Engagement Archetypes Part II: The Conversational Marketplace

As we build brands in a rapidly changing marketplace, “Engagement Archetypes” represent a new understanding in the field of archetypal study and practice. We’re supplementing the fixed notion of an “imaged” or traditional archetype with market-responsive ones. Engagement archetypes are a dynamic set of complementary pairs that, when deployed in any system (in our case, branding and communications), provide a framework to navigate complexity and build authentic relationships.

We’ve created this series to introduce Engagement Archetypes as the framework brands need to better understand themselves and the audiences they seek to reach.

If you haven’t read Part I, How do traditional brand archetypes function? Start here first.

As brand designers, our understanding of archetypes is that they are fixed. Brands adopt them at the “DNA” level, orienting their marketing and communications around a single branded archetype. This becomes a unifying principle for how to sound, look, and behave. It is the foundation of some of the most successful brands we know and love.

But as the market evolves, becoming more dynamic, more intelligent, more inclusive, more empathic, more conversational, we need more at our disposal to keep pace.

Not so long ago, it was enough for a company to tell their (mostly anonymous) audiences why they should use their product or service. This is no longer possible. Companies not only have to learn who their consumers are, they have to have ongoing conversations with them. These conversations last the duration of the consumer/brand relationship, and must be authentic and responsive, like conversations in real life.

We’ve moved away from a “broadcast” marketplace, where brands could say their spiel and hope everyone believed it. In this model, whoever spoke the loudest won, but it mattered less if what they said was actually true. As “on brand” as a marketing and communications plan can be, a company can no longer rest on their taglines and snappy claims alone. All communications are dynamically field-tested in the conversational marketplace with informed consumers who wish to be spoken to, not at.

This is an evolution in brand design and marketing, where intimate relationships have to be formed based on real human values — trust, authenticity, vulnerability, telling the truth.

This evolution is driven by the dynamic channels brands now have to show up on, and the need to engage in the conversational marketplace is only increasing. We are quickly transitioning from a “curated” social paradigm (one of posting fixed, marketing content) to a “behaved” paradigm (one of engaging in real-time conversation and action), where what matters will be the connections made and the building of relationships over time, not quick hits from quickly disappearing content. This will be especially true when augmented and virtual realities become the primary environments of engagement.

The real relationships with their audiences that brands must establish, maintain, and learn from, will be the foundation of success going forward, and empathy is the key to building real relationships. Brands must have empathy — not intellectual empathy or market research, but active empathy as part of conversation and behavior — for their consumer that is enacted in real-time and central to their business model.

Some brands are already doing well in the conversational marketplace. Glossier, Casper, Billie, Away, and Outdoor Voices to name a few. These are all empathically-driven brands that develop marketing campaigns, product strategies and even their brand voice, audience-first.

Our favorite example of a company born from the conversational marketplace is Glossier, a “Beauty brand inspired by real life.” Glossier was developed out of a blog and a community of women seeking products that reflect and integrate into their lifestyle. In this close brand/consumer relationship, the brand mediates less of an archetypal projection for the consumer, not having to carry the burden of a fixed archetype or identity as with more traditional brands, and the consumer relates more of their authentic selves to the brand. The result is a brand like Glossier that looks and sounds like the audiences it serves.

The conversational marketplace opens up a depth of consumer interest and advocacy for brands they love. They are helping to steward the brand to be more relevant, more responsive to their needs, and ultimately more successful. As influence becomes democratized and individuals have sway with their own personal audiences, the need for brands to build trusted relationships with them is essential.

Building and revisioning brands in the conversational marketplace requires a roadmap. We need a framework that is dynamic, helping us to navigate complex conversations and stay consistently human. Pt. III explores this framework. Engagement archetypes is a tool that supports the self-inquiry required for brands to be authentically engaged in conversations with those they seek to serve.




We are a strategic and design workshop in New York City.

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