors may be Caregivers (concerned about taking care of patients), they may be Sages, (concerned about guiding their organization through a complicated set of choices), or they may in fact be Scientists (concerned with getting the right data and interpreting it correctly). It’s likely that Medical Directors have to wear different hats and play different roles during the performance of their duties, so they might embody all of these archetypes at one point or another.”

User research and persona development can be useful during this step. It is important to identify and then focus on the particular audience archetypes that most align with your particular product or service—and you must do this for each of your audience segments.

2. Identify your competitor’s archetypes and plot them.

This step begins with a thorough examination of your life science competitors’ marketing communications, looking for expressions of archetypes. It helps to compare several of your competitors, because this makes it easier to pay attention to those unique words or phrases that sound distinct from the normal blather of your sector.

Begin with their websites and brochures. Personally, I find it helpful to print out the key pages, and highlight those phrases that sound unique. For example, “We’re with you every step of the way,” might indicate a Companion or a Guide archetype, while “We’ll stop at nothing,” might indicate a Warrior or Athlete.

If you don’t have a lot of practice at identifying archetypes, here are some guidelines. First, those competitors that are using archetypes well will be consistent in their use. This means that there should be many clues to the archetype they’re using. In other words, if they’re using an archetype deliberately or effectively, you should find evidence everywhere. Second, the use of archetypes in life science marketing is relatively new, so many of your competitors will have no obvious archetype. Third, I strongly suggest that you continue reading to step 4 in this white paper (where I ask you to create a list of words for your own archetype) and then come back to this step—things should be more clear at that point.

In the last issue, I demonstrated how to plot your competitor’s archetypes. This type of plot is useful in determining the archetypal landscape, and whether your competitors are clustered in a particular area. Once you look at the plot of your competitors, you may ask: “if all of my competitors are in the same quadrant, doesn’t that mean there’s something about my industry that means we all belong there?” In other words, “but mom, all the other kids are doing it!”

It’s likely that many of your competitors will express a particular archetype in a weak fashion, because they haven’t actually made a deliberate choice. The Scientist is the default for many service companies, and the Innovator or the Scientist is the default for many instrumentation companies.

If your competitors are clustered, there can be great reasons to avoid being seen as similar to them.

One of the primary reasons for using an archetype is to differentiate your offering, so choosing an archetype that is similar to your competitors will be counterproductive. In the volume “The Hero and the Outlaw,” authors Margaret Mark and Carol S. Pearson demonstrate how a dozen brands of athletic shoes each fit into a different archetypal family.

[i] This demonstrates nicely that it is possible to adopt almost any archetype for marketing purposes. Why? One of the important values of archetypes is differentiation. The lesson here is that you should not be limited in your choice of archetype by preconceived notions, for example: “Our audience is composed of scientists, so we should adopt the Scientist archetype.”

3. Choose a possible archetype (or two or three)

Before you make a final choice of archetype, you’ll want to explore several archetypes and see which one gives you the best possibilities for creating a distinct brand-story. How do you do this? The next several steps will walk you through the process, which is somewhat iterative:

• Make a preliminary choice of up to three archetypes.
• Explore these archetypes and the way they would affect your marketing “voice.”
• Make a final decision based on what you’ve learned.

In essence you are “trying on” these archetypes to see which one fits the best. Only in this way will you be able to make an informed decision.

The choice of archetype is an important one. Your choice should last for several years, so it is important to make your selection carefully. And once you make the choice, you want to stay consistent. As I mentioned in Volume 6 no 2 Margaret Mark and Carol Pearson examined a series of well-known brands and the extent of their archetypal expression. They showed that brands that picked a single archetype and stuck with it were more profitable than brands that either didn’t have an archetype, or varied their archetype over time. They stated, “We now know that brands that consistently express an appropriate archetype drive profitability and success in real and sustainable ways… “[i] This underlines the importance of making your archetypal choice carefully.
Don’t be limited by the 60 archetypes I’ve referred to in these white papers. Almost any archetype can work, as long as your expression of this archetype is consistent. For example, “The Manhattan Project” would be a great archetype for a team-based organization that was trying to create something unique and earth-shattering. This archetype would have overtones of the Scientist, the Engineer and/or the Explorer. There are thousands of possible archetypes: the Concierge, the Leading Lady, the Sherpa, the Candidate, the Air Traffic Controller, etc.

