According to this weeks guest, brands that thrive are those with the highest quality communities, and to attract members to that community companies should work to develop belief systems. But how can they do that?
In this episode Ian interviews Patrick Hanlon, author of Primal Branding, and founder of the agency of the same name to discover the 7 key components that help to create, drive and sustain a belief system.
Books & Resources Mentioned
- Patrick Hanlon – Website | Facebook | Twitter
- Book: Primal Branding – Buy on Amazon US | Amazon UK
- Talk: Patrick Hanlon Primal Branding TEDxElPaso Talk (see below)
Patrick Hanlon Interview Transcription
Ian Paget: In your Ted Talk you started by stating that branding today has evolved. Could you share with us what it was previously, and what it’s become now?
Patrick Hanlon: I think that brands have been curious creatures, haven’t they? Brands are really like moulding fog, is something I’ve said in the past. If you ask a hundred people what a brand is, you get a hundred different answers.
Is that a paradox? Because in advertising and marketing everything else has a number. We have sales goals. We have awareness goals and so forth, but when it comes to the most important thing that we’re trying to achieve, a brand, there was really no sort of structure for how to do it, other than by imitation. So we look at brands that we all know and love, like Apple, Nike, and Starbucks and you basically imitate them. Years ago people were talking about the Apple tribes or the Apple cult, and Nike tribes, and no one really knew how to do that, other than imitating them.
So I had a problem, first of all I’m not an academic, I’m not a journalist, I’m a practitioner, and I worked in advertising, marketing and branding in Manhattan for years in big brands, famous brands. I had a problem with a client and I started to think about it in reverse. I started to think, why do we believe in some products and services and not in others? That led me to really deconstructing what brands were all about.
Once I did that I realised that we’ve been going at it completely wrong, in my mind anyway. This was back in 2001. I came up with this notion while I was working in my garden, in Connecticut, mowing the lawn, and it just became a speech that I had, and I bounced it off a bunch of friends who worked on Apple or worked on American Express and other things, and they thought it had some validity. This was June, July 2001.
August came along, and no one does anything in New York City in August. Everyone’s in the Hamptons, or on the beach someplace. Cape Cod or something, so I just put it on hold.
I had a speech scheduled for October, and started arranging for meetings on this in September, and then September 11th happened. The world was flipped on its head, and no one really cared about branding. People had other things to think about, other than a new branding idea.
I really just put it on hold, and put it in with my bag of speeches that I had, at the time. I would be called to give speeches.
A couple of years later, someone came up to me after I gave this speech, the primal branding speech, and they asked me if I knew Rapai’s work, and I said, “Yes, I did.” He said, “I like Rapai’s work, and I like your idea, and I think I’m going to combine them to create my own thing.” I went, “That’s pretty brazen.” And I was telling a friend and I was laughing about it and they said, “Pat, you need to write a book,” so I did.
That book is called Primal Branding, and it’s in seven or eight languages, and taught in universities around the world. It’s required reading at YouTube, and it really goes into how you break down a company, or a product or service. We call it people, places and things. Things being products and services.
It breaks it down into seven pieces of what we call primal code. Creation stories, creed, icons, rituals, the way we talk about it, a Lexicon, what we don’t want to be, non-believers, and then leader. Once you bundle that together, you create a belief system, and a system of belief and that attracts others who share your beliefs, and those people want to belong to your brand or community more than any other than they advocate for you. That’s how it’s changed.
Ian Paget: Yeah. I can see. I know you created the seven principles of primal branding, which you just went through there. Would you be happy to expand on some of those? I know, for example, you really mentioned them in that same talk that brands is all about community building around the product, and it actually should be a belief system rather than focusing primarily on the product, which I think is the old way of doing it. I’m quite curious to find out from you, how do you go about creating that community and those seven principles that you spoke about?
Patrick Hanlon: Traditionally people always think of the brand as being the logo, or we think about it as being the website, and what we get online, and those are functions of the brand, but they’re not really the brand itself. The brand is not the product or the service. The brand is the community of people that use that product and service, are passionate about it, advocate for it, tell other people about it, and their passion is really what helps that product or service succeed. That’s the missing link in everything that we have been doing in terms of marketing, advertising, branding and so forth, is that we’ve been looking at it all wrong.
