HanPrim 06-8-127      


Create Zealots for your Brand, Your Company, and Your Future


Patrick Hanlon

Free Press (Simon & Schuster), 2006, 257 pp.  ISBN 0-7432-7797-X



Hanlon has been a senior executive at some of the world’s most creative advertising agencies.  Hanlon says that a brand is a community of believers held together by seven assets that create a belief system.  A concept book, it is long on description including many illustrative examples and stories.


“What is the magic glue that sticks together consumers and Google, Mini Cooper, and Oprah and not others?” (4)  “The result of this quest led to a much larger question of how ideologies—belief systems—come to exist.”  There are ‘seven definable assets that construct meaning behind the brand…seven brand messages that must be delivered to create preferential brand appeal.” (6)


“Primal branding is about delivering the primal code.”  “Those seven assets are: ‘the creation story”; “the creed”; “the icons”; “the rituals”’ “the pagans”’ “the sacred words”’ and “the leader.”  Together, these pieces of primal code construct a belief system.  Brands are belief systems.”  (6)


“Once you look at a brand as a belief system, it automatically gains all the advantages that enterprise strives for: trust, vibrancy, relevance, a sense of values, community, leadership, vision, empathy, commitment, and more.  With the seven pieces of primal code in place you have created a belief system and products and services that people can believe in.” (7)


“Believing is belonging.  When you are able to create brands that people believe in, you also create groups of people who feel that they belong.”  “…we all want to belong to something larger than ourselves.  That community can surround a product or service, a personality, a social or political cause, or a civic community.” (7)


“What we call primal branding is the ability to make people feel better about your brand than another.” (7)


The Creation Story.  “Where you come from is as important for people to know as what you believe and what your advantages are.”  “It is crucial for everyone to have an understanding of who you are and where you come from.  It is the foundation of trust.” (11-12)  “Creation stories usually embody the who and the why.  Who the founder of any nation or organization was and why they started is important for people to know.”  (13-14)  “The creation story often involves a mythic quest.” (16) “The creation story is the crucial first step in providing answers to why people should care about you, or your product or service.” (19)


The Creed.  “All ideologies begin with a set of core principles.” (20)  “Defining, understanding, and communicating your mission are critical to the success of your brand….”  “These are all simple, concise statements that embody hugely bold ideas.  The creed is the singular notion that you want people to believe.” (21)


The Icons. “Icons are quick concentrations of meaning that cause your brand identity and brand values to spontaneously resonate.  The Nike swoosh.”  “The smell of Cinnabons,” …sensory imprints that instantly summon the brand essence.” “The simplest and often easiest icon to recognize is the company logo.” (26)  But there are many other kinds of icons.


The Rituals.  “Our daily lives are filled with … key ritualistic behaviors.”  Driving to work in the morning.  Logging onto the Internet or searching Google.  “Rituals are touch points with your brand and ideology that might be made more pleasant, more engaging, enhanced, simplified, less frustrating, or more fun.”  (54)


“When large corporations merge...they bring with them a collision of competing rituals.” “The truth is that the spirit of both companies is built, in part, around those seemingly unimportant rituals.”  (55)


Rituals are the meaningful repeated points of contact between you and your guest, customer, client, or target market.”  “These interactions with the customer can be flat experiences, or they can serve as enriching touch points that excite consumers and intensify the brand experience.” (68)  “The real power is understanding how rituals can be tweaked and made more interesting, more evolved, or otherwise better suited to their purposes.” (56)


The Pagans, or Nonbelievers.  “Part of saying who you are and what you stand for is also declaring who you are not and what you don’t stand for.” (70)  7Up declared itself the ‘uncola.’  “Defining your pagans is important in defining who you are.  This can be difficult when marketers do not want to exclude potential customers and mass markets.” (71)


The Sacred Words.  “All belief systems come with a set of specialized words that must be learned before people can belong.”  “If you are a computer user you understand what it means to ‘log on,’ what a ‘virus’ is, and what it means to ‘crash.’  (72)  “Words tell who we are.”  “Therefore, sacred words are not simply professional jargon but … also bind people together as a group and are often crucial to working together effectively.” (73) 


Any teenage text messaging knows ttyl 2g 2wk lyl.  “If you know the language, you belong.” (75)  “Many sacred words are invented constructions.  iPod. Iced grande skinny decaf latte.”  (76)  “Belief systems come with their own invented lexicon that has precious meaning for those who believe.” (77) 


The Leader.  “All successful belief systems have a person who is the catalyst, the risk taker, the visionary, the iconoclast who set out against all odds…to re-create the world according to their own sense of self, community, and opportunity.” (78)  Enterprise without a leader is like a headless elephant.  It may eventually get somewhere, but only by destroying everything in its path along the way.” (78)


Primal Belonging.

