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Rare Breed Virtues: A New Strategic Tool for Brand Leaders

You know Brand Archetypes. They help branding agencies assign human qualities to a company and turn them into memorable identity, messaging, campaigns, and products.

However, it might be time to put the Brand Archetypes out to pasture where they can frolic with other branding frameworks. There’s a new branding tool roaming the streets - the RARE BREED® Brand Wheel.

There’s a problem with Archetypes, and it’s a consequence of their popularity. After years of widespread use, they’ve become familiar and shopworn. Calling a brand an Explorer, Outlaw or a Hero used to be an act of creative valor; now, it’s sort of mundane.

But that’s not their biggest drawback. Clients often want to be a little of each and brand strategists and agencies cave to the request. We’re looking at you, "We're a bit of Rebel with a pinch of Explorer." This practice leads to diluted positioning and conflicting brand messaging.

If your goal is to craft innovative, stirring, culture-shifting brands that move people’s hearts (not just their bank accounts), start with executing a brand through the lens of a Rare Breed Virtue. It can unleash powerful brand positioning. Why? Because it begs you to focus. Its intentionally restrictive. It helps clients choose a virtue that can be reflected in their leadership, culture, and brand. It reveals itself in your choices, too. You’re either ruthlessly Obsessed, or you let things slide. You either charm your audience with a bit of Hypnotic spellbinding, or you manipulate and defraud.

Nearly fifteen years at the helm of our branding and leadership company Motto® have taught us that today’s smart, hyper-aware consumers want something different—to buy from companies who are a Rare Breed in their category. Brands that can connect and tap into beliefs they can relate to. Give them a inauthentic brand and shortly, they’ll spit it back in your face.

As branding experts our calling is to imagine brands that sing in voices no one has heard before. If we want our audience to think different, don’t we have to start by thinking different ourselves? You could build a safe, vanilla brand that gets the needle twitching and makes competitors lift their eyebrows for a sec. Or you could break out the ghost peppers and Uncle Carlo’s 5-alarm chili recipe and cook up something that sends the competition into a sweating, gibbering panic. But you won’t do it with conventional branding.

That’s what the RARE BREED® Brand Wheel aims to do. It’s a counteroffer to traditional frameworks and guides brand creatives away from the safe, sterile and mediocre and into the territory of the counterintuitive and dangerous.

Odd advice? Maybe, but the corporate world is a stew of contradictions. On one hand, leaders are preoccupied with fit, the idea that hiring folks whose personality traits and values click into their culture like Legos is the key to building a tribe of warrior-poets who’ll lift them to a billion-dollar market cap. On the other, half of CEOs talk like they have Apple’s “Think Different” ad copy about rebels and troublemakers tattooed on their forearms.

Which is it, conformity or innovation? You can’t have both. In nearly two decades helping wild-eyed startups and established giants build their brands, we’ve noticed a pattern. More often than not, the leaders of the most creative, disruptive companies don’t play well with others. They’re temperamental and stubborn. Rebellious. Arrogant and emotional. They’re also wired to think around corners, challenge convention, and break what needs to be broken. For all their quirks and sharp elbows, they’re visionaries.

We call them Rare Breeds. And, Rare Breed thinkers create Rare Breed brands and companies.

It started with our book, RARE BREED: A Guide to Success for the Defiant, Dangerous, and Different (HarperCollins). In it, we identified seven oft-misunderstood personality traits or so-called “Vices” that we re-defined as Virtues: Rebellious, Audacious, Obsessed, Hot-Blooded, Weird, Hypnotic, and Emotional. Our epiphany was that while people with these traits are often derided as strange, quarrelsome misfits, they’re the same people who make visionary leaps, champion stunning innovations, and lead causes like #MeToo and Black Lives Matter. In other words, they’re the personalities who found and lead great companies.

The RARE BREED® Brand Wheel taps into that same rabble-rousing, primal scream energy. Instead of categorizing brands according to generic archetypes, it assigns each brand a Virtue based on the values and character of the flesh-and-blood humans running the show:

  • Rebellious Rare Breed brands hurl themselves against the walls of business-as-usual to see what breaks. Apple’s Rebellious spirit led them to reinvent the MP3 player, the phone, and the world.

  • Audacious Rare Breed brands do the impossible. They see realities other people can’t and have the nerve to try to bring them into being. Swedish oat milk giant Oatly consistently sets the world on its ear with unconventional marketing.

  • Obsessed Rare Breed brands go all in, 24/7, consumed by the details. This isn’t a bug; it’s their operating system. Amazon is Obsessed because Jeff Bezos is obsessed.

  • Hot-Blooded Rare Breed brands come to the table with fire and intensity that unleashes their passion. For an organization like PETA, nothing can stand in the way of their fervor for protecting the welfare of animals.

  • Weird Rare Breed brands are strange, absurd, and bizarre. They dare to do what makes us swoon, laugh, cry, or gasp in awe. Purple draws stares for its oddball marketing and unusual gridded mattresses…but it works.

  • Hypnotic Rare Breed brands are spell-binding and seductive. They influence (and even manipulate) with charisma. Ace Hotels, the urban artisan wunderkind of the lodging world, casts a spell on guests and fans.

  • Emotional Rare Breed brands lead with their hearts and show up with empathy, kindness, and intuition. Yogurt maker Chobani gives us the feels because its founder, Hamdi Ulukaya, is a warm-hearted humanitarian.

A company’s brand forges a stronger, deeper connection with its customers when it’s built on the character and values of its leadership. The RARE BREED® Brand Wheel is branding for innovation. If you want your client’s brands to be different, you start by utilizing new frameworks that can’t help but bring “different” to the table.


By Sunny Bonnell & Ashleigh Hansberger

Founders of the game-changing leadership and brand consultancy, Motto. Authors of the groundbreaking business/career book RARE BREED

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