When we talked today about the bottom up marketing, it really starts to get at that, and this is why credible branding is so admired by some people, is that it is systematic. When you can break down a product or a company, according to here’s the way we started, here’s what we’re all about. This is why we come to work in the morning. Here’s how you identify us, whether it’s through the logo or product design or smell or taste, touch, et cetera. Then how we use you, how you’re supposed to use this thing, and all the rituals that go into it – the words that we use to describe it, iced grande skinny decaf latte, or iPod, iMac, iTunes, et cetera and then what it’s not, never wants to become.
One of the greatest conceits of marketing is that we think that our product or service is so incredible that, of course, everyone wants to use us, but of course, for as many people that go to Starbucks, there are an equal or more people that go to Tim Horton or Dunkin Donuts or Blue Bottle and other places. Then who is the leader?
Once you’re able to wrap those seven things together, you create a narrative that pings both the rational and the emotional parts of our brain, that just helps things make sense to us. If you make more sense than I do, you win. What we do with clients then is we deconstruct them. Where’d you start? What are you all about? Why do you guys come to work in the morning? What are your icons? What are your rituals? Another word for ritual is process so what are those processes, internally?
We use this to build internal brands inside the company as well. That was really one of our first projects to create internal culture back in 2003 or 2004.
What are you not? never want to become? and who’s the leader? Once we are able to pull that together into what we call a strategic brand narrative, we are able to then distribute those seven pieces as stories up into the universe and spread them across social, digital, and traditional media and experiences.
Ian Paget: It’s a really nice way to look at it, and approach branding because I’ve heard lots of different books on branding and like you said, there’s like a hundred different ways of explaining what it is. I’ve always favoured the Marty Neumeier approach, which is that our brand is a gut feeling, but I think that same principle applies to what you’ve explained about it being a community and a tribe.
It seems very forward thinking. I attended a workshop with Marty a couple of months back, and he was saying that building tribes is the future of branding, and it seems like you’ve been doing that for some time. It seems like a really interesting way to approach branding and for businesses to apply that. The most successful brands out there now are all about tribe and community so it makes a lot of sense to work in that way.
Patrick Hanlon: Well thanks. I mean Marty’s great, Marty’s a designer. The thing is, yeah, it is in a sense that gut feeling. That’s the primal part of it, right? But how do you create that gut feeling from scratch? In some ways it’s engineering, right? If you understand that every company or product, service, people, cities, they all got started somehow for some reason. Whether it was someone who had a great idea of making something better, faster, smarter, cheaper, stronger, more powerful, or someone just decided to plant themselves on the Mississippi River, where the confluence of the Mississippi and the Ohio or something. I don’t know. Does the Ohio flow into the Mississippi? I don’t even know. Anyway, build a city in other words.
They all started somewhere so there are reasons why people want to live in Manhattan rather than Brooklyn, or Brooklyn rather than out in Los Angeles or San Francisco and vice versa. We decide where we want to live according to the same things. They either have meaning or they don’t have meaning. This process really, or this way of engineering is really about taking something… We launch new products or services, or help re-engineer existing ones for brands like Levi’s or Johnson and Johnson, Kraft, et cetera, where they have brands that are a hundred years old.
How do they make them relevant for a whole new generation? Which they’ve done before. How do they do it all over again? Part of this is to look at where they’ve been, how they started. A lot of times when companies get stuck, you have to go back to the original creation story, and how did they get started and why.
A quick example of that is Motorola. They started off by making radios and so forth so how does Motorola exist in the new age? Well mobile phones are radios, they’re just handheld. They’re tiny radios. The notion that Motorola is building the innards for smart phones and so forth, it’s not that far fetched, right?
There are a lot of stories when brands lose themselves, sometimes we need a whole iconography. We had a whole iconography project for Levi’s where we started looking at what were the symbols for Levi’s started in 1849, the Gold Rush, 49ers all heading up to San Francisco. What were the symbols? What was the iconography for that era? And what were people looking at? And we just really gave them a whole new perspective on their brand. The clothes, and they’ve changed how they’ve designed. They came up with new icons and refreshed them.
