Gaining Differentiation (and Pricing Power) Through the Use of Archetypes in eClinical Marketing

By David Chapin

gaining differentiation




Archetypes are one effective way to manage the meaning of your brand-story in the minds of your audiences. Doing so effectively leads to greater differentiation and pricing power. Studies have shown that careful selection and maintenance of archetypes is related to higher profit. What are archetypes? In this and subsequent issues, we’ll introduce the basics of this fascinating topic.

What is an archetype?

There are several definitions of the word “archetype.” In the sense that they are useful in high-performance life science marketing, archetypes refer to a collectively inherited unconscious idea or image that is universally present in individual psyches.

In essence, an archetype is a pattern that is part of our shared understanding. It is a powerful tool to connect with audiences and drive differentiation.

An example will make this more clear. Cultures all over the world have stories and myths that feature a ruler or sovereign – ranging, for instance, from King Arthur (and the knights of the round table) to Mufasa of The Lion King. If you examine these stories, it’s easy to spot certain common behavioral or character traits, such as: leading by example, having exceptional skill or expertise, having a vision for the organization of the world, projecting confidence – just to name a few. These behavioral and character traits combine to embody the archetype of the ruler. The rulers in these stories exhibit many, if not most of these traits, and if a character displays several of the recognizable traits of the ruler, we expect them to display the others, even the more negative characteristics – such as arrogance.

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There are many other archetypes. Consider the jester or trickster. Examples include Loki from Norse mythology, the Coyote from the southwestern US, Br’er Rabbit from the southern US, Reynard the fox from the French children’s stories, and Bugs Bunny. If you examine these characters, you find certain familiar behavioral traits. You can expect the trickster or jester to be surprising, to appreciate the humor in a given situation, and perhaps to poke fun at people or institutions. These behavioral and character traits combine to embody the archetype of the trickster. The jesters in these stories exhibit many, if not most, of these traits and if a character displays several of the recognizable traits of the jester, we expect them to display the others, even the more negative characteristics, such as insolence or cruelty.

In essence, an archetype is a pattern that is part of our shared understanding, and if we are presented with the pattern, or a part of the pattern, we recognize it. And once we recognize the beginnings of any pattern, the human mind tends to fill in the rest of the pattern. Recognizing patterns is such a powerful human instinct that there’s even a name for recognizing patterns where none exists: pareidolia.

The power of archetypes in marketing in general and in high-performance life science marketing in particular springs from two sources: first, the idea that these patterns are universal and subconscious and second, the human tendency to fill in the uncompleted portion of a pattern. When these are combined, you have a powerful tool for connecting with audiences.

The origin of archetypes

The idea of archetypes is most notable in the work of C. G. Jung, who postulated that these archetypes – these patterns – are unconscious and universal, that is: shared. Because this understanding is shared, it can be tapped to embed meaning into your brand-story, enriching the image of your organization and its offering.

The power of archetypes in marketing was harnessed by employees of Young & Rubicam in the 1990s. The work of Jung was adapted and brought to marketing and advertising primarily through the work of Margaret Mark and Carol S. Pearson, employees of the ad agency Young & Rubicam in the 1990s. These two pioneers (another archetype, by the way) made significant strides in laying out a theory of archetypes as it applies to marketing, as well as in conducting research on the effect of archetype usage, primarily in advertising. Their work was published in several volumes, the best known of which is The Hero and the Outlaw, released in 2001 by McGraw-Hill.

I’ll return to one of their significant research finding a little later, but first I want to provide a few examples of archetypes in action.

Two examples of archetypes in marketing

When you think of Chick-fil-A, the fast food chain, what comes to mind? If you’re like most people, chicken sandwiches and desperate, inventive cows. That’s because Chick-fil-A employs the jester archetype to connect more deeply with audiences. And in doing so, Chick-fil-A promotes an atmosphere of fun, encouraging us to join in, to come out and play with one another, just as a jester would. Chick-fil-A uses the jester archetype to grab attention, in the manner of a clown or entertainer (two other archetypes) surrounded by a crowd. In contrast to the everyman archetype (such as the fast food restaurant Wendy’s), Chick-fil-A promotes an impertinent approach to life.

Next, let’s consider the ruler or sovereign archetype. Mercedes-Benz employs this to connect more deeply with audiences. In doing so, Mercedes-Benz encourages us to see the world as an ordered place, where everything fits, and where roles and relationships are stable, where some brands have assumed authority and are superior to others. In contrast to VW (the child archetype), Mercedes-Benz encourages us to see their products as exclusive.

