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Primal Need

This author knows just how consumers bond with brands.
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This story appears in the February 2006 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »
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Ever wonder why one particular brand's product resonates with consumers while the same product from a competing brand evokes zilch? Skip the speculation and look to Patrick Hanlon, founder and CEO of Minneapolis-based idea--engineering firm Thinktopia. An executive who has worked on campaigns for the likes of Absolut, Barnes and Noble, Best Buy, Ford and Samsung, Hanlon explains in his new book, Primal Branding, how your brand can "bond" with customers by creating an emotional attachment.

Entrepreneur: In today's marketplace, why do customers need to feel bonded to a brand?

Patrick Hanlon: In our society, we have 500 different kinds of cars, 100 different types of soft drinks, etc. And thanks to quality technology, everything is about the same. So it basically boils down to whom customers feel better about. That's called preference, and preference creates sales.

Entrepreneur: Discuss a brand consumers clearly prefer over its competitors.

Hanlon: Starbucks Corp. seized the public's imagination in a clear way. It differentiated itself in terms of language. Their communities are familiar with "iced grande" or "skinny latte." The vocabulary is clear-cut: The sizes are tall, grande and venti; it's not a counter, it's a bar; and it's a barista who makes the drink. They've taken a very commonplace experience--drinking coffee--and made it their own proprietary experience. What primal branding does is create a belief system that surrounds your brand, so you get into a territory that goes beyond just functionality, features and benefits.

Entrepreneur: You name seven brand messages--creation story, creed, icons, rituals, pagans, sacred word and leader--that make up the primal code, which creates preferential brand appeal. How critical is each one?

Hanlon: They are all important. It's like a pattern or a language--it can't be scrambled up.

Entrepreneur: Does the primal code offer a more level playing ground for small businesses to compete with major corporations in any way?

Hanlon: It actually gives small businesses a huge competitive advantage, not just at a functional and benefits level, but at an emotional level. This is really a way to manage the intangibles of the brand and make it operational. I've been testing [the primal code] on smaller companies over the last year and a half, and it works. It's transformational.

Edition: May 2017

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