Ian Paget: I wanted to ask you about origin story. I know that there’s a lot of brands out there that have really interesting back stories, like Levi for example, and I know Apple’s got a great origin story. A lot of companies have great origin stories, but how do you handle it when the company just doesn’t have an exciting origin story? How are you extracting an interesting story from companies, and turning that into something that people can be excited by and engaged by, when that story just isn’t really there?
Patrick Hanlon: Yeah, that’s a great question. Part of it is just finding out how the company did start. A great one is Maxwell House coffee. We’ve asked the guys at Maxwell House, which is now today, a part of Kraft, where did Maxwell House come from?
They said, “It was part of the international foods’ acquisition.” We did laugh and we said, “What was it before that?” What we dug up was that a hundred years ago there was a hotel called the Maxwell House in Nashville, Tennessee, and that’s where the coffee came from. One day the President of the United States went down and they had breakfast at the hotel, and the waiter came over to refill the President’s coffee cup, and Teddy Roosevelt put his hand over the cup and said, “Wait, this coffee is so good. It’s good to the last drop.” That’s one story.
Another quick story, also involves coffee is there was a guy who owned… and this was told to me by the President or CEO of Keurig so I don’t know if it’s true or not. Let’s just assume it is, but the guy who owned Zig Zag rolling papers. He had inherited that, the Zig Zag rolling paper from his Grandfather, I think, and it was the 1880s or 90s, 90s I think, and he didn’t want to own Zig Zag rolling papers anymore. There was no future in it. So he sold the company and he moved up to Vermont onto a lake.
Every morning Mr. Zig Zag went down to the local coffee shop to have his cup of coffee and one day he went down there, he’s having his cup of coffee and newspaper. One day he went down and there was a sign on the door that they were closing the coffee shop, and he walked in and he said, “What’s going on?” This is the end of his life pretty much, where is he going to get his coffee?
The owner said, “I’m getting out of the business. It’s early mornings and not making any money, and the only way to make money is to have a coffee roaster. Everyone is roasting their own coffee.” Mr. Zig Zag said, “How much does it cost for a coffee roaster?” And the guy says, “Too much money. Nevermind.”
Mr. Zig Zag was at his wit’s end because there’s his little morning ritual. What else is he going to do in the mornings? He said, “How much is it?” The guy goes, “It’s too much money. Don’t worry about it. Getting out of here.” And Zig Zag asked him again. The guy goes, “$5000.” Mr. Zig Zag says, “I’ll tell you what. I’ll lend you the $5000, as long as you make me a partner in the company, your company, your coffee shop.” That is the beginning of Green Mountain Roasters, which became Keurig.
Somewhere back in time, there is a story. That’s like finding out you’re just having a great idea writing it on the back of an envelope, a post-it note or something and sharing it with your friends and so forth. That’s sort of the rags to riches stories that we all yearn for, kind of because we can involve ourselves.
Sometimes products come out of brainstorming or design slams, and sessions that are design things. That’s a little less organic, and you can tell where those kind of came from. Then you just create a story. Then you have to get very creative. It might be a fictional story, creation story, but we all want to know where things are from, right? One of the first things we ask people when we meet them is, “Where are you from? Where did you go to high school?”
As a matter of fact, when I’m giving speeches, often there will be a hundred people or a couple hundred people and I’ll ask some poor person to stand up. I ask them, where were they born, and they’ll tell me, and I’ll ask them, where did you go to high school, where did you go to college, are you married or not, and so forth, and just from those simple questions we will feel better about, in a room full of hundreds of people will automatically, as human beings, feel better about that person than any other person in the room because the rest are all strangers.
Now we know something about that person, and that’s really the power of this. It is that these are things that we all innately want as human beings. We want to know these things as human beings because we are wired to congregate and to come together as groups. And the person that is not able to do that, the loner, or being alone is a form of punishment. Or being isolated or cast out, et cetera, is a form of punishment.
We really want to congregate, and the thing that helps us do that, things that help us come together, is story and narrative. When you build in these seven pieces, we are automatically attracted, and that’s what makes it essentially primal.
This is a few minute skim. To be able to put these pieces together and to engineer it or design it, whether we’re building new products or whether we’re building internal culture or whether we’re building place making, we’re building a city or a new part of a city or a city block, or a movement, personal branding, all of these things come into play.
