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Patrick Hanlon

The concept of branding has been around since the dawn of human existence. It is hard-wired into us. Or as Patrick Hanlon refers to it: it’s our primal code.

What is Primal Branding?
What is Primal Branding?

What is Primal Branding?

Ep
161
Nov
03
With
Patrick Hanlon
Or Listen On:

What do brands and gangs have in common?

The concept of branding has been around since the dawn of human existence. It is hard-wired into us. Or as Patrick Hanlon refers to it: it’s our primal code.

Patrick Hanlon is what many in the creative advertising world call the OG of branding. He is the founder and CEO of primalbranding.co, an acclaimed branding group with an impressive roster of Fortune 100 companies.

Patrick also authored a book of the same name (Primal Branding) that has become required reading for the marketing departments of hugely successful companies like Google.

In this episode, Patrick and Chris discuss this fascinating perspective of branding as an innate, definitive, and predictive concept. One that connects directly to what it means to be human.

If you are a student of branding, then study this conversation. Patrick shares his branding insights and provides excellent examples along the way.

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Episode Transcript

Patrick:

The foundation for what we call Primal Branding existed 2000 years ago, 10,000 years ago. It was something that we lived with, but no one had really put their finger on, I guess, had identified as a construct, as a system. I think that if you understand that these are the things that motivate not only people and places and things, but you can build, as Derral Eves is proving, great shows and religions around them.

Chris:

Patrick, thank you very much for being a guest on our show. It's been a long time coming. I'm so happy to speak to you.

Patrick:

I'm excited to be here.

Chris:

In case people don't know who you are, can you please introduce yourself?

Patrick:

I am Patrick Hanlon, I'm the CEO, founder of primalbranding.co. And I was in advertising for a while, I used to write Super Bowl spots. Primal Branding started in about 2002. And we either brand or regenerate brands, brand communities all over the world, usually with Fortune 100 companies, billion dollar companies and those who want to become billion dollar companies, Silicon Valley and elsewhere and a lot of people.

Chris:

I think a lot of our audience is going to be very, very fascinated and interested in this conversation about brand and branding and your book, Primal Branding. But before we get into all the nuggets in which you share inside the book and the things that you write about, I wanted to get inside your head a little bit in terms of your educational background. I understand that you went to the University of Minnesota, what did you study?

Patrick:

Educational background, did you see me wince? Yes, I did go to the University of Minnesota several times and over a long period of time. I started long ago, but I finally graduated in 2007, because going into advertising, I mean, one of the most famous people in advertising at that time was a high school dropout. My point is that nobody cared if I went to college or not. And so I had gone through the four years, but I lacked... Beyond four years, I was trying to get an MBA, which I stopped doing. And I lacked two credits in biology lab. And I happened to be, I spent a lot of my career in Manhattan, Madison Avenue. And I happened to be back in Minnesota and a friend of mine had to go over to the university hospital for a checkup. And so he asked if I wanted to go with, I did, Paul Asao.
And while Paul was with his doctor, I was wandering through the campus, the campus green and all that memory lane. And I happened to walk by the admissions office and I walked in there and I said, "I speak at schools. I'm good at my job. I lack two credits in biology. How much will it cost me to get a diploma?" And they said, "Well, let us look back, check your records," or whatever. And they did, and they sent me a letter saying, "Well, the two credits in biology lab are no longer required, and you will be graduating in the upcoming May, June ceremony."

Chris:

Oh, wow.

Patrick:

Which I did. Yeah. Which was great. I mean, it didn't really bother me that I didn't have a college degree, because of what I already mentioned. But it bothered me and so I just took the baton.

Chris:

How did your education and interest set you up for a career in advertising?

Patrick:

At that time you could, it was the very start of them letting you create your own major. And so ultimately I majored in humanities. And at that time humanities allowed me to take, excuse me, allowed me to take a marketing communications course, economics and also study baroque music, philosophy. I could do whatever I wanted to. And I actually started, and I had forgotten this until a couple of weeks ago, I wanted to be a photographer and travel around the world, because that's what they did. And that's what I wanted to do. And I got in and then I became a history major, I became an English lit major, I became several different majors, finally humanities thing which encompassed everything.

Chris:

How did this ultimately lead you into getting your foot in the door in advertising then?

Patrick:

It didn't.

Chris:

Okay.

Patrick:

I was working in summer jobs through a thing called Manpower, which has a different name today. It still exists, but they changed their name. To woman power. No the-

Chris:

Is that a temp agency?

Patrick:

It's a temp agency. Thanks.

Chris:

Yeah. I'm familiar with Manpower.

Patrick:

Yeah, I was trying think of-

Chris:

Yeah.

Patrick:

Yeah, yeah. Okay. So it was a temp agency, so they sent me off on these ridiculous jobs, everything from going to the bowels of a bakery, below the furnaces, below the hard crusted dough that was on the floors and all that to scrape bread pans.

Chris:

Okay.

Patrick:

Worst job ever, to going to a film production company that produced industrial films, they called them at that time. And so in-house films for Honeywell, 3M and other companies. And so I did that, I was doing it for a couple of weeks. And then all of a sudden, it was on a Sunday, I got a call from my boss and he wanted to me to go to Los Angeles, because we were doing a film for one of the telephone companies. And it was supposed to be set in Hollywood, and they were all these celebrities that were going to be in the film. But their location scout had bombed and had not yet found a location. So he flew me out there, and I was this guy from nowhere, no credentials or experience doing it at all. And I found the site. And so we were filming on the top of Laurel Canyon, if you've been to Hollywood in the Hollywood Hills. And so that's how I started.

Chris:

Wow.

Patrick:

And that got me into, I could have done anything from there. But I was in Minneapolis at the time, ready to go somewhere else. And there was a famous, what became a famous advertising agency at the time. And I just went, "Well, maybe I could do that." And I was always a writer, I'd always been a writer, I'd been a published poet when I was 15 years old for pay, no less. Paid poet is enough.

Chris:

This should be on your LinkedIn profile.

