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January 25, 2006
What do Starbucks, al Quaida, Mickey Mouse and Las Vegas have in common? Part 2

Primal branding is both actionable and transformational.

Using the seven pieces of primal code, leaders can launch new ideas (whether new products or new politics) with confidence. Leaders can also retrofit or re-engineer existing brands and instill them with missing or more vibrant pieces of primal code.

Other leaders recognize that there is both an internal and external group of "believers". That is, there is a group inside the organization (coworkers, employees, associates), and a group outside the organization (the consuming public). People inside the group need to believe in what they are building, just as strongly as consumers need to believe in what they are buying.

For this reason, many leaders use the primal construct and seven pieces of primal code to manage the intangibles of their brand, to operationalize their brand.

What are the things that we are attracted to?

Of the tens of thousands of things shouting for our attention each day (estimates put that number at somewhere between two to 10 thousand), which ones capture our imaginations?

Coke. al Quaida. Global warming. Freedom of speech. The War in Iraq. Gravity. Hip Hop music. Sundance Film Festival. Donald Trump. Bono. Hillary Clinton. Jessica Simpson. iPods.

Each one of these popular subjects contains all seven pieces of primal code. (Within a few minutes, and without much thought, you could jot down all seven pieces of code for each one of them. Go ahead.)

The primal code is the construct that companies like Starbucks, Apple, Nike and Coke have unwittingly and over time created for their brands. Through lots of intuition, creativity, luck and circumstance—not to mention inspired managers with smarts and hefty marketing budgets, these firms have engineered resonant brands that attract plentiful communities of loyal customers, brand advocates and zealots.

What began as an exploratory into marketing and advertising, became an inquiry into not only why we buy what we buy, but why we work where we work, live where we live, and believe in what we believe.

What primal branding is really about, is creating relationships. As any therapist can tell you, a true relationship is when each party involved loses something when that relationship is broken.

Yet think of the ways in which we try to "connect" with our consumers. We advertise on American Idol and Friends because we know that our consumers view those shows. We sponsor golf championships and NASCAR. We publish magazines that we mail out to Jeep, Saab and American Express owners.

And what do we do as consumers when we receive that American Express magazine? Skim the pages and toss it.

What have we "given up" in that relationship?

On the other hand, try to replace an iPod with another MP3 player.

Today, marketers and anyone else trying to create public appeal have a new opportunity. And that is, to create more than just another product, service, or new idea—but to create a system of belief that surrounds their new enterprise. By designing a belief system, they can create new entities that resonate, have relevance and encourage enthusiastic publics to surround, sustain and either buy or buy into them.

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Patrick Hanlon is founder and CEO of Thinktopia, an idea task force whose slogan is "Better Thoughts Through Thinking." He has served as EVP, creative director, and writer at various advertising agencies. Clients have included Samsung, Barnes & Noble, Best Buy, and others. Patrick is the author of "Primal Branding: Create Zealots For Your Brand, Your Company And Your Future."

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