“All belief systems have people who believe, advocates who feel that the brand offers a place where they can belong.”  “First, consumers invest themselves in your brand by purchasing products or services because they believe in them.  Second, they are willing to help convince others to belong….  Finally, advocates believe so strongly in the brand that they fiercely defend it against rivals.” (87)


“Properly managed, the primal construct can help you create a belief system that results in a group of evangelists committed to advocating for you through thick and thin.” 


“Often, the most overlooked group is the people inside your own organization.  If you can’t get your employees to believe, how can they possibly convince others…to believe?” (88)


“Building a sense of community is what belonging is all about.” (94)


Primal Perfect.  [I’m not sure what these titles mean. dlm]

To order at Starbucks you have to learn the sacred language.  The ritual of affordable luxury is intensified.  Pepsi topes the list of Coke pagans.  The IBM creed was the slogan, “Think!”  The Amazon creation story was about Jeff Bezos writing up the business plan in the back seat while his wife drove across the country.  Fast Company magazine developed a relationship with its readers.  The icons were the magazine issues and the monthly ritual was picking it up on the newsstand.  The humble brown vehicles tell customers UPS represents their customers and not themselves.  The icons, rituals, and creed of the Marine Corps run very deep. 


“The primal code is all part of a narrative; it is storytelling.  When pieces of the story are missing, the story becomes less interesting, people become less interested.  …they feel dissatisfied and turn away.” (153)


The Primal Personality.

Television and movie stars are brands.  “If Oprah has a creed, it is about self-determination and personal growth.”  “…doing what my heart says all the time.” (195)


Primal Reengineering.

“Primal branding is an organizing principle to help products, services, personalities, and civic communities achieve popular appeal.” (209)  “The sever pieces of primal code are a map—or checklist—that can help guide your efforts to create a brand that people can believe in.” (210) 


“Many firms still haven’t figured out their company creed, or a statement that declares what they are all about.” (211)


“Brands are active engagements that continually reboot themselves to keep the consumer wondering what’s going to happen next.” (211)


“The first step in primal branding is to determine where your brand exists in the minds of customers.” (215)


“The origin story is the beginning of the brand narrative, the start of the mission.”  “When companies merge…the origin story needs to be rebooted around the new corporate vision.”  (217)


“The creed should answer the question, Why do we belong in people’s lives?  … Why should people care?”  “What, after all, does your company believe in?” (218) “The creed is a principle; it is what the company is about.”  It is a ‘promise to a customer.”  “The responsibility is to make sure that in every way you are meeting the expectation of the consumer.”  (220)


“The expression of what your product or service is about becomes concentrated and instantly communicated in your icons.”  “Icons can be as simple as your company logo or as discreet as senses like taste or smell.  Icons can be the product itself.”  “How does your brand make an impression?” (220)


“…rituals are actions that involve how the product is used, how the service is engaged, where and how the consumer goes to shop, and how the product is maintained, returned, renewed, downloaded, or updated.”  “…think through how people become involved with your brand.” (223) 


The pagans are most often your competition.  “Who are you not? What are you trying to avoid? Who are you up against?” (225)


“What are the words that define your company or yourself?  What words resonate internally or with consumers?  What words help define who you are or what you want to become?” (226)


“Finally, you must find leaders.  The natural place to look within large organizations is to the founder, chief executive officer, or president.” (227)


“Creating a corporate work culture that people can believe in is critical for employee enthusiasm, work performance, and efficiency.  It also motivates vendors, suppliers, lenders, and others who come into contact with the organization.  Establishing and promoting a working culture is critical when companies merge together.” (229)


When employees don’t understand the values of the company they bring their own.  “The result is a confused sense of mission, blurred motivations, loss of leadership, disgruntled employees, and apathy.” (230)


“Using primal branding, leaders can create and sustain a company and mission that people believe in.”  “The essence of this belonging resonates in a refreshed sense of commitment, trust, empathy, vision, mission, and values within the organization.”  “Building corporate cultures is one of the most vital tasks facing organizations today.” (213)


“Brands are ideologies with their own universe of truths, iconography, history, heroes, and demons.”  (233)  “The more pieces of code communicated to your public, the stronger your cause, organization, product, service, or community.”  “Creating a world of believers means creating a group of people who feel they belong to your ideals and want to convince others of your cause.” (235)


“Think of the things that means something to you.  They all come from someplace (‘creation story’).  They stand for something (‘creed’).  They are symbolized by a sign, a sound, a smell (‘icon’).  You do certain specified things regarding them (‘rituals’).  Certain words evoke that experience (‘sacred words’).  You contrast that experience against other experiences (‘pagans’).  They have an individual, whether real or fictional, who is behind the whole thing (‘leader’). It’s all about creating a sense of meaning.” (237)


“Primal branding contains a web of relationships and inferences that bang at the drum of our emotional mind-set.” (239)


Further reading on branding:

22 Immutable Laws of Branding, Al Ries,  


Branded Nation, James B. Twitchell 




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