Patrick:

It should be, right?

Chris:

Yeah.

Patrick:

And so anyway, I got paid for that. And so I could always write or always felt I could write and I made a promise to myself to never sweat tears, sweat blood as a writer or sweat tears. But I failed at everything else I tried to do, to not do it. And so I just let me back to writing. More than you wanted to know, I'm sure.

Chris:

I love that though. I always like to spend a few minutes talking to people about how they got where they got. Because it makes part of the story complete. And we'll talk a lot more about the story.

Patrick:

Well, I was born in Oceanside, California. My parents took me to, as the story goes, drove from Oceanside, California to St. Paul, Minnesota to show me off to my grandparents. And they did not have the money to pay for gas on the way back. So my dad quickly found a job. And he stayed at that job for the next 30 years.

Chris:

Wow. That's a really long road trip.

Patrick:

Yeah. I left home when I was about 15 and never really went back. And then eventually found my way to Manhattan, and then advertising.

Chris:

I can't leave it there. Why did you leave home at 15?

Patrick:

I needed to go. Yeah.

Chris:

Okay. All right. We'll leave at that then.

Patrick:

We don't have enough time for that.

Chris:

Okay. My first question for you, and it's probably a very difficult question. So feel free to take your time to figure out what you want to say about this. But you're known as the Primal Branding and social code guy.

Patrick:

Yeah.

Chris:

So what is Patrick Hanlon's brand?

Patrick:

Well, once upon a time, people didn't know what brands were. And you could ask, a student whose name I forget, at SVA, School of Visual Arts in New York City actually asked, as part of her thesis, she asked 100 leaders in design, branding, advertising, marketing, etc. What was the brand? And she got 100 different answers. So here we are in marketing. And I worked with a lot of big advertisers, IBM and UPS and others. And so I know that everything has a metric. And branding was one thing that didn't have a metric, it didn't have a system, it didn't have anything. I mean, it was ephemeral, it was ethereal, it was moldy and fog. And that was ridiculous. And it's still ridiculous.
And so I asked myself, I had a client problem, I've said this elsewhere, but I had a client problem. And I was working in my garden in Wilton, Connecticut, which is a suburb of Manhattan or New York City. And I asked myself, why do we believe or, care, not even believe. Why do we care about some companies and their products and services, not others? Why do we care about Nike more than we care for Puma or Adidas or Saucony or any of the others that were out there? And why do we care about Starbucks when there are lots of other solid coffees out there? And at that time, remember, Starbucks was just spreading across the country.
So I started thinking about, well, what do the powerful brands, Starbucks, Google and others, Nike, Apple and so forth, have in common? And I came up, punk. Well, they all have a logo, right? And then they all have a creation story. Apple started in the garage, Starbucks started at Pike Place Market, Google started in a dorm room, Facebook started in a dorm room. They all had some kind of story behind them. Coca Cola even had a story about a drugstore in Atlanta.
And so they had, obviously they had icons, they had a creation story, they had a creative some kind, Think different, Just Do It, E Pluribus Unum for the Marines. And they had a group of words, you had to learn ice, scrawny, skinny, decaf, latte, if you wanted to order at Starbucks, you had to know, well, there was iPad, iPod, at that time, just barely, iMac and all of that at Apple, to the point where even competitors were... Or not the competitors, but suppliers, vendors were doing I this that and the other thing, right? To just tie into that Apple system. And there were a group of nonbelievers, Mac versus PC and Coke versus Pepsi and the burger wars and all of that. Democrats and Republicans.
And so they had a creation story, they had a creed, they had icons, they had rituals. Starbucks changed the way that we had coffee in the morning, Apple was about to change the way that we talk on the telephone, and so forth. And had already changed some rituals. They all had a lexicon that's stronger than words and they all had nonbelievers and a leader. From Steve Jobs to whoever.
And so once you pull those seven pieces of what we now call Primal Code together, you create this brand narrative, strategic brand narrative that is not only strategic in the sense that each one of those seven pieces is differentiating, but it's brand building. And it is a narrative, it is storytelling. And if you can tell someone, here's where you're from, here's what you're about, this is how you can identify us, whether it's a product or a thing, a concept. Here's the way it's used, here's the way that we're talking about it, here's what it's not, never wants to become and then here's the team that's leading the whole thing, you've just told them a story that seems very familiar, first of all, but it also at the same time, does the hard work of pinging both the rational and the emotional parts of our brain that help things to make sense.
And if you were to make more sense than the person standing next to or the product that's standing next to yours, you win. And people just lean toward you, they prefer you. Preferences, we know in marketing is what leads to sales. And so that's what we do, is we break down people, places and things, we've grouped them in that way. Deconstruct them, where do you come from, what are you creating? What do you believe in? How do we know it's you? How can we identify you? How do we use you? How do we talk different? If you're a lawyer, attorney, you speak differently than if you're a doctor or someone making code or someone building a product, right?
And so if you don't know the words, you're not going to become a part of the community, you're not going to break in. And so the same if you're in a gang or a rapper or whatever, right?

Chris:

Right.

Patrick:

Or building code. And so put all those things together, break them down, put them back together, again, some things will be missing, some things they may have, but they've grown dusty or rusty. That's how large brands become irrelevant, are no longer relevant to new generations or even their existing generation. So they become a fad. And they go away. And then who's the leader? So we put all that together, build it in and make it go and make it grow, which is the important thing. And we do that all over the world.
And so when I first wrote the book or came up with the concept, came up with the concept in 2001. So this is actually, this year is the 20th anniversary of having come up with it. And then, Chris, I came up with this idea, I bounced it off a bunch of friends. I had a friend, she worked at American Express, I had another friend, Craig Tanimoto, who wrote Think different for Apple. And then Paul Asao who worked on Harley-Davidson and some other people. And I bounced it off them, as credible witnesses, and they said, "Sounds pretty cool. No one had ever thought of anything like that before." And so came up with that, and then 9/11 happened. And no one really cared about a new branding idea, right?
And so took a little while, but I spoke about it at conventions and other places where I was asked to speak, and creative things. And ultimately, someone said, "You should write the book on it, write a book about it." And so after a while, I found an agent, Jonathan Lazear, and he said, "I can sell this right away," and I went, "It went great." And inside my head I went, "Good luck." But he did. A week later, two weeks later, he called and said, "Simon Schuster wants to do it." And that was in 2005.