In adopting a particular archetype, both Mercedes-Benz and Chick-fil-A are making a deliberate attempt to differentiate themselves from their competition. They do so by making a deeper connection with their audiences, by projecting patterns that we then complete.

This deeper connection and familiar patterns enable the audience to see differentiation, which is the foundation of all high-performance marketing, particularly in the life sciences.

How do archetypes relate to high-performance, eClincal marketing?

Archetypes, when properly used, can assist companies with differentiation. Lack of differentiation is a serious problem – one that is common to all-too-many life science organizations. It directly affects both the sales and marketing functions, and can significantly impede the effectiveness of both. Lack of differentiation can easily result in a lack of pricing power (more here).

There are three main causes of the lack of differentiation in life science marketing: regulatory, business model and lack of understanding. This problem is not universal; there is a small minority of eClincal organizations that have avoided it. But for those organizations that are afflicted with lack of differentiation, there are three main causes: one is regulatory, one is related to a specific business model, and one is related to a lack of understanding.

I’m going to describe the three main sources of this problem, I’ll outline the disastrous consequences of letting this go unchecked, and then I’ll discuss how the use of archetypes in life science marketing can help you address this issue.

The regulatory cause for lack of differentiation in the life sciences

Regulators don’t like “different.” Which means they’ll push your work product and your work processes to be undifferentiating.

Regulatory agencies do exactly what their name suggests: they regulate. Depending upon what you are selling, they regulate either your work product or your work process, or both. This means that it’s difficult to compete by making your work product or your work process different, because the regulators don’t like “different.” They like “same old, same old” because that’s one good way to ensure the consistency of the final result, and they do whatever they can to ensure consistency.

So if your work processes are, for the most part, the same ones used by your competitors, and if your work product is, by and large, the same as the one offered by your competitors, how are you going to be seen as differentiated, as unique, as anything but a commodity with no pricing power?

Archetypes can help deliver differentiation and therefore pricing power.

The business model cause for lack of differentiation in the life sciences

Large organizations in the life sciences, particularly service organizations, frequently look identical to other large organizations.

Large organizations typically compete by having a broad offering. This is how they get big, and this is how they stay big. But being big isn’t a reason for prospects to buy your products and services unless they are looking to buy almost everything you offer. If they’re just shopping for a small component of what you sell, then the fact that you have a broad offering offers little intrinsic value. For example, the fact that a department store offers both men’s coats and small kitchen appliances—listed at Unclutterer—offers little direct benefit to me if all I’m shopping for is a pair of running shoes. I’ll probably find better selection and better prices at a store that sells nothing but shoes, or even more specifically, a store that sells nothing but running shoes.

If your business model is built on having a broad offering, and if you are similar to other organizations with broad offerings (which is more likely than not, since you are competing on the breadth of your offering), then how are you going to be seen as differentiated, as unique, as anything but “one among several” with little pricing power?

Archetypes can help deliver differentiation and therefore pricing power.

The lack of understanding cause for lack of differentiation in the life sciences

Many scientists who are responsible for marketing in the life sciences misunderstand the importance of uniqueness (more here). They believe that any difference is sufficient, even if that differentiation happens at a level that is only perceptible after significant study. These same scientists believe that audiences will do the work necessary to sort out the differences, no matter how minute.

This approach works in science, where subtle differences make all the difference, but it’s not effective in life science marketing. Audiences, even scientists, see things differently than your internal team does. To reach them effectively, your uniqueness must be communicated clearly, not hidden in the details. Don’t expect audiences who are simply “browsing” to do the detective work necessary to understand any uniqueness that’s not apparent from a quick glance in your direction.

As you may have heard, archetypes can help deliver differentiation and therefore pricing power.

Commodity status

I’ve been harping on uniqueness so much that some of you may be thinking: “Why are you placing so much emphasis on differentiation? After all, everybody in my sector is pretty much the same. And my company is doing okay.”

The answer is simple. If you want to exert any sort of pricing power, you have to be seen as unique; otherwise you’re nothing but a commodity, and commodities – by definition – can be replaced easily by a wide selection of readily available substitutes. So doing “okay” is not really okay if you’re a commodity, because “okay” is just one hungrier competitor away from being “out of work.”

The first path to a differentiated image in life science marketing – unique benefits

So if the goal is to differentiate your offering, there are two fundamentally different paths that lead to this same endpoint.

