American Marketer


Uncovering archetypal patterns in the customer’s story

October 7, 2014

Amy Shea is founder/president of ASC Inc. Amy Shea is founder/president of ASC Inc.


By Amy Shea

Critic Kenneth Burke once said, "Stories are equipment for living." Indeed. We look to them, seek them out, give them our attention. And, to the masterful ones, we give them our hearts.

Is it any mystery then, with such a powerful mechanism at their disposal that luxury brands want to tell their customers a story?

For most luxury brands, a story is easily at hand. Beginnings in a handcrafted century, perhaps. A founder turned fashion icon. Bags that are the stuff of Hollywood legend.

In the bag
In the luxury category, finding a story to tell about the brand is not hard. What is harder, but worth doing, is the brand telling an archetypal story about the customer.

Brand stories are not the answer to equipping the luxury buyer for how to live. Those stories may be interesting, well shot and very pretty. They may even create some identification, and translate into sales. But those brands remain vulnerable to another brand telling a new story, or telling the same story better, or telling it on Instagram.

The masterful stories are those the customer owns, where the brand character has a starring role. These stories are co-created – collaborations where the brand has told the customer's own story to her, reflecting back not only her heart, but illuminating how the brand is the vital equipment for the life she intends to live.

This brand/customer point of view is not simply a matter of semantics. When a luxury brand tells its own story, the values in that story are those of the brand. It shows itself off, talks about where it is from, how well made it is, how special.

While the customer may appear in the story, he or she is an occasional guest star in the luxury brand's show. Customers know this, just as we all know when people we meet are most interested in talking about themselves so you will like them.

And then there is the person you meet that inquires about you, that draws your story out of you, creates identification. There is a true conversation, an exchange, an immediate feeling of greater intimacy and even closeness. You feel known, and more than that – you feel they want to know you.

That shift in perspective is everything when it comes to the most resonant narrative a brand can tell. In personal relationships, it creates intimacy and friendship. With brands, it means identification and ownership, the kind of connection that is most open to messaging and lifetime relationships, resilient to competitors.

Those customer-centered narratives go beyond re-heated stories that have been drained of their flavor through repetition and over-exposure. Masterful stories are able to do this because they call upon the most powerful tool in all narration, the stuff of legends: archetypes.

Type cast
Archetypes are fundamental human motifs, understood through emotional patterns in story. They draw from the past but timelessly contemporary.

While cultural interpretations of the same archetype are found throughout history, the essence of the archetype functions at a human level, transcending culture.

Archetypes are found in our earliest myths, our revered cannons, and our finest films. And they can be leveraged for luxury branding to create deep customer connections.

Also, archetypes are not formulas, and so careful examination must be given to identifying what archetypes are in play in the brand's category, and the nuances that will create the most resonant archetypal story.

Technology, most especially, has shifted the characteristics of some key archetypes in profound ways that must be understood. But there is no better work for a luxury brand to take on than to uncover the archetypal patterns in the customer's story. Only then can a brand help shape it, and take that narrative journey together.

Amy Shea is founder/president of ASC Inc., a New York-based luxury brand consultancy. Reach her at