Chris:

I see.

Patrick:

And that was in October or November of 2005. And he said, "So that was good news. The bad news is they want it by April 15th." So I had three, four, five months to write it. I wrote it in three months front to back.

Chris:

Was the writing of these ideas, did it just flow from you or was it a labor of love for three months?

Patrick:

Oh, it was a labor of love. And yeah, it did flow. And I am a pretty fast writer anyway. When I set my mind to it. But the gathering together of talking to Ted, talking to the founder of Fast Company, talking to YouTube's manager, talking to other people in the book, each one, I found that generally, everyone wants to be in a book, except for those people like Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, where they really vet you. Nobody doesn't want to be in a book, but finding them and getting through at that time, the filter of the gatekeepers was really the struggle more than-

Chris:

I see.

Patrick:

... writing it or anything. Yeah. How do you get to YouTube's manager? So luckily, I had some friends who had friends who had friends. That's your friends, friends, friend. It's network formula. Right?

Chris:

Right. Wonderful.

Patrick:

Yeah. How do you write a book? How do you write a book?

Chris:

It's very painful. I'm not a writer, I'm a designer so I think through pictures first.

Patrick:

Yeah. And you misspell everything.

Chris:

Yeah. At least twice, right? My original question to you, was what is your brand Patrick?

Patrick:

Oh, yeah. I wondered off, didn't I? Sorry.

Chris:

No. I love that, because that gives us context for how you might answer this question.

Patrick:

Well, yeah. So I don't know, I've been called lots of things, the OG of branding and stuff like that and that's fine. I like to be there.

Chris:

And if we were applying the Primal Code, the seven points that you talked about, to you, is it clear in your mind, here's my secret language, my rituals, the secret words? Is it clear to you like that?

Patrick:

It is to me. I don't know if I'm communicating it well to others. I'm the worst at doing my own BS. And so the own paths I try to draw up-

Chris:

Your own brand strategy.

Patrick:

Yes, my brand strategy. I try but, as I said before we got on, we're simultaneously working on our own stuff, our own projects, but we put more emphasis on the work that we're doing for our clients, clearly. And so I try to do some of the things that I talk about. But one of it is money and part of it is money, part of it, lately has been COVID which has shut some things down.

Chris:

Of course.

Patrick:

Or not shut them down, but made them slower or has made them a little bit more tentative and not as reliable maybe.

Chris:

When you say one of them is money, what do you mean by that?

Patrick:

Oh, well, we're self funded. And so we do a lot of things. I'm looking at a whole row of posters that we've done for events and stuff. And we do a lot but we can always do more. That's why Coca Cola has a billion dollars for marketing communications, right? So no matter how much you have, there's always someone who has more.

Chris:

Right.

Patrick:

Even for someone small like us. Relatively small like us.

Chris:

If we were a small company and we had a very small budget, are there guerilla marketing branding tactics that you can use that you have a shot at communicating your brand narrative, your story?

Patrick:

Yeah, Primal Code is a guerrilla tactic. I mean, people use it as their secret weapon. They use it as their, yeah, it takes no money to put that code together, really. And you can do it yourself, you can figure out, "Okay, what's my backstory? My creation story. What do I believe in? How do I know if people know it's me? How to product design, if its product." And the rest of the code, you can do that yourself. And we proved that out by working with a conserva... In Africa, Naboisho. And they had zero money, and we won the gold award for ecotourism in Africa in 2016, with no money. So we called a couple of favors in and someone helped us design a logo, Richard Scrope in Dallas, and someone wrote some articles, some PR, and boom. So it can be done without money, but it always helps if you have money. Even if it's to post Facebook ads or something like that. So yeah. And definitely video production costs something, unless you're a camera person.
So if you're small and have no money, you can still do this. Because in your daily conversation, you can just run through, here's where we're from, here's what we're about, these are the things that we believe in, here's what makes us different. And here's what we're not, never want to become. I mean, those are conversational things and a part of just human relationships and communication. And it costs nothing to do that. It does cost something to run a poster about that or do an ad about that. So once we break that down, then we figure out, some people call it the distributed brand, how do you distribute those things across social, digital and traditional media? The social doesn't cost so much, the digital does and traditional, obviously does. But even saying that, you can creep slowly ahead of your competition if you're just persistent, consistent. And persistence is key, I think. Don't you?

Chris:

Absolutely.

Patrick:

Yeah. Being persistent about anything probably is key.

Chris:

Yeah.

Patrick:

Yeah.

Chris:

The book was written, okay, the idea, the genesis of the book came to you in 2001. It was published in 2005, here we are 15, 16 years later. Anything you would add or change to the code or anything else that it's in the book?

Patrick:

No. The code remains the same. The code remains the same. The examples, I was lucky in the examples that I did get, because we talk about Apple, we talk about... YouTube is a little bit dusty right now. But we talk about Fast Company, we talk about the TED Talks, we talked about, luckily, things that are still current today. But I wrote another book called The Social Code, which builds on Primal Branding because things like YouTube, YouTube came out in what? 2015. So it was just barely around, Facebook, when I wrote the book, was something that they were doing on the East Coast in the colleges. It was nowhere near where it is today. Google was pretty relevant and is in the book, I believe. But obviously, Snapchat, TikTok and other things are not. Did not exist. So I wrote something called The Social Code, which helps support all those things.
And those new things come and go, but basically, the foundation for what we call Primal Branding, existed 2000 years ago, 10,000 years ago. And it was something that we lived with, but no one had really put their finger on, I guess. Had identified as a construct, as a system. And so it's like looking up at the stars. Some people see the Big Dipper and others don't. But if you see the Big Dipper, you can find the North Star and you can figure out which way to go and find the North Star is aphorism in marketing. So the same thing is true here. I think that if you understand that these are the things that motivate, not only people and places and things, but you can build, as Derral Eves is proving, great shows and religions around them.

