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Brand Archetypes — Meet the Sage

Nyla Smith | Tuesday, January 12, 2016

What is truth? If you are the Sage brand archetype, this is the question that keeps you up at night. A perfectionist by nature, the Sage won’t settle for ambiguity and is on a mission to analyze everything to find the right answer and share it with others. News outlets, museums, and universities fall under the Sage archetype.

This post is a part of a series on the 12 Brand Archetypes and how to use them to build a stronger brand. To learn more, read the introduction here.

All About the Sage

The Sage

  • Promise: The truth will set you free.
  • Core desire: The discovery of truth
  • Goal: To use intelligence to understand the world
  • Fear: Being duped; ignorance
  • Strategy: Seek out information; understand processes
  • Gift: Wisdom
  • Motivation: Independence and fulfillment

The Sage believes the path to happiness is paved with knowledge and that by seeking out the truth and sharing it with others, we can make the world a better place. The Sage shuns ambiguity, misinformation, misleading claims, and ignorance, whether in itself or in others. Sage brands generally have high levels of consciousness and intelligence.

Snags occur when the Sage becomes too focused on the dogma of objective truth and loses touch with social graces. (You Sherlock Holmes and House fans out there know what I’m talking about.) The neverending quest for absolute answers could also result in an acute case of “analysis paralysis” and prevent the Sage from ever taking action.

The Sage Brand in Action

Typically touted as “experts,” these brands act as sources of guidance to help consumers feel more informed to make better decisions. Well-known brands such as Oprah Winfrey, Harvard University, Mayo Clinic, The New York Times, and CNN all position themselves as beacons, shining the light of truth in a dark, often confusing, world.

The Sage brand is a natural fit for any company that places emphasis on research and development, the acquisition of knowledge, or disseminating information. Examples include institutions of higher education, news sources, research firms, museums, bookstores, and libraries.

Brands that identify with the Sage often use polished and dignified marketing materials and don’t try to impress with superficial fluff or gimmicks. Sage brands tend to gravitate to a palette of neutral or subdued colors such as gray, navy, or white for their marketing designs and logos. Accordingly, some Sage brands produce marketing materials that veer from the status quo in an effort to make people see things in a different way.

Adhering always to their quest for knowledge, Sage brands refuse to “dumb down” their marketing, as that would be an insult to the intelligence of their customers. The focus instead is on knowledge and sometimes exclusivity. (Think Ivy League colleges, where not everyone is “good enough” and only a select few receive that coveted acceptance letter).

The culture within Sage brands is often focused on analysis, learning, research, and planning. These brands encourage freedom of thought and individuality amongst their employees so they can develop the most valuable company asset - expertise.

The Different Levels of the Sage Archetype

Each archetype has levels, with the lower levels being less advanced, while higher levels are more evolved or developed.

Level 1: Conducting a search for absolute truth by looking to experts to provide answers and objectivity.

Level 2: Aiming to become an expert through critical thinking and analysis.

Level 3: Achieving expert status through wisdom and a high level of confidence in one’s area of expertise.

All in the Family

There are different aspects of the Sage archetype that can emerge, based on the strength of various attributes. The book Archetypes in Branding breaks the Sage (including the primary Sage) for a total of five to complete the family.

  1. Sage
    Motivated by a desire to seek the truth, the Sage values knowledge and learning. With an independent streak a mile wide and a healthy dose of skepticism, the Sage prefers to make rational decisions based on research.

    Challenges arrive in the forms of arrogance and a rigid reliance on dogma. Others dread the classic “know-it-all” attitude and accompanying air of righteousness.

  2. Mentor
    The Mentor’s very existence is devoted to sharing wisdom for the benefit and support of others. The ability to remain objective and be a good judge of character serves the Mentor well and ups the level of trustworthiness. Everything the Mentor does is based on a desire to make sure the right outcomes are reached.

    The Mentor needs to be careful about dispensing all that info because a “helping hand” can easily morph into “an iron fist” if no one’s watching.

