Books: Primal Branding

Primal Branding: Create Zealots for Your Brand, Your Company, and Your FutureWalking through Borders last week I came across the book Primal Branding: Create Zealots for Your Brand, Your Company, and Your Future by Patrick Hanlon. Since I had recently read The Culture Code: An Ingenious Way to Understand Why People Around the World Live and Buy as They Do, the initial browse of this book intrigued me, so I picked it up.

There are certain brands that build very passionate communities around them. Think of companies such as Starbucks, Apple, or communities such as Linux. This book attempts to dissect the building of brands and communities centered around them into a “primal code” – a set of things that all of these brands have in common that foster the “zealot” type of behavior that these brands exhibit.

The author breaks the primal code of branding into the following seven components:

  1. The Creation Story – If you think about it, any of the brands listed have a creation story that is well known. Be it Jobs and Wozniak building boards in a garage, or Howard Schultz visiting coffee shops in Italy and getting his job at the original Starbucks. Each has a mythos connected with how the founders created the company.
  2. The Creed – This is what the company and / or brand stand for. Think of Apples “Building Computers for The Rest of Us”, or Starbucks “Third Place” (the first two being “Work” and “Home”). The creed is not a typical mission statement, but a short statement that sums up the values or mission of the company.
  3. The Icons – According to the author, icons are “quick concentrations of meaning that cause your brand identity and brand values to spontaneously resonate”. Some examples: The Nike Swoosh, the Linux penguin, the Starbucks white cups, the makeup of the band KISS (yes, this last one was really used as an example – and you can’t really argue with it. The KISS Army are some of the most passionate fans on the planet).
  4. The Rituals – The author describes the rituals as “the repeated interactions that people have with your enterprise”. The main concentration here is around finding the “rituals” that people go through when using your product and making them more pleasant. Some examples of this are things like the Progressive car insurance practice of settling insurance claims at the scene of the accident. Tom the Architect often blogs about “attention efficiencies”. I would put the creation of these efficiencies in the ritual category.
  5. The Pagans, or Nonbelievers – Every strong brand has its pagans, or the people or things which express what your brand is NOT. McDonalds has Burger King, Christians had the Romans, Linux users have Microsoft.
  6. The Sacred Words – Sacred words are described as “a set of specialized words that must be learned before people can belong”. Think “Big Mac”, “iPod”, “iMac”, “Venti or Grande”.
  7. The Leader – Finally, every strong brand has a person who is the visionary who “set out against all odds to re-create the world according to their own sense of self, community, and opportunity”. These are people like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Ray Kroc, Howard Schultz. Often these leaders have great mythologies connected to the creation story that help to inspire and create passion around the brand.

Companies may have one or more components of this code. The author asserts that the more pieces you have, the more attractive your brand and the more passionate your customers are about your company. I can’t really disagree with any of the arguments. When I first got a Mac, the first thing I did was start reading books about the creation of Apple. Its odd that as I read this book, and the different components that make up a strong brand, I found myself thinking about my own behavior around things I am passionate about and found little things that corroborated the arguments in the book. From the quick three week studies on the origins of Apple, to all of the time I spent on the history of Linux, to the “Tux Tattoo” I have on my upper back, all of these components make sense and map to real experiences I’ve had with strong brands in my life.

The author makes the point that these primal codes for branding or community building are not necessarily to be used only for business. You can use them for organizations (think the Jaycees), religions (Christianity), or even building strong beliefs within a team (a concept I’m extremely interested in as a manager).

In the very least, this book will get you thinking about how to make people passionate about a cause. The book is extremely well written and you move through the concepts very quickly. I found a lot of value out of this reading session and highly recommend that those interested in these concepts pick up the book.

The author is the Founder and CEO of Thinktopia, Inc a company focused on building “primal brands”. They also have a blog and a podcast available (to which I just found while writing this and am now subscribed).