One path to perceived differentiation begins when you offer a truly unique set of benefits. To find an example, we need look no further than the many innovations that Apple has introduced. When Apple first introduced the iPhone, there wasn’t anything else like this new phone, or the app store that serviced it, on the market. This is a perfect example of offering a unique set of benefits.

The first path to differentiation is to offer a set of truly unique benefits.

Positions that are built on a unique set of benefits still need to be well articulated and expressed, of course, but because they are built on unique benefits, they are the perfect foundation for differentiation, and therefore for creating pricing power.

Identifying truly unique benefits is easier in some cases than in others. In the case of life science products, marketing managers can typically look to the product’s features (such as “feeds and speeds”) as a basis for identifying unique benefits. A surprising number of life science service companies actually offer unique benefits. Identifying them is the challenge, but once identified, they can form the basis of a powerful position, and therefore for creating pricing power.

If you have these unique benefits, archetypes can help you convey these unique benefits, connect with audiences, and create pricing power.

The second path to a differentiated image in life science marketing – a unique brand-story

The second path to differentiation is to create uniqueness through your brand-story.

If there is no set of features or benefits that is truly unique, then the other path to differentiation must be taken. In this case, uniqueness must be created even though a unique set of benefits doesn’t exist. To find examples, look at the sector of consumer packaged goods – consider soft drinks, laundry detergent, deodorant or toothpaste. In many (perhaps most) cases, there are few benefits offered by these products that are truly unique. So differentiation, if it is going to exist, must be created. To say this another way, while there isn’t much difference between laundry detergent once it is added to the washing machine, the differences can seem a lot more vivid when you’re standing in the store aisle, or watching a commercial.

In the eClincal sector, we don’t have to look too far to find organizations that lack a set of unique benefits: service organizations frequently find themselves in this situation, particularly if they are competing on the breadth of their offering.

In cases where there are no clear and compelling unique benefits, any differentiation must be created through the brand-story. This is where archetypes are so valuable. Archetypes can guide you in creating and implementing a consistent brand-story that both differentiates you from your competitors and resonates with your audiences.

Comparing the two different paths to achieve a differentiated image

Both paths – drawing on unique benefits or creating a unique brand-story – can lead to the same destination: being seen by your prospects and your customers as unique. If you don’t travel either path, however, you’ll be stuck in “a sea of sameness.” Your offering will look identical to your competitors’, and you’ll have no pricing power.

If your organization does have a set of unique benefits and can follow the first path, you’re in luck. Your eClincal marketing challenge is a little less arduous.

It’s rare for a company to be able to walk the first path to differentiation without any reliance on the second path.

In contrast, following the second path is harder. The brand-story path requires that you create differentiation without the aid of distinctive benefits on which to base your marketing claims of uniqueness. This approach tends to require a more sophisticated approach to creating and managing your life science marketing efforts. It might require a larger marketing budget. In addition, people with scientific training have a worldview (commitment 5, here) that often makes this approach appear suspicious, as it relies less on a tangible manifestation of uniqueness, and more on a distinctive personality or promise. However, these can be just as effective as unique benefits in creating differentiation.

Before you dismiss this second path entirely, remember one very important fact: your prospect’s perception IS their reality. If they perceive you as different, you are different, no matter how much your offering may be identical to your competitors’. And conversely, if they perceive you as the same as your competitors, you are the same, no matter how much your offering may differ from theirs.

Please note that it is the rare company that walks the first path without any reliance on the second. Even a company with amazing and unique benefits still must have an effective brand-story. So whether you have many unique benefits, only a very few, or none, you must use your brand-story to help communicate and/or create differentiation. This is where archetypes are useful – in communicating and creating differentiation through your brand-story.

If you believe that it is worthless to utilize your brand-story to communicate and create distinction, ask yourself two questions. First, why do so many large organizations (like the consumer packaged goods mentioned above, as well as some large service organizations) use this approach? Because archetypes work in establishing differentiation.

The second question is: what’s the alternative? There are only two common answers. The first is trying to compete using claims that aren’t differentiating, such as “Our people are the best.” I’ve written extensively about why this is such a poor strategy (more here). LINK to The second common answer is to accept commodity status, and frankly, that’s a lousy alternative, one without any pricing power.

The meaning of differentiation

Let me reiterate: the differentiation that truly matters happens in the minds of the audience – at a level I call the image of your organization. It doesn’t matter what you think about your own offering, it only matters what your audiences think.

