Archetypes are self-reinforcing patterns.

Archetypes are self-reinforcing patterns. We can harness these patterns to increase our marketing impact.In the last issue I discussed the results of research I’ve conducted that demonstrate that archetypes are self-reinforcing patterns. This self-reinforcement works like so: the presence of some of the attributes of an archetype brings to mind other attributes, the presence of attributes brings to mind the label or “name” of an archetype, and the presence of the label brings to mind the attributes. Each reinforces the other—and each of these mechanisms happens independently.

The self-reinforcing nature of these patterns means that archetypes are incredibly efficient marketing tools. We don’t have to send the entire pattern for our audiences to “receive” the entire pattern. They’ll perceive some of the pattern and fill in the rest on their own.

Confirmation bias helps reinforce archetypal patterns.

We all have confirmation bias, the tendency to interpret new information in ways that confirm our existing beliefs.The reinforcing nature of archetypal patterns is itself reinforced by another pattern: confirmation bias. This is the tendency all humans have to interpret new information in ways that confirm our existing beliefs. For example, if you believe one of your colleagues is hard-working and dedicated, you’ll tend to look for—and find—additional evidence of their dedication and hard work as you continue to interact with them. In other words, “hard-working and dedicated” is a pattern—once you notice the pattern your confirmation bias will predispose you to see additional evidence of this pattern. The same is true if you believe your colleague is lazy; you’ll tend to look for evidence of laziness—to interpret large swaths of their behavior as confirmation of chronic laziness. And once you find this evidence, you’ll take that as confirmation that you were right all along. And you’ll then look for and notice additional evidence, further confirmation that your belief is correct. This is a self-reinforcing pattern.

Figure 1. Confirmation bias is a powerful force shaping the way we perceive the world. It applies generally, but the importance to our discussion is its relevance to the recognition and reinforcement of archetypal patterns. 

We all have this confirmation bias—a tendency to interpret evidence as confirmation of what we already believe to be true. The patterns we see are reinforced by our beliefs, and our beliefs help reinforce the evidence we see in the world.

How does this apply to the use of archetypes? Archetypes are patterns. Once we begin to recognize a particular pattern, each of us will look for evidence that supports it. If you believe your colleague fits the pattern of hard-working and dedicated (a Good Teammate archetype, perhaps?), you’ll find additional evidence to support this belief. And if you believe a company takes great care of their customers (Caregiver archetype, anyone?), then you’ll be more inclined to seek—and find—evidence that supports this belief.

The familiarity heuristic helps reinforce archetypal patterns.

We are all under the influence of the familiarity heuristic and the illusory truth effect, in which we regard something that is familiar as more likely to be true.There is another heuristic that itself reinforces archetypal patterns. The familiarity heuristic is the tendency of people to favor familiar choices over unfamiliar ones. Saying something frequently induces audiences to regard the message as familiar.

There is a corollary to the familiarity heuristic; the illusory truth effect is the tendency to believe that information must be true after repeated exposures. In other words, saying something over and over encourages people believe that it must be true. That’s not because the information is actually true, but because people judge “truth” using a couple of yardsticks: first, whether the information lines up with their understanding, and second, whether the information feels familiar (the familiarity heuristic is also at work here).

The relationship between truth and consistency.
Saying something over and over can predispose people to find the information familiar, which helps them judge the information as true. There are plenty of current examples (in politics and advertising) where the information presented is demonstrably not true. I’m not suggesting you pursue the path of making untrue claims, and then repeating them often enough to make them feel like they might be true. In fact, one of the key criteria when crafting your position is that your claims must feel authentic.

We don’t have to look very far to find the disastrous consequences of making inauthentic claims. VW espoused values including: a “sense of responsibility”. Their mission statement highlighted their commitment to creating “environmentally sound vehicles”. But we all know what happened to VW: billions of dollars in fines and enormous damage to their reputation.

My point in discussing the familiarity heuristic and the illusory truth effect is simply that there are many mechanisms by which your audiences will judge the validity of the information, patterns or claims you present to them. If you are repeatedly making claims and sending messages that your audiences understand to be valid, the familiarity heuristic and illusory truth effect will help your audiences believe these claims. If your claims are authentic, your marketing efforts will only be helped by the consistency you employ.