We have something we call primal live events that we hold around the country, and in the last several sessions people from the music industry have come in because they have people who are trying to create brands for themselves, and having this system, they’ve been calling it a system, they can look on their wall and go, oh, we haven’t talked about our creation story for a while, let’s bring that up in our media. Or we haven’t talked about icons, let’s do that. We haven’t, and we don’t talk about them, right? We have them dress up in Gucci or something, right? Let the merchandise be pulled in.
But it’s a systematic way of surrounding your advocates with story, and we break down the world into zealots and potential zealots so it’s a way of reminding your zealots why we exist, and it’s a way of maintaining relevance in a world where relevance is pretty easy to go stale, depending on which category you’re in. If you’re in fashion or music or something like that, it’s pretty easy to become cold or tired, less so in a low interest category.
But if you let yourself go for too long, you find out that you’re in the mattress business, and all of a sudden there’s a Casper mattress that comes along, out of the blue, and knocks you out of the market. It’s good to have these tools to help make things happen.
Ian Paget: I actually think it’s a really simple way of looking at it. Just having these seven different areas that you can focus on. Story is one of the most important things because you can relate with it. When I think of all my favourite brands, they’ve all got some kind of origin story, and I’m not sure how I know them. I guess it’s through reading books or shared through their advertising and shared through their content, their social strategies and so on, but you’re right, all of my favourite brands that I love, I don’t just buy the product, like I’m really drawn into that whole brand, they’ve all got that origin story.
Patrick Hanlon: The origin story for Beats, they made it into a movie. Like Beats by Dre, they turned into a movie, The Defiant Ones on Netflix. The creed for Google, they put in a movie. The Interns, was that what it was called?
Ian Paget: The Internship, I think?
Patrick Hanlon: Yeah, something like that. It was all about who fits into the Google culture and who does not.
The Founder which is about McDonald’s. Not a very good story about McDonald’s so it’s probably funded by Burger King. That’s the creation story.
And Lego Story, it’s all icons and has a nice narrative wrapped around it. It’s not all about just having articles or creating advertising or doing design or logos, but it’s really multidimensional in creating these experiences that people, whether it’s in store or online or streaming, creating experiences between your advocates, with the members of your community basically.
Ian Paget: You’ve got me thinking, like you mentioned Lego then, and there’s a series on Netflix called Toys that Made Us, and I actually watched the Lego one a couple of days ago, and thinking about it, none of the people on there are the founder, he passed away a long time ago, but that story has remained through the company and has been passed on. Now, this documentary has come out, and people are sharing that story. Not just the origin story, but everything that’s progressed with what they’re doing. And they’ve developed, become richer and more people have been involved in it. Ultimately that series has come out because fans of Lego have shared that story, and they’ve put it into some kind of documentary that other people can watch.
Obviously these stories don’t live within the organisation. They grow and develop through contributions and experiences by their pride. It’s interesting.
Patrick Hanlon: Yeah. It’s funny that you mention Lego because I was creative director on Lego, and it was based on a problem with Lego that I came up with Primal Branding. Led me right up to that, but we didn’t talk about that earlier, but it was Lego that I was thinking about, and they had a problem at the time, back in the 2000s, 2001 or whatever, and they were actually going out of business, unbeknownst to me. I just had a gut feeling, as a creative person, speaking of Marty, I had a gut feeling that there was something wrong, going on with the account, and I didn’t know what it was exactly, but in fact they were going out of business.
This was at the same time that a consultant was looking at them, and told the family that if you keep on doing this, within two to three years you’re going to be out of business, and they went, “What!” I just thought they were not being genuine.
We didn’t have the term authenticity then. I mean we did have the term, but we didn’t use it the way we do today. But they were being inauthentic and, and I kind of sensed that, but there really weren’t the tools back then to figure out how to deal with that, and so… We’re talking about Nike tribes and Apple cults and that kind of stuff, but they really didn’t have people having the religious zeal for brands, but they didn’t know how to manifest that, other than, as I said earlier, other than through imitating them.
Which is why today we have commercials, Gatorade commercials, that still look like old Nike spots.
Ian Paget: That’s interesting. Was you involved in that part of Lego, to bring it back to what it eventually became? to make it more authentic? Was you involved in that or was it just that you recognised that, and you then developed your seven principles of primal branding based on the problems that they were facing?