Chris:

I'm curious, since the book was written in 2005, how has social media impacted the way that brands build their tribe, how they create believers and nonbelievers? How do you see the world of social media impacting that accelerating it or being an advantage or a detriment to brand building?

Patrick:

Well, it's a great help to brand building. Well, it's changed it obviously because the voice of the consumers now has become dominant in very obvious ways. Whereas in traditional marketing, it was top down or as pyramid. So whatever the company said was important. And so we spent a lot of time in advertising, figuring out, okay, how is our company positioned versus other companies versus its competitors and the world at large? And then what do we say? How do we communicate that positioning down to the consumers? And so that has now flipped on its head, and the consumers, because they can talk, the problem was, Chris, is that in advertising, we always said that what the consumers talked about, word of mouth, was always the best form of advertising. But it was said sarcastically because we could not measure. We knew that you couldn't measure word of mouth. You couldn't measure what people were talking about in the lunchroom, or around the traditional water cooler conversations. Or much less with the women at home, we're talking about 1950s, '60s, were talking about over the fence, so to speak.
But now we can. We can scrape the web and figure out what people are talking about and sentiment analysis and the whole thing. And so it's become very important, valuable. And consumer generated, user generated content and so forth is the thing. So now it has flipped, so that we want, instead of being top down, which is annoying, we want to know what consumers are talking about.
And really, what consumers are talking about becomes and the way they see us, and the way that they are describing us, is the responsibility.... They not only care more about that, that's probably more important than your product in some cases. But we want to be able to tell them what we're actually about and be authentic and transparent about that. Here's where we're from, here's what we're about, here's what we believe in, here's how you can identify us, here's the way you should use us, here's what we're not and don't want to become, here's the language that we use and here's what our leadership team is or whoever they are, is all about and we want to let our fans or advocates know all of that because that's what we want them to be talking about.
And so it becomes... And this reveals itself most often when trolls or haters come along, naysayers come along. We want our advocates to be able to say, "Well, that's not true. It's this. This is what's true." And so the role of the company, these days in terms of marketing, and by the way a lot of marketers don't get this. But their role today is to be able to tell them, "Okay, these things are the truth." So that their advocates can tell it when the time comes. Does it make sense?

Chris:

Yes, it does. Is having that clear narrative and the language and the truth essential for you to develop a strong brand so that when the nonbelievers show up, that that battle can happen organically on its own, or?

Patrick:

Yeah, I think it's essential. Yeah.

Chris:

Yeah.

Patrick:

I mean, it depends upon the category. Some categories, the ones that we don't care about, car batteries, tires or it used to be mattresses, was one of them. Are low interest categories where we don't really, that conversation or discussion doesn't really come up. But there are many other categories that we live with that where it does. And it's probably crucial, right?

Chris:

I think you mentioned this, that nonbelievers is one of the seven primal codes, right?

Patrick:

Yep. Pieces of the code. Yeah.

Chris:

And so why is nonbelievers so important?

Patrick:

For several reasons. I used to think that it was... Having come out of the burger wars, the cola wars and things like that and imports versus exports and cars and all these crazy things we don't really care about anymore, but the... Who even drinks cola anymore? I don't know. I used to think that we just, as human beings, we had to battle against some opponent, if you will. But now having worked with this, I understand that if you can identify people who can't eat sugar or don't want sugar, you can create sugar free. If you have people that don't want to eat meat, you can create other kinds of foods and whether it's just switching to vegetables or some of the other foods that are being created these days. And so the point is, is that you can identify, create new markets, right? Identify the wide areas, the oceans and then dive in.
You can also, it will also help you in creating that market yourself. You not only identify it, but you can create the new products for it. And also it is a great way, when a client is stuck, a company is stuck and they have lost their way, either because they're 150 years old and they don't know anymore or it's a new company that's pivoted so many times they've lost their way. Same difference. And so we just ask them, "What do you want to be? And are you like these guys over here?" "No, we're not like them." "How about this?" "No, we would never do that." Etc, etc. So you back them into a space where, "Oh, yeah, I think this is where we want to be. We're comfortable here. So let's at least start there, and then build on top of that." So it's become a very useful tool and for some people it's the favorite tool.

Chris:

Time for a quick break, but we'll be right back.

Speaker 3:

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Chris:

Welcome back to our conversation. When I talk to smaller size businesses, I'm not talking about these large Fortune 100, 500 companies who are very sophisticated and understand all these things. But when we talk to small to medium sized businesses, when they get into the territory of defining who they're not for, the nonbelievers, they get scared. Like, "Well, why would we want to identify an enemy or someone who we're moving against?" Or something. Or taking a position. How do you advise them when they respond with something like that?

Patrick:

I think that it's necessary. A lot of people, especially if you're a small business, you don't want to rule anyone out.

Chris:

Right, right.

Patrick:

And that's the most difficult thing to do, is say, "Well, we don't really want anyone." Because we want everyone. Because to have everyone, then you feel like your universe is wide open and to narrow seems like you're cutting some people out. So therefore you're cutting some sales. But in fact, on the consumer side, they want companies to take a stand, to stand for something. And depending on what category you're in, how important that is, is going to vary on a scale. But it's very important to have that self analysis and to understand, I mean it's really the hubris, oftentimes of marketers, that our product is so terrific that of course everyone on the planet is going to want us. We know that's not true. For everyone who drinks Starbucks, there are other people drinking in Blue Bottle, Intelligentsia, Dunkin Donuts, whatever, McDonald's, whatever it is, right? And they all serve very large markets.
And so it's scary. I think, for companies, especially smaller ones, to say, "No, we're just going to deal in this category, this little slice over here." But sometimes it needs to be done. No one can sell to everyone. And so it's, you can't be all things to all people.

