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Chapter 7 | Narrative Guidebook


What’s your role with customers beyond seller and buyer?

Your narrative needs to explain why someone should have a relationship with you beyond the benefits of buying your product.

That relationship can be represented and understood through archetypes.

Archetypes clarify roles

Archetypes are one way to define the relationship between you and your customers, beyond Buyer and Seller.

Have you ever seen an improv comedy show? If so, you know that every sketch starts with two things: a setting and roles. If you don’t know the roles, you can’t do the sketch.

You might know the setting is a restaurant, but the roles might be chef and sous-chef, waiter and a couple on a date. But even if you know it’s a couple on a date, is it a blind date, or a breakup, or a couple celebrating their 50th anniversary?

Most companies operate inside only a few archetype relationships. The most common are Seller : Buyer, Employer : Employee, and Distributor : Reseller.

These all have one thing in common: they are all commercial relationships based on a transaction.

Your narrative needs to explain why someone should have a relationship with you beyond the benefits of buying your product or service. Archetypes can clarify which relationships make sense between you and your customers, outside of the traditional business roles of Seller and Buyer.





The default role for Nike would be Manufacturer : Customer. Nike makes shoes, apparel, and equipment for their customers to buy, wear and use.

But Nike’s strongest archetypes is not that of a Manufacturer or Shoemaker.

Nike’s DNA includes the influence of Bill Bowerman, the former coach of the Oregon track team and the inventor of the original waffle sole. Bill was one part coach and one part inventor, always tinkering with the best gear to help his athletes go faster.

These brand archetypes continue to this day. As Coach and Outfitter, Nike is always looking to inspire better performance and to provide the equipment to make that possible.





Sephora’s approach to customer service and segmentation can be seen through the lens of archetypes and the relationships between them.

The Shared Purpose for Sephora is reflected in its current tagline: “Be Fearless.”

Sephora’s salespeople are known as advisors. So you might think the relationship is Advisor:Customer. But that would still be a commercial relationship.

Instead, Sephora has found that there are two different archetypal dynamics that show up in their interactions with customers. One is Teacher:Student, where the customer is looking to the advisor for expertise and instruction.

In the other dynamic, the customer sees themself as having some degree of expertise already. They want to collaborate and share ideas with the advisor as a peer. The relationship is therefore more symmetrical, like Artist:Artist.

Interestingly and importantly, Sephora advisors are trained to look for signals that determine which role to use in every interaction with a customer.

Do they want to be a student and learn from the advisor’s expertise? Or do they want to be appreciated and related to as a peer?


SAP Analytics

Q:James Bond

SAP Analytics identified their Shared Purpose as “better business decisions" and their Path to Purpose as “turning data into insight.”

The Q:James Bond relationship emerged from a brainstorming session after SAP identified itself as fundamentally a toolmaker, and in particular a maker of tools for mission-critical assignments.

One of the team members said, “Like Q for James Bond.” In the movies, Q is the spymaster who outfits James Bond with the futuristic gadgets he needs to complete his mission.

Now when someone from SAP walks into a meeting with a client, they see the person on the other side of the desk not only as a customer, but as an agent in need of innovative tools to help them complete a mission-critical assignment.


Brand Archetypes

Think about your Shared Purpose, DNA and especially your contribution. What kinds of archetypes go with this contribution?

If you bring expertise, are you a Scientist, Engineer or Teacher? If you are someone that connects people together, are you a Broker, Matchmaker or Party Host? Don't be afraid to be metaphorical rather than literal.

As you identify these archetypes, be sure to think about the archetypes of the customer or other stakeholders that go along with them. You are looking to identify reciprocal sets of archetypes that have a relationship between them. So if your brand enacts the Teacher archetype, that means your customers might enact the Student. Coach naturally goes with Athlete, Conductor goes with Musician, and so on.

Use the worksheet to capture ideas about your brand archetypes.


What’s your relationship with customers beyond seller and buyer?

  • Brand archetypes can explain why customers would want to have a relationship with you beyond the benefits of buying your product.
  • Archetypes help your brand know what its role is, how it relates to your customers, and how they should relate to you
  • While Path to Purpose differentiates your approach to a Shared Purpose, your brand archetypes set the tone of your conversations with stakeholders along the way

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