Patrick Hanlon: I identified that there was something going on. I had a very dramatic meeting with Lego where I turned off all the lights and we put votive candles down the centre of the conference room table. Then I just had some script, as I recall, some script that I read off of and just talked about why do we believe in some products and services, and not in others and so forth. I have no idea anymore what I actually said, but it was the beginning of primal branding. Which after that, I kind of expanded on.
I went onto a different job and so forth after that, and I was working on other things, but this notion of – other words for zealots are customers, fans, fan is short for fanatic, right? So users today and citizens even. How do you create those? So I went out from there. Overtime it’s developed.
We’ve done it now all over the world, which I should probably point out. Right away we were invited to China, back in 2008, and talked, spoke with them. We just came back from South America over the summer, and been down there. So we’ve done this all over the world, and Africa and so forth.
We know that it’s innately human. We know that even though it’s the construct works all over the world, you have to adjust sometimes for certain specific cultures, like in Asia for example. And sort of fine tune things. But in general, the basic premise is innately human. It works all over the world, and it works, we’ve created some really incredible success through some of the companies that we’ve worked with.
In the beginning, we weren’t exactly sure how to activate it. Now we are very sure and intentional about how we activate, and we are now working with, starting to work with artificial intelligence and so forth. Not in a sort of goofy ways that people are working with it, but really trying to create networks of people.
Ian Paget: When you speak about artificial intelligence, are you talking about within your organisation to replicate some element of branding?
Patrick Hanlon: Yeah. It varies according to the client and the company and the brand that we’re working with, and the category and so forth. We work across all categories, whether it’s finance, fashion, consumer packaged goods, technology, so forth, so it varies, and it varies according to what the objectives are. It’s also according to what their capabilities are technology-wise.
Some systems are brand new, some systems are a hundred years old. Well what we try to do is attach AI in learning engines and so forth to find out and really concentrate on, we break down the world into zealots and potential zealots. Zealots are the people who are our advocates, and who use us and talk to us, talk about us with others, with their friends and so forth. The potential zealots are the low hanging fruit. They might have used us a couple of times, but there’s something that’s holding them back so we find out what the friction points are, and try to remove those.
Sometimes you can’t remove them, it maybe that the product is too expensive or that they can’t find the product or things like that, that you can’t really influence as a company or can’t influence for them, but the whole notion is that if you have a group of people who advocate for you, your zealots, you want to find enough that they can tell three people and those people tell three people, then becomes algorithmic pretty quickly, and so that’s what we try to do because we’re trying to build business, you’re trying to build customers, you’re trying to build fans, you’re trying to build your community. That’s how it’s done.
Ian Paget: That’s interesting. So that artificial intelligence, what are you actually doing with that? Because I know you mentioned about these attributes that you’re creating can become algorithmic. What are you doing with the AI? Are you demonstrating to people how the model that you’re generating can reach a wide number of people? Is that the purpose of it?
Patrick Hanlon: Well that’s all in process, right? And that’s the part that varies depending upon the client, and what they’re trying to push, but the notion for that is that you want to surround your advocates, or your zealots with all seven pieces of code in kind of an opt-in fashion.
For example, and there are some companies that are already doing this, but they’re doing it manually. For example, it’s the usual suspects, right? It’s Amazon, it’s Apple, Nike, there maybe some other people out there. Netflix maybe. Where they are, we connect with them every day. Like everyday you’ll hear something from Apple, if you’re an Apple person, and it will be about what Tim Cook is doing, it’ll be about the stock price, it’ll be about the new phone or the old phone or the new laptop or the old app, laptop and comparing it to a PC or whatever, and all these kinds of things.
We also hear about the, when they were building the headquarters, we’d hear about the donut or bagel shaped headquarters and so forth. But because it’s stock price, which is full-out finance, because it’s about the newer phone, it’s about product design, it’s about Tim Cook, it’s about personality, and so forth so you’re talking about different aspects of the brand. Because you are an Apple person, you just opt-in for all of this, and you’re willing to, it’s not like the Energizer bunny banging away on the drum over and over and over and over again.
