In this episode of the ROI Online Podcast, host Steve Brown speaks with Patrick Hanlon, author of Primal Branding. Patrick works with a number of large brands, and his unique book has grown in influence over time; the book has a perennial nature, and its popularity grew at a slow burn, rather than exploding onto the marketing scene in a flash and quickly growing obsolete. The book grew out of Patrick’s perception that a number of brands were not representing themselves in as authentic and compelling a way as they could. In his book, he works through the code that underlies effective branding. This code is common to all kinds of messaging trying to appeal to people, from that of a church to that of any business. The seven components of the code are creation story, ceed, rituals, icons, sacred words, non-believers, and leaders. The code is a strategic brand narrative, and understanding it helps consumers to gain a sense of familiarity and belonging. The goal in working with this code is to fill in the spaces in a consumer’s mind in a way that makes more sense than the last guy did, drawing them into a business by drawing them into the business’s narrative. Patrick’s work highlights the fact that even brands are communities. In a culture today that prizes authenticity and community, Patrick has seen the primal code broadly and effectively used. He continues to move on to new and exciting projects, such as his current work with IBM, and he even holds Primal live events. Listen to learn how Patrick comments on senses as icons, primal code and its help in acquiring funding, expanding one’s influence as an author, and even the primal code construct applying to veterans returning home. Learn more about Patrick’s book, Primal Branding. Read Steve Brown’s book, The Golden Toilet.Thinking of starting your own podcast? Buzzsprout’s secure and reliable posting allows you to publish podcasts online. It also includes full iTunes support, HTML5 players, show statistics, and WordPress plugins. Get started using this link to receive a $20 Amazon gift card and to help support our show!Support the show (https://cash.app/$stevemfbrown)
I'm curious at some point you had this epiphany where this kind of revealed itself to you is probably there all along. But one day it just really revealed itself. Talk to us about about that day. Yeah. Well, um I want to respond to something you just said though first and that is that yeah, we got very lucky with the examples that I chose which still are are still around most of them. And the and the thing about the construct, primal construct is that It's it was as true 4000 years ago as it will be to 4000 years from now and it's basically it's based upon human behaviors and um rationale and emotional stuff. And in the book there are things like Ted conference which I talked about Shepard, Fairey, wired magazine and a bunch of other things that still apple, other things that still exists today and they're just as relevant now as they were then, which I guess in some ways just occurred to me kind of proves that out. But I, I, you know, we've talked about this before, Stephen, there are three kinds of people that write books. There are people are professors in the academy who need to write in order to keep their jobs are journalists who also need to write about things, but then there are practitioners like you and me, and we don't necessarily need to write a book, but like you, I found this gap out there in the world and um, and just thought, hey, there's a better way of doing this, or at least a different way of doing this thought at the time. And in my case, I was working on a project, the client project and I just felt that they were being just ingenuous, um, a little bit fake, a little bit um artificial today. We would say that they were being not being authentic for themselves and but we didn't articulate that as being authentic, you know, back in 1999 2000 2001. And so the client at the time was lago and I was working on, I was one of the, I was in advertising and I was working on as one of the executive creative directors on Lago assume that there are probably other ones because there are also other agencies at the time. And um but I was going back and forth between Berlin and new york city villages where lego headquarters is in Denmark in the middle of nowhere and between there and new york city. And then I was also going to the lego land in um Carlsbad held in California north of san Diego. And um that's when I learned that you could buy a Mighty Mouse roller coaster and put whatever kind of shell you want on it, you could put a steve brown shell on there and uh, I online shell on there, you can have your own own roller coaster ride, you know, and that's what lego is doing. They were taking off the shelf elements and putting them on, whereas in the legal land, at the legal land in bill and at headquarters that have been done by the grandfather and it was like, well he was there walt Disney and it was very, um, there was a heart and soul there, right. And so, so to make a long story short, the, that is exactly, that was a feeling that I had, was exactly the same time that a Mckinsey consultant was working with them and he told the family that if they continued on the way they were going to be out of business in the next two or three years and so there, what I felt in my gut was actually in reality happening. And so what I started to think about is why do we care about some products and services and not about others and the company either the companies that make them and or the products and there were the usual ones. Um, but there were also like coca cola and american express and things like that. But there were also, there was a coffee company that was sweeping the nation at that time called Starbucks and they weren't doing any advertising. And remember my perspective at the time was in advertising from advertising from an advertising point of view and they weren't advertising and google was, had just started become popular. They had just been created Maybe two