It doesn’t matter whether you believe your offering is differentiated – it only matters whether your audiences believe your offering is differentiated.

To create a differentiated image of your organization in the minds of your audience, you begin by activating the marketing mechanism of action (read more about the MMOA here). It starts when you make a deliberate choice – by selecting a position. This position gets articulated in your brand-story and expressed through your touchpoints. These touchpoints help to create an image in the minds of your audiences. Your company or your offering is linked to some attribute. That is, they assign a “meaning” to your company or your offering.

The idea that brands are connected to a meaning in the minds of the audience is at once both trivial and profound. As an example, mention the company “Volvo” and many people connect this to the concept of “safety.” The first time you heard the word Volvo, it was probably fairly meaningless. But our minds are hard wired to find meaning, to complete the pattern, and so we seek to make connections, to attribute meanings to the concepts in our heads. And Volvo has worked hard to encourage us to link the words Volvo and safety.

Archetypes allow you to more easily guide your audiences to the meaning you want them to associate with your brand.

Effective use of Archetypes correlates with higher profit

And now back to that research finding I mentioned earlier: The use of archetypes and the correlation to higher profit.

Mark and Pearson studied many brands and measured two factors: the Market Value Added (MVA), a measure of the value a company adds to shareholder investment and the Economic Value Added (EVA), an estimate of net operating profit minus an appropriate charge for the opportunity costs of all capital invested in the enterprise. They explored changes in the EVA and MVA from 1993 to 1999 for a set of 50 well-known and highly regarded brands, which they divided into two sets: those whose archetypal identities were “tightly defined” and those whose identities were “confused.”

They report: “The analysis showed that the MVA of those brands strongly aligned with a single archetype rose by 97% more than the MVA of confused brands. Also, over the six-year period under study, the EVA of strongly aligned brands grew at a rate 66% greater than that of the EVA of weakly aligned brands.”

What this means is 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.
In the words of the authors: “We now know that brands that consistently express an appropriate archetype drive profitability and success in real and sustainable ways.” They continue: “The Young and Rubicam study demonstrates, without a doubt, the importance to marketing of understanding and maintaining an archetypal identity as a primary business asset.” (Source: Mark, Margaret and Pearson, Carol S. The Hero and the Outlaw, New York: McGraw Hill, 2001. page 29ff.)

Careful selection and maintenance of your brand-story’s archetype promotes differentiation, which leads to pricing power.

Whether this higher profit is a direct effect of the careful selection and maintenance of archetypes could be argued. Frankly, I’m not familiar enough with the details of the study to judge. But it’s hard to argue with the fact that careful selection and maintenance of your brand-story’s archetype promotes differentiation in your audiences’ minds. And differentiation, when properly managed, leads to pricing power.

What isn’t up for debate is the fact that it’s always better to be more aware – and in control – of the messages and personality that your company projects to its audiences. And the process of identifying an appropriate archetype makes you more aware, and gives you greater control.

In our next issue, I’ll introduce some of the many different types of archetypes, and how to use these to achieve differentiation, and therefore pricing power. I’ll also point out why you shouldn’t use the scientist archetype.

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The Marketing of Science is published by Forma Life Science Marketing approximately ten times per year. To subscribe to this free publication, email us at

David Chapin is author of the book “The Marketing of Science: Making the Complex Compelling,” available now from Rockbench Press and on Amazon. He was named Best Consultant in the inaugural 2013 BDO Triangle Life Science Awards. David serves on the board of NCBio.

David has a Bachelor’s degree in Physics from Swarthmore College and a Master’s degree in Design from NC State University. He is the named inventor on more than forty patents in the US and abroad. His work has been recognized by AIGA, and featured in publications such as the Harvard Business Review, ID magazine, Print magazine, Design News magazine and Medical Marketing and Media. David has authored articles published by Life Science Leader, Impact, and PharmaExec magazines and MedAd News. He has taught at the Kenan-Flagler Business School at UNC-Chapel Hill and at the College of Design at NC State University. He has lectured and presented to numerous groups about various topics in marketing.

Forma Life Science Marketing is a leading marketing firm for life science, companies. Forma works with life science organizations to increase marketing effectiveness and drive revenue, differentiate organizations, focus their messages and align their employee teams. Forma distills and communicates complex messages into compelling communications; we make the complex compelling.

© 2024 Forma Life Science Marketing, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted without obtaining written permission from Forma Life Science Marketing.

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