As you choose your archetype, it’s important to consider internal factors, such as your corporate culture. Some organizations already have clear alignment around a set of values and behaviors that might suggest an obvious choice. For example, we recently worked with a company whose behavior was so disciplined and tightly focused that the Spartan Army was the logical choice.

I’m spending less time discussing how you make your initial choices than I will on how you flesh out each choice, because it’s the implications of your choices that will allow you to determine how each archetype will really behave. And it is this behavior and these implications that should guide your selection.

4. Build a toolbox

Once you’ve chosen your archetypes, build a toolbox of words and images that each archetype would use in expressing your life science brand messages. For illustrative purposes, here are some obvious (and not-so-obvious) phrases that a couple of archetypes (the Matchmaker and the Explorer) might use.

Archetype Obvious phrases Not-so-obvious phrases
Matchmaker perfect fit, true love, compatibility, partner, companion, match made in heaven, engagement Lasting, discerning, insightful, good judgment, intuitive
Explorer discover, explore, investigate, seek Horizon, individual, insights, reveal

Don’t worry about being trite or clichéd as you build this list. Just create a list of words you think would be appropriate for each archetype.

This lists you’ve created contains the words you might find if you examined a competitor’s publicly available marketing materials and found evidence of a specific archetype. So it is worth taking another look at your competitor’s marketing to determine if they use these words. This will give you clues if they are employing a specific archetype.

5. Find examples.

As you consider how your selected archetype(s) might be put into practice in your life science marketing, it is helpful to understand how archetypes have been used by other, well-known brands. The examples listed here can help you get a feel for how different archetypes express themselves. The following list is certainly not complete, but it can serve as a starting point in your search for other relevant examples.

Archetype Family Some brands that might be expressing an archetype from this family
Caregiver family Allstate Insurance®, Band-Aid®
Citizen family Chipotle®, LinkedIn®, AAA®
Creator family Walt Disney®, Adobe®, Pixar®
Innocent family Volkswagen®, Anthropologie®, Coke®
Explorer family REI®, NASA®, National Geographic®
Hero family US Army®, Nike®, Mothers Against Drunk Driving®
Jester family Geico®, Cirque du Soleil®
Lover family Hagen-Dazs®, Chanel®, Godiva®
Magician family Dyson®, Apple®, Genetech®
Rebel family Occupy Wall Street, Greenpeace®, Virgin®, Harley-Davidson®
Sage family The Smithsonian®, Mayo Clinic®, CNN®, Google®
Sovereign family Mercedes-Benz®, Consumer Reports®

6. For each archetype, list the characteristics, attributes and actions that this archetype would embody.

Create a list of the characteristics and attributes that your chosen archetypes would express. This step is really the heart of the secret to using archetypes effectively. Listing these attributes will allow you to begin to determine what types of behaviors will be considered consistent with the image you are trying to create and what types will be considered inconsistent.

As an example, compare the attributes of the Warrior and the Sage.

Archetype Primary characteristics Possible approach to a specific marketing activity, such as generating content
Warrior focus
Content that compared many competitors in a sector, and ranked them according to clear metrics (in other words, “who wins, and who loses?”
Sage wisdom
diligence as a researcher
Content that focuses heavily on education.

Once you have listed characteristics and attributes, consider what actions and behaviors these might give rise to. For example a brand employing the Sage would generate content that is heavily educational, while a Warrior’s content might compare many competitors in a sector and rank them according to some clearly defined metric—that is, they may highlight winners and losers.

7. Identify the “shadow” for each archetype.

Each archetype has a potentially negative side—sometimes called the “shadow.” Before you choose an archetype, you want to identify these potentially negative attributes in order to avoid them. Intuition and experience are useful in determining the shadow for each archetype, but here is a tip that can get you started. Consider each archetype, not from a marketing standpoint, but from the view of popular culture. You can start by looking for examples where these archetypes show up in well-known stories, myths, movies, fairy tales, etc. Review these, paying particular attention to negative consequences. What is detrimental, embarrassing or fatal?