years old or something and they were not advertising, there was no youtube or twitter or anything like that yet and our facebook and the um so there would always be this and I talked about this in the book a little bit, but there would always be this uncomfortable moment when you're presenting a campaign and you've gone all the way up through the hierarchy of the company, the advertiser and you'd finally be at the Ceo or president and they'd say, well, google and Starbucks don't advertise and they seem to be doing very well, they're on fire. Why should we be spending $30 million on this advertising project campaign? And there would be an uncomfortable silence in the room and someone would pull something from the air and you know, we move on and you run the advertising. But um they had a point and there was something there that was outside of advertising that was going on, certainly at Starbucks and google and people were talking at that time about Nike tribes and the Apple called and all that, but they didn't know how to create it for themselves other than by imitating apple and Nike. And And which is why I always point to why today uh we still have gatorade commercials that run that looked like their 1990s Nike spots. And so the and I've been saying that for 10 years over almost 20 years now, right, like they pulled that white label mickey mouse version of that ad and just put caterer hit on it. And so so I started to think about icons, I thought it was the Nike swish and I thought about the cross and I thought about, you know, other things like that. And then I thought well they have icons and uh they all seem to have a creation story. Nike, you know, started in a garage er and Bill Barr Berman's kitchen making the waffle sole, his wife's waffle iron and Apple started in a garage and three am start as a as a sandpaper company. And IBM started as an office supplies company and you know and you just kind of go on from there. Hp started by the two guys Hewlett and Packard winding coils, you know, so they had that and then they had all these other things. They had a creed obviously think different just do it and so forth. They had icons rituals that went with the icons. They had a group of special words, I scrawny, skinny decaf latte. Uh they had people who didn't want to go there, nonbelievers, pagans, they called them at first. And um for all the Starbucks that are out there, there are still people going to tim Hortons or Dunkin donuts or these days, you know, stumptown or blue bottle or some other place that they prefer. And uh and then there's a leader. And so once you wrap all those things together, you have, you developed today, we call a strategic brand narrative which came from one of the books, which is nomenclature that came from someone who read the book and you pull that together and you construct, create to build what today we feel as a unifying theory that is really a level above social media, digital media uh in traditional advertising and experiences and helps drive the content that goes into those.
So it seems like the writers of Game of Thrones, they sat down with your book and as they can each, I don't know if they did that, but I think they knew how to do it all on their own right. And so it's kind of a great exercise. Yeah, that exists there. But yeah, Game of Thrones is one, I throw up there as one of the, it has all the pieces, right? Mhm. So over the years, Patrick has the appreciation for the insights in primal branding as it has. It wasn't like a big splash in the beginning, or is it like even more relevant now, Have you seen a shift in the way that brands are looking at or expectations of marketing? There has been a shift. Yeah. And in the beginning, well, let's go today, when I talk about community, everyone goes, Yeah, So, and I remember standing on stage after stage after stage in 2000 and 12345 whatever, and uh talking about brands, our communities and people thought, I was talking about either talking about church or minorities or movements or something in the neighborhood, my local neighborhood, they did not think of brands as being communities nor do they especially want to create one. And the, but that has changed, you know, and now we kind of take them for granted and people go, what else you have. So there has been that shift and I think that that shift happened through there's a great quote that max plank, the physicist had that I have kind of seized upon and that is that great theories, Scientific theories don't take hold because you finally convinced your peers that it's a great idea. All your peers, old piers die off and the next generation comes up and they go, well, of course, that's the way it is. Just makes so much sense. And so that's kind of where I find myself right now. And the it has had success obviously, but it didn't have immediate success. I wouldn't say although it did have some immediate success, but it was not like it came out the same year as Blue Ocean. The ocean strategies, which was a huge hit criminal has had more of a slow burn. And actually when I spoke with Simon and Schuster about changing the cover last year, they said, well, you have a Champagne problem. And there was static on the line. So I didn't really couldn't hear Champagne. And I said, I'm sorry, I'll get here. Is you have a problem? Static, static, static problem. And I went, I'm sorry. I didn't hear what you're saying. I thought I could just let them keep talking because I thought I'd be able to figure out what the problem was, but I couldn't. And so I said I'm sorry I heard there was a problem. What kind of problem do I have? And they said again you have a champagne problem And then I'm going what the hell is a champagne problem? And she said well you've been able to Do what every writer tries to do. And that is keep the book alive for more than 3-6 months. And I went oh okay I guess I can't afford champagne but I'll go buy some. So yeah it's been more of a slow burn and I'm grateful actually that I think it's better off not being a major hit in the beginning.