Chris:

One tool in argument or debate that I'll often use is when somebody says, "Well, I love chocolate." I'll say, "So you hate vanilla." And it makes people dig into their position. So the people who love Dunkin Donuts coffee, who prefer it over say McDonald's or Starbucks, if you just give them something to push against, they will dig into their position and say, "I actually love this and prefer this more."

Patrick:

Yeah. We paired Maxwell House drinkers to Folgers drinkers once, and put them face to face to try to eke out why... On the surface, they were both commodity coffees. Even to the stakeholders at Folgers and at Maxwell House. And they're commodity coffees. And they felt that whoever led the sales that week, was the one who had the coupon. And so they commoditized themselves in their own heads. But that was not the case. The Folgers drinkers were very specific and so were the Maxwell House drinkers, very specific psycho-graphically, yeah.

Chris:

And I think that's part of when we buy something, it starts to form a part of our identity, and we're searching for meaning and identity. And so I think you talked about this before, about when Apple ran that campaign, I'm a Mac and then John Hodges comes on like, I'm a PC. Prior to that moment in time, I always knew I was a Mac person, but they gave me clear avatars to remind me, this is why I love this company, their products and this brand. And they really just really wrecked the PC brand. But they did a good job.

Patrick:

Nonbelievers. Yeah.

Chris:

Yeah.

Patrick:

Yeah, they took a stand. Yep.

Chris:

Okay, there's something else in here that I wasn't really thinking about much until you formalized this into your code. I think I first saw you on a YouTube video, on a TED talk that you had done. But you talked about the secret language, the sacred words. And why does this matter to us. Like when we go to Starbucks, and they forced us to order in some archaic, Starbucks language? Ice, skinny, decaf, latte, grande, making up words too.

Patrick:

Well, words for the sizes, words for the coffee themselves, words for the... Yeah. Everything. It does matter because that's what we do as human beings in order to form a community. All communities have their own set of specialized words that identify those people who are a part of that community. I mean, if you, in the grand scale, if you want to be French, you have to know French, right? And they're very specific about keeping people out who are non French speakers and famous for it in some ways.

Chris:

Yes.

Patrick:

Stereotype anyway. But it's also the same in gangs. It's also the same in marketing. There are words that... It's also the same in podcasting. If you don't know the words you suck. And it may not be just the words, it might be, what's the equipment that you use? What kind of headphones do you have on? Or what kind of mic is that, Chris? And all that kind of stuff in order to establish your credentials, basically. And your credibility and your role, leadership role within that community. And so they all take it apart. It's a visual lexicon as well as a verbal one. And we all build those rule sets, no matter what kind of community we're in, whether we're building games, well, especially if we're building games, because we're building new worlds.
And so what goes into that world and what are the values of that world? And how are those values either expressed or exploited as we build it? As we continue to build. And how do others build upon it? Are those accepted? So this gets very esoteric, doesn't it? Quickly. But the last example I give is, remember out there, listeners, the last time you started a new job, you spent the first couple of days weeks, learning all the new language, because even if you're saying you came from a similar job that you just came from, you still have to learn that it's the cafeteria, not the kitchen or whatever it is. Simple things like that. But they're also more complex tasks that they have their own words that are slightly tweaked out in their own way.
And beyond that, there are all the jokes that people are laughing at, and all the anecdotes everyone else knows. And as the days go by, and build into weeks, you have to learn all those jokes and all those anecdotes. And if you're lucky, you'll have someone who goes, "Oh, what they're talking about is... And the time we went to Vegas," or whatever it was. And so those anecdotes and all of that become an important part of your fitting in. And either after a certain point in time, either you fit in or you don't and you self select out or you get selected.

Chris:

I think this comes from our desire as humans to feel like we belong.

Patrick:

Absolutely.

Chris:

And that we're connected to bigger groups, and even bigger or higher ideas. The formation of community. And so if you and I are sitting here wearing, I'm surprised I'm not wearing black today, but we're of the people who like to wear black and prefer black or thick plastic frames that are designer frames in terms of the eyewear that we have-

Patrick:

Sure.

Chris:

... and we see each other and we gently just nod to each other in our mind like, "I get you I think you get me," kind of thing, right?

Patrick:

Yeah.

Chris:

So that secret language, the lexicon, all that are identifiers.

Patrick:

Nonverbal, really. Yes, yes, yes.

Chris:

Yes.

Patrick:

Yeah.

Chris:

Beautiful.

Patrick:

And so that's important because if you look at our lives, we belong to, we're not just talking about products are we talking about if you are listening to podcasts, if you have a job and then what job is that? If it's in marketing or it's an aeronautics or you're building spaceships or you're building cookies, they all have their own lexicon. But then you go to, you like soccer and that has its own lexicon, then you switch over to basketball or football, they all have their own, hockey, they all have their own lexicons and their own ways of fitting, their own uniforms, their own ways of expressing themselves. Or you read books and you are a part of a book club, etc, etc.
So these are not esoteric experiences at all, they are just a part of our lives. And hopefully, we belong to a lot of these groups. And so the largest percentage of the US population is single persons, whether they're young or whether they're old and widows or widowers or just never found a partner. And so it's important for us as human beings to belong to these groups and have something that you believe in and have a meaningful life and meaningful work.
And so these groups, a lot of times this construct, this is a tangent, but I'll be quick about it. This construct has also been used to help returning veterans find their way as they come from one community. The military community into the citizen, to become a citizen in the civic community. Because in the military, you enter when you're 18 years old, and you're trying to figure out, what car to drive, who you want to date, etc. And when you step into the military, you're told where you're from, what to believe in, you're given the icons, the military uniform and so forth. You're told who the nonbelievers are and you have a whole lexicon. None of these things really work out when you come back to the civilian world. And whether you've been in for four years, 10, 18, 24 years, you come back and you're 18 years old again, essentially, right?

Chris:

Right.