For example, the Hero can be seen as arrogant, and this arrogance can get the Hero – as well as any companions – in trouble. Consider Odysseus, hero of the Odyssey. Immediately after successfully escaping from the cave of the Cyclops Polyphemus, Odysseus taunts him, filling him with such rage that Polyphemus hurled a large chunk of the mountainside towards Odysseus’ voice, putting the ship and the entire crew in danger. Only through extreme effort does the crew bring the ship to safety. Having escaped this danger, which was caused by his own arrogance, Odysseus’ hubris once again gets the better of him. He again taunted Polyphemus, telling him that it was he, Odysseus of Ithaca, who blinded him. This further enraged the Cyclops, who calls out to his father, Poseidon, entreating him to prevent Odysseus from ever reaching home. In the adventures that ensue as Odysseus tries to reach home, his entire crew is killed. This is all due to Odysseus’ arrogance, one of the shadows of the Hero archetype.

Once you identify these shadows, consider them from two standpoints. First, does your brand-story or your reputation already express characteristics similar to these? If so, you might want to avoid selecting this archetype. For example, if your customers are providing feedback that “your organization doesn’t listen,” this might be seen as evidence of arrogance – something to avoid at all costs if your chosen archetype is the Hero, or perhaps reason enough to steer away from choosing the Hero archetype in the first place.

Second, consider how these negative attributes, if they appeared, could affect your brand. Can you envision situations in which these attributes could become so pronounced that recovery would be tough? Consider the Warrior. This archetype might be a good choice for an organization that provides scientific data to drug companies (for example, a lab or clinical research organization). For example, the implied message could be: “We’ll fight for your drug/study/results.” But one of the shadows of the Warrior is to seek victory for it’s own sake, that is, to sacrifice morals or ethics. If this shadow appeared, it could be a dangerous overtone for an organization that is providing data that must be grounded in the truth, no matter how unappealing the implications might be (e.g., this drug just isn’t safe, or effective).

Here are a few of the shadows for two specific archetypes.

Archetype Primary characteristics Possible shadows
Warrior focus
Tendency to value victory at the expense of morals or ethics
Sage wisdom
diligence as a researcher

8. Create life science marketing messages in the “voice” of your chosen archetype(s)

With these steps complete, it is time to begin expressing these archetypes in some of your own touchpoints. Find three different passages from your own web site, for example: from the home page, the “about us” section, and a section that describes a product or service. Rewrite these passages in the style and “voice” of each of your chosen archetypes, using your toolkit of words and the behavioral attributes you created in steps 4 and 6.

In the last issue, I provided an example of the use of archetypes in a paragraph intended to introduce some FAQs. This would be a good time to refer back to that example.

As you write these passages, express the chosen archetypes strongly. Don’t try to be too subtle; you want any differences to come across clearly.

9. Test your marketing messages with your audiences to measure the effectiveness of your archetypal expressions

All else being equal, it does not matter what archetype you prefer, it only matters what archetype your audiences prefer. To really get maximum value from your efforts, you must test the different archetypal expressions to find out which your audiences find most important, believable and compelling. Audience preferences should guide you in your final choice of archetype.
I’ve mentioned elsewhere that audience research can be difficult to do well, so please refer to Vol. 2, No. 9: Getting Feedback on Your Life Science Marketing Initiatives through Market Research for more information. If possible, it is helpful to seek audience responses to individual words or phrases in each of these messages.
Determine, if you can, which archetype the audience responds to most favorably, which one they would find the easiest to do business with, and which they would trust the most. These factors, among others, will help guide your selection.

10. Make a final selection of your archetype

With audience feedback, you should be ready to select an archetype. And with your examples, shadows, characteristics and messages (steps 4-8), you have a toolkit that should allow you to put your archetype into use effectively. In the next issue, I’ll give you some guidance about how to do just that.

Choosing an archetype can seem daunting. For organizations that offer very little value that is truly unique, archetypes can be an important way to create differentiation. And for organizations that do have unique value, archetypes can help establish the perception of this value with the audience community.

In other words, while it may take some effort to select a meaningful archetype, archetypes are certainly worth the trouble. In the next white paper, I’ll discuss how you can put your archetype to use.
[i] “The Hero and the Outlaw” by Margaret Mark and Carol S. Pearson, 2001, McGraw-Hill.