yeah. You know, I noticed in these interviews I was mentioning before they would have um senators or they would have these owners of these big brands, famous brands. And invariably at some point in the conversation, they would state a creed, they would couch it as you know, we believe and then they would say their creed and then they would talk about what we honor our employees and they would mention a ritual. And then obviously they had these iconic things that represented their culture and in specific words and it started to be obvious to me that the leaders that we follow and enjoy. They have these pieces either deliberately while deliberately, but also naturally they just took the time to deliberately we've this in and to identify them and nail him on a wall, so to speak. And they started to repeat it. And that's the difference between clarity of a brand and a fuzziness of what a brand is. Yeah. I was called the fog, The fog. Yeah. And you know it's a it's a rhetorical tool really Well I experienced it. So obviously I wrote a book we're talking about where I talk about you and your primal code in my book. But during the process of writing the book I took this tornado of ideas that were swirling around in my head for years and started to get it all dumped out and started to become more succinct over time and become organized and through that book several of these things started to reveal themselves and it made it easier for my team to be more clued in to what we believe and why we believe, what we do and why our perspective is unique and you know, where the line in the sand is. It was really cool to that exercise. I've always wondered what are some of the best ways that you've seen people? They usually exist but they're not obvious what is a process that you take teams through to identify it to help them like archaeology a dig and identify these things. Pick them up and dust them off. Well yeah they have to be interesting. The thing that some people do is they you know once I lay this down for them they go okay here's my creation story. I've got that. They'd say here's my creation story and they say the creed and yes here's what we believe in. And they kind of just spell it out for people when people don't really care. You have to take these things it's like the bones, it's the skeleton of the thing and you have to flesh it out and make it interesting. You know funny, sad. Bring some human emotion to the thing and make it interesting in some way which however you want to do it and whatever is appropriate for what you're doing right. And then it's not enough just to, because you know, advise a lot of Youtubers and it's not enough just to lay it down. Okay. I have it now and I've made this funny and I have icons and appear on the screen in such in such a way and all this in a Revolutionary War outfit or whatever it is, You then have to continually refresh those things so you don't get boring and dull. That's why things become boring and dull and you move from being a fad to becoming, you know, one hit wonder basically in the world we call it in the music business. They called a one hit wonder in the fashion business, It's a fad and in real life it's just dead in the water, You go away. That's why 80 90 of new products fails because they either don't do this in the first place and fill in all the blanks. So people just don't understand where they're coming from. And there's no story there. You were meaningless. Start off being meaningless and you wound up being meaningless in the end. So the important thing is to keep them resident, you have to keep switching them out and so forth. And so someone told me once that they have a chart on the wall with the seven pieces of code up there and they just look at the wall and they go, oh, we talked about non believers last week, let's talk about a creation story this week, and that's what they do. And then they get on with this is a quality other 36 things I have to do that day. And so that's important to know. And the other thing that's important to know is that some of this, when you read a good story, when you read a good book, when you see a good movie, you can pick out, you know, oh, here's where this, you know, black panther or any of them, uh you go through it and if you're looking for, you can pick out the creation story in the creed and all of these things and because they're all there, because those are the things that help make it relevant and resonate for us as people, as as an audience. And so we're just really just doing the same thing really. What I've done is I've gone back and deconstructed brand successful brands, powerful brands to see what made them tick. And this is what I came out with. And the important thing is that no one, while people were doing this through gut instinct, hiring smart partners who also did it through, got an integrated instinct and people had enough money to tide them through mistakes and so forth. But you automatically get trust vision, sense of values, resonance relevance and all the things that big companies spend millions or billions of dollars trying to keep going every year and you can do with zero money. We did a project with a Conservancy in Africa who had zero budget and all we did was tell their story. The only thing that might have cost money was we created a new logo for them. A friend of ours helped us out with that and create a new logo pro bono. And we wanted in 2016 or 17 we won the gold award for African Tourism. So against all the airlines, all the tourist bureaus, all the nations, all the hotel groups, etcetera, etcetera. This little Conservancy in kenya called nevoso won the gold award. That's cool. And all we did was use, that was used the code. So the, that doesn't mean that you don't need money because they certainly could have used money. But the, uh, we all could have used money that somewhere along the way there. But the point is is that you don't need money to do that. But of course the people with money like the amazons and Nikes and apples of the world, those companies are able to take this and they're able to hire really smart people to execute it. Smart, talented people to execute it and you know, do their Super Bowl spots or whatever they need to feel they need to do their instagram posts, et cetera and create the buzzy, those buzzy little moments and to get all those followers does take money because you have to push through the networks as you know,