Patrick:

And even on the letters, I've seen the letters that are sent out to returning GIs men and women to come to some function, a picnic or something. And it'll say in the bottom, wear a suit and tie or wear leisure wear or whatever it is. Wear your chinos and your polo shirt. Because they don't know what to wear, literally. Or just to sort it out so they don't embarrass themselves. It can get to that.

Chris:

I'm not any way connected to the military, but I also do appreciate when I get a party invite, the suggested attire so I don't wind up sticking out like a sore thumb.

Patrick:

Yep.

Chris:

Either overdressed or underdressed. So I could see that, but especially what you're talking about, how people have been conditioned to not have to worry about any of those things, then to enter civilian life and just be clueless because they've been absent from it for so long.

Patrick:

Yeah. Well, you don't even have to be from the military, you can come to an event in the civilian world and not realize what a black tie means or white tie, right? Yeah.

Chris:

For sure. So I want to pick up on that too, about community and creating a sense of belonging. I believe connectedness and belonging is one of the four pillars of happiness. So as you said, it's important that we belong to many communities and feel connected, because otherwise I think we start to drift into dark places in our mind. How do brands who don't currently do this, how do they build and foster a stronger community?

Patrick:

Well, it starts on the inside.

Chris:

Okay.

Patrick:

You have to build. It's best if you, and we worked on building communities inside of organizations and there's the inner facing community and then there's the external facing community, which we know as advertising or social media, etc. And what we work on, actually our first job, a paying job with Primal Branding was to help build a community inside of a tech company. Because they had run astray, and when it came to nonbelievers, which we just talked about, Chris, who are the nonbelievers? They raised their hand. They were the nonbelievers, they didn't believe in what they were doing. And so they were in pretty bad shape.
So we go about this in the same way, what's the creation story with creed, what do we believe in, and all of this. And so it's very important to build all of this from the inside so that it emanates outward. And I think there are companies who have done this very successfully, like Patagonia, where their products, because they were building mountaineering, basically, cliff climbing products, they had to be built with great quality, because you were hanging from the side of a mountain thanks to that nail on the side of the cliff. And from that, they just continued to build products that were made great, they cared about sustainability, they cared about the environment. And so all of that emanated out through their products and continues to, today. Others have to be a little bit more thoughtful or strategic about it. It doesn't come out as naturally as that.

Chris:

So you're talking, about when you say you have to build it internally or from the inside, I think community and maybe another word people would use is culture. So it has to be lived and breathed and not just words on a wall somewhere. And Patagonia is a great example, because it seems from the outside, at least, everything is super consistent. And their policies and programs and initiatives all come from the inside. And there's that consistency and continuity. So is perhaps the thing that if you're listening to this, and you have a small to medium-sized company, or you're an aspiring, growing brand, is to get the culture right and then let that drive a lot of the decisions.

Patrick:

Yes, that helps. There was a, this is a story, this was before Primal Branding came out, I think or maybe it had just come out. But anyway, I was invited to speak to a CEO circle, a president circle organization, and when I started talking about this, "Hey, this is a way to build your brand internally and get your key stakeholders rallied to create something that's meaningful," and so forth. One guy walked away and he went straight to his office, I'm told, and he went, "Okay, here's my creation story, here's my creed, here are my icons," etc, etc, etc. At the time he had a business that, again, it was a tech company, but it was about two or three years old. And it was about two or $3 million dollars in business, sorry. And he built that. Three years later, he sold it for, I don't know, seven or $8 million to a company or maybe it was 12 million, it doesn't matter. And he kept his stock, and about six to nine months later the people he sold the company to flipped it for 150 million.

Chris:

Wow.

Patrick:

Yeah. And they said they were able to do that because of the culture he had built and the culture, the blueprint for that culture was Primal Branding. So we know that it does work. And there are many other examples of people who have used it to build internal culture as well. Banks, Sunrise Banks and elsewhere.

Chris:

Well, on that note, can we talk about why YouTube considers Primal Branding mandatory reading material?

Patrick:

Yeah. So just to clarify, if you are trying to become a YouTube creator, certified YouTube creator, they ask you to read the book. And it's because YouTube puts metrics on everything, right? And so they were asking themselves, "What do these people, creators, who have these billions of views and so forth, is there any common thread between them?" And so they tasked Rachel Lightfoot with this, and she started looking at things and she ran across my book, read the book and then tried to build on the book. And finally just threw up her hands and said, "It's all in the book, do those things." And so people are taught it, taught Primal during the YouTube creator's course, the certification course. And people have been telling me over the years, sending me notes, great book, changed my life and excellent and killer and all these things, which was very nice.
But finally last year, this year, excuse me. Not last year, this year, in April or May, someone sent me a graph that showed the four Primal Branding, and then there was a picture of the book and then after Primal Branding and it just hockey sticked.

Chris:

Wow.

Patrick:

And I went, "Oh, I like that." Yeah. And that's what people have been talking about. And so that's been the case. And it's been the case working with billion dollar brands, also, consumer [inaudible 00:50:34] goods, and so forth. And it's amazing, even those companies that have had a lot of these pieces in place, just understanding how valuable they are. And it's all about being intentional about it. It's one thing to, oh, we have all those things. Yes, but you don't know what to do with them once you have them. Having them itself isn't enough, you have to be committed and intentional and have some conviction behind it.

Chris:

I'd love to speak about this to make this more concrete and tangible, because I'm a YouTube creator and I do watch a considerable amount of YouTube content. So what Patrick's been talking about in terms of the Primal Code, the seven things and having a lexicon, visual, verbal and nonverbal things that-

Patrick:

Cues.

Chris:

... signal to other people, we are part of this, we're part of your community. There is no shortage of creators on YouTube. So the challenge and the battle is for the hearts and minds of the people who show up, we want to have a connection with you. And so if you tune in to Peter McKinnon, who is a well-known photographer, he has this exaggerated plosive thing that he does, where he says, "What's up everybody." And that's his signature thing. So even that sound, as soon as the video begins, and it's been imitated by a lot of people. Casey Neistat has his sunglasses that are always scratched up. He buys them new, he scratches them up and that becomes part of this signature just by seeing that.
Philip DeFranco says something crazy. He's like, "What's up, you're beautiful bastards." That's how he greets people. And if you're a member of that community, of that tribe, you must be a beautiful bastard. And that's what he does. And so I think if you're going to be a creator, in any sense, start thinking about those things that signal to other people, allow them to come into your community and feel like they're part of your tribe.

