Halo insight 31
June 2020
5 Mins
Paul Bailey Brand Strategy Director

Halo In Conversation with – Patrick Hanlon (part one)

Brand has become an invaluable asset to business, but at times it can be even more valuable to its audience. The concept of brand has always been about creating a sense of belonging – creating a meaning to which people want to be a part of, and want to be seen to be a part of.

Businesses tend to think of their brand as a proprietary asset, and elements of it are, but the real value in a brand is when your audience feel a sense of ownership of it. Brands that can encourage and enable a sense of a ‘brand community’ can see a value to their business through a highly engaged and involved group of people.

There is much researched and written about brand ‘communities’ or ‘tribes’, with some very valuable insight in academic literature on the subject from the likes of Muniz and O’Guinn (2001) and Cova and Pace (2006). Fundamentally, a brand brings together a group of people under a shared aspiration – and this community will often have agreed ‘totems’, rituals, and language that help bind it.

We spoke to Patrick Hanlon, the author of Primal Branding, about his ‘Primal’ approach to shaping a brand by defining the root code that attracts and brings a group of people together. Primal Branding looks at brands as belief systems. Through this belief system, you attract others who share your beliefs – shaping a purpose-driven, word-of-mouth brand ready for our hyper-connected, 21st century world. Required reading at YouTube, we asked Patrick about the approach and the seven pieces of Primal code that come together to form Primal brands.

An audience-first approach to brand

It’s the people themselves that act and feel, talk and look a certain way – and we as marketers see those differences and see a ‘white space’ in that community and go after that. – Patrick Hanlon

We asked Patrick about a comment of his that ‘People don’t want to hear what you have to say about yourself—these days, they want to hear what others have to say about you’. Patrick talks here about how identifying who those people essential to the brand are, and involving them in the shaping of the brand, can help move to a more inclusive approach. By looking for common behaviours, attitudes, and aspirations we can identify a group of people who we might encourage to become our ‘tribe’. Rather than creating a group, Patrick suggests that what we do is go out and look for existing congregations or groups of people, and then figure out how we can fit into that pre-existing group of people.

We [people] are hard-wired to collect as groups. Marketers try to locate those groups and try to find out what their needs and their desires and their demands are, and how they can penetrate that in a meaningful way. – Patrick Hanlon

The ‘Primal code’ in all social groups

In Patrick’s book ‘Primal branding’ he explains there are essentially seven pieces of ‘Primal code’. These pieces each have a role to play in how the group defines and identifies itself. Patrick explains what these are seven pieces of ‘code’ or narrative are, and how they work together to shape a brand, by reaching and appealing to both the rational and emotional parts of the brain.

A brand has always been in part shaped by exclusion rather than solely inclusion. Items in the Primal code help us be clear on what we aren’t (or don’t want to be), and who we don’t want to be involved in the brand. The pieces of the Primal code are crafted to align into a strategic brand narrative, which drives and directs the brand.

Along the way they [Primal codes] ping both the emotional and rational parts of our brain that just help things make sense. And if you make more sense than the person sitting next to you, you win. – Patrick Hanlon

The Primal code

  • Creation story – where we are from
  • Creed – what we believe in
  • Icons – how we are identified
  • Rituals – identifiable behaviours
  • Lexicon – a shared language
  • Non-believers – those ‘outside’ the brand
  • Leader – individual driving the mission

A structure to aid understanding

Brand is complex – a myriad of things and ideas coming together to form this ever-evolving entity. Patrick discusses how, by using the structure of Primal branding we can make something very complex, simpler to understand and to begin working with. Each of these pieces become actionable, and lead to further development of both the culture and communication of a brand.

Lego movies are all about their Icons, put to a storyline – Patrick Hanlon

So that’s the first part of our chat with Patrick Hanlon. In the second half of our chat we discuss the importance of brands maintaining their relevance for people, why Primal Branding is required reading at YouTube, and why it’s important to let go of full control of your brand Continue to part 2.

Many thanks to Patrick for his time and expertise. Check out Primal Branding at PrimalBranding.co and find the book Primal Branding by Patrick Hanlon on kindle audio or softback on Amazon dot com.