The application to archetypes and tone of voice should be obvious. We must be as consistent as we can be with our tone of voice—in order to help our audiences notice, understand and internalize the pattern we’re presenting to the world.

The importance of consistency in creating the proper tone of voice.

To reinforce the archetypal pattern you’re presenting to the world, you’ve got to remain consistent.In order to harness this self-reinforcing nature of archetypes, which itself is reinforced by our natural biases and heuristics, you’ve first got to “prime the pump” by communicating crucial parts of the pattern. And then you’ve got to remain consistent in the pattern you’re presenting. If you’re going to harness archetypes as a tool to guide tone of voice—and indeed, if you’ve going to harness tone of voice as a tool to differentiate, clarify and align—you’ve got to remain consistent.

Consistency, consistency, consistency!
In real estate, it’s a cliché that the three things that matter most are “location, location, location.” The point is that there aren’t three things that matter, there’s one thing that eclipses everything else.

In the implementation of marketing, it’s reasonable to claim that the three things which matter most are “consistency, consistency, consistency.” Here too, there’s really just one factor eclipsing everything else.

Why is consistency so crucial? Because our audiences are surrounded by lots of marketing noise. As a result, they’ve developed noise-cancelling filters in their heads. It’s really hard to cut through these filters and send them a message which they won’t be able to ignore. Consistency helps us do this; by being consistent we increase the chances that our audiences will actually hear and understand our message. This happens through many mechanisms, including the familiarity heuristic and others. Inconsistency, on the other hand, makes it more difficult for the message to get through, and if it does, makes it less memorable.

Figure 2. Inconsistency in tone of voice will negate any possible effects from our audiences’ pattern matching abilities, and other mechanisms, such as the familiarity heuristic, the illusory truth effect, and the other biases and heuristics that enable our audiences to complete our marketing messages for us. 

Consistency comes from everywhere.
Because audiences are so sensitive to your tone, they’ll pick up your tone from everywhere, including—but not limited to—each of the following marketing touchpoints:

Your audiences’ perceptions of consistency will come from everywhere: every touchpoint and every employee.
  • website
  • press releases
  • collateral (e.g., brochures)
  • email blasts
  • content (e.g., white papers)
  • trade show booth
  • etc., etc.

But that’s not all. They’ll also be listening to your employees everywhere they encounter them, including:

  • sales presentations
  • webinars
  • podium presentations
  • LinkedIn posts
  • social media posts

Your audience’s impression of your tone of voice comes from everywhere, so everything has to work together. Saying something out of character can hurt you. If you come across as super helpful (and almost obsequious) in one touchpoint, but an expert (with a touch of arrogance) in another, and a fun-loving neighbor (who can’t keep track of details, like where they put the borrowed hedge clippers) in still another, you’ll confuse your audience.

Figure 3: If you’re going to implement tone of voice, you’ve got to do it consistently. Otherwise you risk audience confusion. 

The key takeaway from all of this? If you’re going to implement tone of voice, you’ve got to do it consistently.

You’ve already got a tone of voice.
By default, you already have a tone of voice. This occurs whether you’ve made a conscious choice to employ a particular tone of voice or not. A corporate tone of voice is a little like an individual’s personality; everyone has one, but only some people have chosen deliberately to shape the personality they present to the world. Tone of voice is the same; everyone has one, but only some people have chosen to deliberately shape it.

If you’re not actively controlling your tone of voice, you may come across as inconsistent, schizophrenic, generic, confused or even cacophonous. This is particularly relevant when you consider social media, such as LinkedIn, and all the other channels that individual employees use to speak on behalf of your organization, either deliberately or unwittingly.

Krulak’s Law and the importance of consistency.
US Army General Charles Krulak recognized the importance of front-line troops in nation building and counter insurgency. He theorized that “in an age of always-on cameras, cell phones and social networks, the lowly corporal in the field would have far more leverage and impact than ever before.”

The employees with the greatest contact with your prospects and customers will have the greatest impact on their impressions of your organization.When applied to marketing, Seth Godin points out that Krulak’s law implies that front-line troops—the employees with the greatest contact with prospects and customers—will have the greatest effect in creating the proper impression of your organization. You see, every employee has a voice.

And this is my topic for next time: getting all employees to use a similar tone of voice. This sounds wonderful and yet once you think about methods to implement this in the real world, it begins to look quite challenging: How exactly do you do that?