Patrick:

Yeah. Words, pictures, music, sound effects. I mean, it's the start of anything you see coming out of Hollywood in film or television. And these are signals. And what you're talking about specifically are icons, and icons and rituals go together. So seeing Casey time and time again with that ritual, and seeing how these... So icons are very curious, because icons are these quick, instantaneous signals. We see the Nike swoosh, we know it's a Nike, it's almost instantaneous, right? It's probably .0003 seconds, right? And we can identify it. And so the same thing with other things.
And so that's a signal that our brain is telling us if we're safe or not, basically. And so that sound, that look, that taste, are all signals to help us know that we are either not safe or we are safe, okay? And so if it's bitter and we spit it out, it's not safe. If it's a siren or something like that, usually it's not safe. Or at least a signal to be on alert. Go from green to yellow.
So these things, so when someone comes out with a new fashion or a new visual grab or a new audio grab, like music. Music, the whole industry is about finding new sounds that can catch our ear. It could be either sounds whether it's a snare drum, some computer effect or a beat or the lyrics and melody, and after a while it wears off. Because our brain knows that it's safe, and so it packets it away somewhere, until the next new song comes on. And so what happens then, is that without building a story around that sound or thing, that event or that moment, they go away. And so what happens in fashion then, is that, that new fashion, that new color, or that new cut, or that new combination, we get tired of seeing it. Our brain gets tired of seeing it and it packets it away, unless we build a story around it. And so by building the story around it, those things become meaningful.
And so it's like, the example I use is PSY. Do we remember PSY? He was the Korean guy who lip-synced Gangnam Style, and he was the first person to hit a billion views. And this is in a land that time forgot, because no one remembers just how great that was, seeing someone lip-syncing a song like that, in such a crazy manner as he did. Yeah, there are so many things that have come after that now.
But at that time, it was crazy and it was billion views, if PSY had been at the Olympics, if he had been an Olympic performer, the cameras would have gone straight to his mom, his brother, his kindergarten teacher, the neighbors and they'd be providing this whole backstory about PSY and what he was about and what his meaning was, his purpose and how he was in school and all this stuff. But he didn't, PSY didn't do this. And he probably had no managers to help him figure that out or smart enough to understand what needs to be done, how it needs to be handled. How to build a brand, basically. So PSY left and he did something else but it didn't quite hit a billion views. And then he faded away, he was a fad. We call that a fad. Well, actually in music we call it a one hit wonder. In fashion we call it a fad. And that's what happens. And so that is why it's so important to build a story around what you're doing, you need the backstory, despite the hit, you have to build everything else that goes around it.
One other example is Beats by Dre, once they were bought by Apple, they were quickly able to produce The Defiant Ones, which if you haven't seen it, it's amazing. I think it's on Netflix, isn't it? Or HBO. One of the two. And it's about Dr. Dre and James Iovine, who are music producers, they saw their industry collapsed, they got together to do some other stuff. And then they talked about the headphones and everything and just how everything worked. And those red headphones made it to the Olympics and stuff and it's the whole story of how the athletes liked the headphones so much, and just the whole gestalt of these two, one rapper or a musician and both music producers, just that whole gestalt and wore them to the news conferences and so forth. And Beats by Dre took off. Very lucky. So it's all of these things coming together, and how do you orchestrate those?
Now if you are a small business and your hair's constantly on fire, and so forth, it's harder to do, even with money. But understanding the seven pieces of what we call Primal Code, at least makes it systematic. So [inaudible 00:58:11], he was at Twitter for a while, now he's working with G-eazy, he always told me that he just had the seven pieces of code up on his wall and he said, "Yesterday we talked about the creation story, today let's talk about nonbelievers." And then he could get on with the 34 other things he had to do that day. And so a lot of people like this, investors and so forth in Silicon Valley, they like the fact that it's a system. It's a systematic approach. It's not like molding fog, it's not ethereal, you can actually do these things. And it doesn't take money to do them. If you have money, you can push it. The Defiant Ones that I just described, is all about the creation story of Beats by Dre. So you can do that.
The Social Network was the creation story for Facebook. What was it? The Internship, was about the creed for who makes it into Google. What's in the Google culture and who doesn't make it in the Google culture. And we don't think about these things as they come out. But if you look back in retrospect, or if we have the wherewithal to be able to identify them on the spot, so much the better, but they just seem like entertainment, but it's fore speeding.

Chris:

You gave two very powerful examples of people in the music industry, one person who captured guys for a moment in time, but wasn't so intentional in designing or engineering their code.

Patrick:

Yep.

Chris:

Whereas-

Patrick:

Their brand, yeah.

Chris:

Yeah, their brand. And then the other where they dug deep into their creation story. They made sure who they're for, who they're not, the code, the icons, all that. And then they become this enduring brand. And I think that's the beautiful thing about the book, which is it makes understanding brand and branding in very clear, concrete components, that I guess based on what your observations were, go back hundreds, if not 1000s of years, until today. So it's not something that just was made up, it's just something you observed and codified.

Patrick:

It was something that I observed and was able to identify, yeah. And put a name to.

Chris:

Yeah.

Patrick:

Yeah.

Chris:

There's one example, before we wrap up here, there's one example that you shared on your talk, and I'm going to cue you up for it. If you don't remember, I can read it for you. But we've been talking about really big multi billion dollar, international, world beating brands. And then you're probably sitting back listening to this and thinking, "Well, what about me? What am I going to do?" And you talk about the Primal Code for romantic love.

Patrick:

Oh, yeah.

Chris:

I just thought that was hilarious. Can you do a little bit of that or do you need me to [crosstalk 01:01:01]-

Patrick:

Oh, sure.