  3. Detective
    Like all great sleuths, the Detective diligently searches to uncover what is hidden. The Detective possesses a fondness for puzzles and has a keen eye for empirical evidence, but is also deeply intuitive and relies on instinct.

    Even if the Detective doesn’t want to admit it, the search for truth can be a selfish pursuit rather than for the benefit of others and the Detective may land in hot water if the search for truth turns into snooping.

  4. Shaman
    Spiritual in nature, although not necessarily tied to religion, the Shaman has a mystical power to see and tell the truth, particularly from a “higher consciousness” or alternative perspective. (Deepak Chopra is a good example of a Sage brand that would fall into this subarchetype.)

    Dangers abound if the Shaman develops a false sense of power, as that could lead to bogus claims and manipulation.

  5. Translator
    A superb communicator, the Translator taps into universal truths by interpreting meaning and connecting patterns. An intelligent messenger, the Translator is attracted to communication and language.

    Before sharing those divine truths with the world, the Translator would be well served to remember the old saying “Haste makes waste” whenever the urge to make premature conclusions strikes.

Real world Example of Sage Brands

Toyota Research Institute

Japanese auto giant Toyota announced its plan to start The Toyota Research Institute in January 2016. The company’s motto is “We run on brainpower” and they are putting their money where their brain is by researching artificial intelligence to the tune of $1 billion, with the goal of making the world a better place by producing safer vehicles that won’t harm the environment.


TED

TED, which stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design, is a nonprofit organization known mostly for its informational TED Talks on every subject imaginable. The group’s mission is to build “a clearinghouse of free knowledge from the world’s most inspired thinkers” and they believe in the power of ideas to change the world (and stop the sniffles).

TED Talk: How germs travel on planes — and how we can stop them


Oprah Winfrey

The Oprah brand positions itself as a source of information and enlightenment. Millions of people turn to her as a source of guidance and truth and accept her word as gospel. Evidence of the Oprah brand as a strong Mentor is everywhere: The Oprah Winfrey Show, the O, Oprah Magazine, a book club and even her own television network. Oprah’s brand pulls double duty as a Mentor (a trusted source of empowering support) and as a Shaman (since many of her topics focus on spirituality). In many ways, Oprah could be considered the ultimate guru.

The Sage Consumer

Sage consumers are a tough bunch. They don’t succumb easily to the “herd mentality” because they recognize the value of independent thought. But if your brand identifies with the Sage archetype, you will be among likeminded folks when reaching out to your customers.

Sage consumers enjoy learning for learning’s sake and for the pure joy of adding new knowledge to their memory banks. They appreciate brands that are transparent and tend to be suspicious of brands that act like they have something to hide. They revel in hard data and brands that can give them a limitless supply will earn their trust.

When approaching Sage consumers, don’t engage in high-pressure sales and marketing tactics. Instead, give them the information they need to make an informed decision. Since intelligence is the trait they prize above all else, it’s no surprise that Sage consumers aren’t afraid of products with a challenging learning curve. Talking down to your audience or coming on too hard are sure ways to turn off a Sage consumer.

Is Your Brand a Sage?

While most companies will perform some type of research and development, and hopefully don’t consciously strive to misinform, there are some brands for which knowledge and truth are top priorities, no exceptions. If your company’s reason for being is to seek out the truth, provide expertise or information to others, or if you place a high value on knowledge, your brand is likely a Sage archetype.

Still not sure which archetype defines your brand? Take the brand archetype quiz to find out your results and then check out an overview of the 12 brand archetypes to learn more.

Nyla Smith is a Graphic Designer, Web Designer, Front-End Web Developer and Consultant with over 12 years of experience. She is the owner of n-Vision Designs, LLC in Hampton, Virginia, which exists to provide marketing support and brand consulting to small- and medium-sized businesses needing creative solutions. Contact Nyla if you'd like to discuss your next creative project. She can usually be bribed to a meeting with a cup of green tea and an oatmeal cookie.
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