I think where it started to click with me, Patrick was when I started thinking of icons right now we think of like you said the Nike swoosh or um, ralph Lauren or or all these logos definitely where we just accept and no, but when you think If this is something that is applicable 4000 years ago, that icon would have been some image that identified a tribe and when you're out with your tribe and you run into another tribe, you knew they weren't from your tribe by the way they were dressed or something iconic about them and you either knew you were in danger or you knew that this was a tribe. You could trade or conduct commerce with friends, awful. Yeah. And immediately that started to click with me and that imagine you're in that forest and you see a tribe around a fire, what you, you didn't just march into camp, you hung out on a perimeter and observed until you knew you were safe or you weren't And what you're talking about with these pieces of code, the same thing is going on when we're observing brands and discerning whether we want to be associated with that brand and the brands that have picked up these little pieces of the pieces of code and dusted them off and made them obvious. Then it makes it easy for us to discern whether we want to be a part of that or don't want to be a part of that. Yeah, the part of that resonates with me. As you go through that description is when you're standing outside the campfire, you're waiting, you stand there and wait until you are welcomed in and when if you are inside the circle already around the campfire, if someone comes in without waiting or without, it just becomes flying in there. Everyone's uncomfortable, stup uncomfortable. Yeah. I love them. You talk about the lexicon and it really clicked to me because let's say you go to a new church, maybe you're methodist and you go to a baptist church, you don't know the lexicon, you don't know when to stand up. You don't know when you're an outsider. Well you know you're an outsider, right? Yeah. I mean you feel it severely if you were a baptist and you were in a different town and you went into a baptist church, you'd feel at home. Yeah. It's because of these pieces of the primal code that you're familiar with and that you know you can speak the lingo, you understand the icons, you know who started it, you know what they believe, you know what they don't believe. Yeah. And for sure people who go to Comic Con or Burning Man or even the consumer electronics show, you know for the first time or a ted talk for that matter, people know that you're kind of looking for someone to guide. You know, you haven't been here before here. Let me help you out. You go over here and sign up and get your badge and blah blah blah. Right? And so the we have that same thing happening in stores all the time where people are unfamiliar with the stores, they're walking through them all right. And they walk in and either, you know, instantaneously, if you're gonna if you're gonna like it or not, you feel in your gut, right? And if you're with someone else who's been there before, you know, they might guide you in. But if your gut says get me out of here, you can't wait until they're done in that star. Right? And so the and that has to do with user experience. It has to do with preferences and all the cues and all that kind of thing. And when we talk about icons, I never really thought before about using all the senses as icons, which of course was ridiculous because we always think about the logo and these days of the website we do those things and their branding is done right? But there are other so many other cues that people have picked up on since I wrote the book. The first one being smell, which Abercrombie you know, took on a scale of 1 to 10. They took it to 11 sights. Sound Abercrombie again, they crank the music up sight, sound, smell, taste. When you're talking about food and new products and food and so forth. And you're also thinking about textures which is touched when you're thinking about food and some people just don't like the texture of things, right? So crispy on the outside or crunchy on the outside and soft in the middle etcetera. So all of these things come to bear when you're designing new products or designing new experiences and there are things that need to be thought through. I mention this because I was talking recently with someone who's building a theme park in texas and I said you know there are all these cues here that you have to be cognizant of. And so we just talked about that. But yeah, I think the thing is is about going back to the camp fire is that we think of these brands as being one of the time things, but we never think about the fact that as human beings, we are members of all these different communities, right? Whether you belong to church or you belong to a church community, you belong to work community. If you play cards or gamble or something, you belong to that community. If you play sports, whether it's soccer or football or baseball, you belong to those communities. You know, winter sports in summer sports, if unit or something like that. You know, you belong to that community if you like music, they're all those different communities to belong to hundreds of them and all the favorite restaurants in places that you like to go. Right? So we have all of these different communities, they all have their own creation story. They all have their own words that you have to use, use soccer words at a baseball game. You know what would happen to you, right? It would be ridiculous. So as human beings, we are hardwired to belong to communities and as marketers or people trying to build communities whether it's around a product or a place or around a movement or a concept gravity or Bitcoin or something like that. All these pieces need to be filled in. And what you do as you fill them in is you paying both the rational and the emotional parts of our brain, which helps things to make sense for us, And if you make more sense than the person standing next to you, then you win.