Chris:

... you? Okay.

Patrick:

Oh, no. I mean, you could suggest that the foundation of our society is based on the fact that two people believe in each other, remember it's about belief, brands as belief systems. They believe in each other so strongly that they're willing to commit the rest of their lives together or at least a part of their lives together. And so you want to break that down into the seven pieces of code. The creation story is where did you guys come from, the question that always comes up when you're with another couple. The creators, I love you, I love you back. The icons are the rings, the flowers, the cards, God help you, if you forget any one of them. The rituals are the first date, the third date, the fifth date going steady, becoming engaged, getting married, someone once shouted out, in Vegas of all places, divorce. And I went, "Okay." It was a woman, actually, who shouted that out.
So rituals are the sacred words or the lexicon is I love you, honey, pokey, darling, there, whatever it might be for you. But also, I think there's the, I mean, remember we're in that lexicon, there's a visual lexicon or whatever, you could just expand that to all the experiences that you share. Your memories, the places you went together and so forth. And then the nonbelievers are old boyfriends or girlfriends, parents, in some cases, Romeo and Juliet kind of things and ex spouses and so forth. And then again, a woman shouted out, "My mother in law." Not the same woman, a different place.

Chris:

Okay.

Patrick:

Different time, different place, different person. And then the leader, one or both of you, depending on who does the checkbook. So you line all of that up, and that creates this community have two. And that's why it becomes so painful when people break up, because you break all that apart. And there's some pretty raw places when you pull the band aid off, and you have to... You spend days, weeks, months, years sometimes, forgetting, trying to forget some of those things, bury those things, so you can move on in life. That's why breaking up is so hard to do, because you've built this community of two people. And it's hard, even when you leave a job, leave one job for another job. And leave those friends behind, go on and try to make new friends or move from Brooklyn to Silver Lake or Venice or someplace. You have to make up all of these things. Or rebuild all of these things, I should say. But that's a part of life.
And when you start to learn something new, I mean, you get your first tattoo, you discover a new band, you do all of these things, you are, whether it's consciously or unconsciously you are building the primal code that makes that either relevant in your life and resonant in your life or not. And we pick and choose these things, I want to be like that and not like that, as we go through life. I want to be with them, not with them and so forth. I want to read that book, not that one. And we make these choices, either consciously or unconsciously throughout our life. And this is what makes up our life.
And so all the things that we believe in or feel something toward or feel that are relevant and meaningful in our lives, they all are surrounded by a primal code. And even gravity. Why do we believe in gravity? We can all recite all seven pieces. And that's why things like NFTs and Bitcoin and cryptocurrency, which are all the same thing, more or less, but anyway, the same category seem so wild and unusual until you start digging into it. And once you start digging into it, of course you slowly become convinced that, "Okay, maybe." Or you don't, "Turn it off." But it's the way we learn how to be new and different. And if you're a curious person, you have a lot of instances like that.

Chris:

Patrick, it's been a real pleasure chatting with you. I'm not quite done with the book, but I'm really looking forward to finishing the book. The book is called Primal Branding. It is required reading at YouTube, it is also featured in another book called YouTube Formula. It's a key part in a lot of YouTube creators' success stories. And you have written another book called The Social Code. Is there anything else that's going on that we should mention?

Patrick:

Yes. I'm writing a new book. And it's going to come out maybe not by the end of this year, since the year is ebbing away. And it'll be coming out next year, probably, but it's going to be more of a handbook about how to help people figure out, especially small and medium sized businesses, how to figure out how to implement the Primal Code once they break it down and are able to identify it, how do they put that into media and so forth.

Chris:

Wow, I'm really looking forward to that. Do you have a name for the book yet?

Patrick:

Yes. Yeah.

Chris:

What's it called?

Patrick:

I'm not going to say it yet.

Chris:

Okay.

Patrick:

It might change.

Chris:

I see. Yeah. Of course.

Patrick:

So where are you in the book right now, Chris?

Chris:

I'm about-

Patrick:

Put you on the spot.

Chris:

... almost halfway through.

Patrick:

Oh, cool.

Chris:

It's a slow read for me, because I'm processing and digesting, because so much of this book is helping me to understand how I help people with personal brands. So I read it little bit, I pause and reflect, I draw some notes. And it's really great. So expect to see-

Patrick:

Oh, thanks.

Chris:

... this influencing a lot of the things I'm saying in the near future.

Patrick:

I hope so.

Chris:

Yes.

Patrick:

Yeah. And it works.

Chris:

Patrick, how do people find out more about you and what you're doing?

Patrick:

You can google Patrick Hanlon, you can google Primal Branding. And you can go to primalbranding.co, which is our website.

Chris:

And are you active on social media?

Patrick:

Oh, yeah. Instagram, @primalbrandingco is Instagram. We're also on Facebook and other places. I think Instagram is probably the one and LinkedIn.

Chris:

Okay.

Patrick:

Probably the two places. Also on Medium.

Chris:

Are you writing pretty consistently on Medium?

Patrick:

Yes.

Chris:

Wonderful.

Patrick:

Well, define consistently. No. I wouldn't say consistently. I used to write for Forbes, but I didn't like that. And so I switched to Medium early on. And I was an early adopter, I guess, on Medium. When they actually helped you through the app. And so, yeah, Social Code was actually first on Medium.

Chris:

If you've enjoyed this conversation, go look up Patrick on Instagram. It's @primalbranding, @primalbranding and that's how you can get in touch with Patrick. Patrick, thank you very much for being on the show.

Patrick:

Thanks, Chris. This is Patrick Hanlon, and you are listening to The Futur.

Greg Gunn:

Thanks for joining us this time. If you haven't already, subscribe to our show on your favorite podcasting app and get a new insightful episode from us every week. The Futur Podcast is hosted by Chris Do and produced by me, Greg Gunn. Thank you to Anthony Barro for editing and mixing this episode. And thank you to Adam Sanborn for our intro music.
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