made by following ‘Primal Code’
September 1, 2006
BY MICHAEL KRAUSS
me driven. I like to mix business and pleasure while on vacation.
I have trouble turning off my brain especially when pondering
thorny questions. Why are some brands successful and others failures?
What makes Google, Apple, Intel, Yahoo! and eBay powerful brands?
How do you create great brands? Is there a formula or framework?
Are there tools that can help marketers construct leading brands?
Doctors have protocols and procedures. Attorneys have precedents
and case law. Bean counters have generally accepted accounting
principles. Software engineers have methodologies. What about
brand builders? Do we just get lucky when we create a great brand?
Google and Starbucks did it without advertising. Go figure.
Every communications agency has a proprietary approach. Leo Burnett
talked of reaching for the stars and presenting a product’s
“inherent drama.” Fairfax Cone sought to create advertising
that spoke “person to person.” David Ogilvy spoke
of the need for “big ideas.” Corporate identity industry
founder and chairman of New York-based branding consultancy firm
Siegel+Gale, Alan Siegel, offers a research-based process for
building “brand voice.”
It’s all so confusing, convergent and insufficient. What
makes a great brand great?
As Mary Minnick, president of marketing, strategy and innovation
for Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Co., appeared on the cover of Business
Week’s best global brands issue talking about consumer’s
“primal need states,” I set out to wander the trails
of Maine seeking branding inspiration.
Among the fog-shrouded, rocky outcropping along the mouth of Maine’s
Kennebec River--near one of the earliest North American settlements--on
a peninsula filled with more than 100 cemeteries, I pondered branding.
There must be more to branding than simply listening to consumers.
That’s too easy. There has to be more than 3 C’s and
Somewhere near Popham Beach and a lobster lunch, branding insight
arrived. I picked up Patrick Hanlon’s book titled Primal
branding. The lights went on. Amidst the crickets and owls
of New England I felt a rush of excitement.
is a former Madison Avenue advertising executive who is CEO of
Thinktopia Inc., a Minneapolis-based branding consultancy. He
sought answers to the same question: What makes a great brand?
His book offers an answer, “The Primal Code.”
What’s the Primal Code?
Says Hanlon, “All belief systems have seven pieces of code
that work together to make them believable. When products and
services have all seven pieces of code (the creation story, the
creed, the icons, the rituals, the pagans (or nonbelievers), the
sacred words and the leader) they become a meaningful part of
our culture. They become the Googles and the Nikes of the world.”
Could Hanlon’s Primal Code be salient? I headed straight
to Main Street in Freeport, Maine, to evaluate Hanlon’s
Primal Code. I went to the mecca of direct mail and online marketing--L.L.
Walking into the 24-hour L.L. Bean store, the creation story was
much in evidence. There were pictures of L.L. himself in hiking
boots in the wild. There were separate sections devoted to fly
fishing, hunting and guns, kayaking and every aspect of the outdoors.
There was a department where you could sign up to learn fly fishing
or how to paddle a kayak.
tested out all seven parts of the primal code:
Creation Story: Where are you from?
Creed: What do you stand for?
Icons: Logos, sounds, smells, tastes.
Rituals: Repeated interactions with your enterprise.
Pagans or Nonbelievers: Who are the believers? Who
are the outcasts?
Sacred Words: Specialized words from your belief system.
Leader: The risk taker, catalyst, iconoclast, visionary.
The code worked
like a charm. L.L. Bean had all seven elements and their stores
were hopping with customers.
I went back to my room in the Black Point Inn and applied the
primal code to Apple Computer Inc. The results were equally stunning.
The Cupertino, Calif.-based creator of Mac computer systems is
a powerful brand because all seven primal branding code elements
are powerful and interlocking:
Creation Story: Two Steves (Jobs and Wozniak) create
their computer in a garage.
Creed: “Think Different.”
Icons: The Apple logo, the “bong” sound.
Rituals: MacWorld conferences.
Pagans or Nonbelievers: IBM users.
Sacred Words: The unique Apple language including words
like: iPod, iMac, iTunes.
Leader: CEO Steve Jobs.
seven elements of the primal branding code are the sacred truths
of brand-building. Time will tell whether Hanlon’s Primal
Code is a durable addition to our body of academic brand-building
knowledge. Either way he’s created a terrific tool for deconstructing
a brand into seven relevant components that explain its power.
Krauss is a partner with Market Strategy Group based in Chicago,
Ill., and can be reached at Michael.Krauss@Mkt-Strat.com