That’s how you stay connected, and when you think about it, we are all members of many tribes. Many different communities. Just if you’re a sports fan, you know, a soccer fan. If you’re a basketball fan, hockey fan, baseball fan. Those are all separate communities. They have their own Lexicon. They have their own rituals. They have their own creation stories, their own heroes, and so forth, and non-believers, the opposing teams, right? It’s very, there are leaders. You get to understand that we are all members of many like micro-tribes, if you will. Many different brands. You’re a doctor, a lawyer, you’re a coder, you’re a designer. You work on cars. You’re a mechanic and so forth. They have their own Lexicon, their own creation stories and rituals and so forth. Put all of that together and you have daily life, right?
When I walk around and I see things happening and I go, oh yeah, ritual or I was at Starbucks this morning before we got on the air here, and it’s the holiday season so they have totally new cups, and icon. They’ve changed the sleeve on it so the face of the little mermaid is big. She’s really in your face, and another icon. Starbucks happens to continually change the shape of the cups. I don’t know if they do this for, to try to cut costs or if they’re just… But because they do change the shape of the cup a little bit, subtly, because you go there everyday pretty much, it creates a new sensory or tactile feeling in your hand, and it makes the experience just a little bit different, just a little bit different, which makes it not boring.
Ian Paget: I really do love looking at brands with those seven simple steps because I’ve always seen something like the cups as a touchpoint, which represents the overall brand, but when you actually start to think about it as rituals and icons it suddenly makes everything a lot more easier to understand, because branding… I’ve read lots of different books on branding, and a lot of the books make the whole process seem very complex, but when you are focusing on specific areas, and the way that you are, it makes it easier to understand and implement and even just seeing what brands are doing, it is easy to think that’s a ritual within their business or that’s an icon of their business. It’s a clever system.
Patrick Hanlon: Well thank you. Yeah, it’s very workable, and I guess it is simple. But a lot of people ask me, but at the same time it’s very complex, right? And I think that’s why there are so few truly great brands because it is, it’s seven things. It’s not one thing. It’s not the why. It’s seven things so people always ask me, “Pat, I know it’s seven things, but…” They’re yearning for, what’s the one thing that’s more important than all of the rest of them. And that’s really the point, Ian, is that it’s seven things, and they’re all important. They’re all equally important. A lot of companies have two or three, but if you have all seven you’ll probably dominate and if you have all seven, you really need to… It’s not enough just to identify them and throw them out there. You have to keep them, they’re tools and you have to keep them relevant and resonate.
Brands grow stale because they don’t. An easy way to refresh a brand, of course, as we all know is to redo the logo or redo the website. Oh yeah, we’ve got our branding done. Well that’s just surface. That’s really like changing your make-up or your lipstick, and it’s, you really have to dig in a little bit deeper and investigate. Icons alone are very, they engage all the senses. Sight, sound, smell, taste, touch and so forth. When you start looking at it like that, your brand becomes so much richer and so much better developed.
For some people, impregnable. You get a truly powerful brand out there. People look at Nike and they look at Apple, and they go, “My God, we could never create that.” But overlooking totally overlooking the fact that Apple started in a garage with the two Steves, and Nike started with Phil Nike, selling Nikes out of the trunk of his car at swap meets. It doesn’t get much more humble or ordinary, but potential for failure was huge, but they were able to tough it out and through luck and gut instinct and hiring some smart partners along the way, Nike had widened in Kennedy. Apple had Chiat day, and they, smart people who were able to give them a point of difference out there in the world and help them along. Probably good investors as well, who were patient and kept funding them, and realised the dream, and their own consistency and their own wealth to succeed.
That’s what makes brands great. You have to kind of have all of those things. We like to say that when you use primal code, that you inherently get, and it doesn’t cost anything to put this together. It does cost something to execute. But it always costs something to execute so you might as well be executing in a smart fashion, but you inherently, just by pulling this seven pieces of code together, you have trust, you have vision, you have relevance, you have resonance, you have a set of values. Did I say vision? I’ll say vision, again, and all of these things that other brands spend billions of dollars trying to create, in a superficial way, and just barely succeed.
Coca Cola spends a billion dollars a year, and people drift away from Coke, but there are also die hard zealots of Coca Cola. But they’re being nibbled to death by ducks, right? So many different kinds of… You can only drink so much in a day, right?
Ian Paget: Yeah, absolutely. One thing I wanted to make sure to ask you about was the term Creed. I know you use that to describe a company’s belief system. That’s one area where I struggled to understand how do you create a belief system for a company? Do they come to you with that already or are you having to extract that from them, through conversations and put it together?
Patrick Hanlon: It depends who it is and where they are, but it’s a combination. First of all, the creed is not the belief system. The creed, with pieces of code, create the belief system. The creed is just part of that belief system. The belief system is the origin story. The creed, the icons, rituals, Lexicon, nonbelievers and leader, and once you put that together then you have created the belief system, which will open up a narrative. The creed is really why do you exist, which what’s your reason for being. Simon Sinek calls it the why. This is, the creed is probably the hardest thing for people to parse through.
We worked with the Halo guys, I don’t know, the first-person shooter game, and they had already created a successful billion dollar brand franchise for Microsoft, but we spent three hours one morning, we had what we call primal digs. We spent three hours with those guys, the founder and all the key stakeholders, and discussing why they came to work in the morning. For some it was just to build the best damn games on the planet. For others, they wanted to become more like Disney because they already had, they had not only the game, but they had books and there was talk of a movie, they had merchandise and all these other things. There were reasons for them to want to expand in that direction, and others had other reasons.
Here are people, under 30, who had already created a billion dollar franchise, and they were discussing for three hours, why do they exist. It’s not just, that’s just to demonstrate that it’s not easy, and you can be successful, you can be a successful company and kind of stumble your way through some of this stuff, but to really become a vibrant and long lasting, you need to sort through all of this and figure it out. The creed is really the just do it, think different, freedom, independence, Semper Fi, the Marine Corps. The creed has usually been synthesised down to just a couple of words by a series of writers, basically.
It’s not the mission, which tends to be paragraphs long. But has really been synthesised down. For HP, it was one word, invent, for a while. Think different, two words. Just do it, three words.
Ian Paget: So is the creed essentially a tag-line? Are you using the term creed, rather than tag-line to…
Patrick Hanlon: Traditionally, it generally becomes the tag-line. Engineered like no other car in the world. Or UPS’ used to be the tightest ship in the shipping business. Sometimes, which was reflexive in the sense that it was not only for consumers or users of UPS, to understand that they were careful and deliberate about delivering packages, but it was also, I worked on UPS so I have sort of inside knowledge, they were also trying to talk to their employees, because they were trying to become the tightest ship in the shipping business. Their longterm goal was to have global supply chain logistics, and there was a lot of human engineering that went into that company that they wanted to drive home, and make important to their employees.
Saying that we’re the tightest ship in the shipping building was both to their employees, here this is why we exist. This is why you come to work in the morning, as much as it was to customers. Use us instead of FedEx.
Ian Paget: Yeah. It’s a really good summary of words that communicate all the right things, isn’t it? Now we’re nearly at an hour so I’m going to ask you one last question, and hopefully it’ll be an interesting one. Based on everything that you know today, if you were to travel back in time and meet your younger self, and you could just give yourself one golden nugget of information, what would that piece of information be?
Patrick Hanlon: Hmm. Do you ask everyone this question?
Ian Paget: Not every time. Sometimes I do. I know it’s a hard question.
Patrick Hanlon: I think what just leaps to mind is that everything is going to be okay. I think that as designers, writers, creative people, we work against deadlines and we drive ourselves crazy and we get frustrated, we get angry and we try to do great work, and win awards or just have the clients be happy and put something out into the world that’s new and different, and kind of smacks people on the side of the head, right? On the course of that it can be very frustrating, it can be very time consuming and intense, and I think you can just work hard and remain thoughtful, it’ll all come out, it’ll all work itself out.
Ian Paget: Hopefully other people listening to this will take that advice on board, if it is that one golden nugget advice that you’d give your younger self, then everyone needs to take it onboard, and I think it’s good advice, and a good way to wrap up the interview.
Patrick, thank you so much for coming on. I’ve really enjoyed this conversation about primal branding. I’m keen to check out the books. I really do like the idea of seven steps. It makes something that’s relatively complicated come across as quite easy to understand, and it creates quite a simple framework that you can reference, and constantly go back to to make sure that you’re implementing it within your business. I’m keen to learn more about it, and hopefully people listening to this will be in the same boat as me.
Patrick Hanlon: Thanks Ian. It’s been a lot of fun. I really appreciate your time.
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