The Primal Code of Digital Brand Building with Patrick Hanlon

patrick hanlon on brand

“Branding discussions used to be esoteric. Like molding fog.” It was this realization that led Patrick Hanlon to come up with a better way to frame the branding conversation. What he created ended up being one of the most effective frameworks for building brands both online and off. As a huge fan of Hanlon’s work, I couldn’t wait to make him the inaugural guest on the On Brand podcast.

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About Patrick Hanlon

Patrick Hanlon is one of the leading brand practitioners in the world. He is CEO and founder of Thinktopia, a global strategic and brand transformation practice for Fortune 100 companies and startups. His book Primal Branding, is the seminal work that looks at brands as belief systems that people opt-in to. Hanlon’s Primal Branding construct is now recognized by YouTube, as their recommended method for designing and attracting social communities. His new book The Social Code builds on the concept of Primal Code outlined in Primal Branding, for the digital age.

He has been quoted in Fast Company, Business Week Online, Advertising Age, ADWEEK, Entrepreneur, CNBC, and NPR, as well as media around the world. Hanlon is an online contributor to Forbes, Advertising Age, and others.

Episode Highlights

How does one end up as a branding expert? Hanlon began his career working for advertising agencies. In a culture that was driven by Super Bowl ads, he found himself being asked to create the next “Apple-like” or “Nike-like” ad. Eventually, Hanlon found that what they really needed was a clearly articulated brand.

What makes a good brand? Rather than logo design and slick ads, Hanlon’s system focuses on what he calls the seven elements of primal code — creation story, creed, icons, rituals, sacred words, nonbelievers, and leader. Not all brands have all of these elements in place, however, the best brands often do.

If Hanlon could tell brand builders starting from scratch to focus on one thing it would be to focus on developing a strong brand narrative. That’s just as important — if not more so — in today’s start-up focused digital culture, which led us to a discussion of his new book, The Social Code. “Longer than Leaves of Grass but shorter than War and Peace” this book is an ideal primer for anyone looking to design a brand-driven community in the digital age.

What brand has made Patrick smile lately? Bold new brands like Warby Parker and Uber.

Fun Fact … Patrick has as many guitars as he does daughters. Translation: Five. That’s the same number of kids as your esteemed On Brand host!

To learn more about Patrick Hanlon and his work, check out

A Few Final Reminders

A big thanks to a mentor of this podcast with a new resource that you should know more about. Jay Baer of Convince and Convert has done it again. In addition to being a digital marketing thought leader, speaker, and best-selling author he’s now created a new online resource indexing all of the great marketing podcasts out there — it’s called Marketing Podcasts and you can find it at If you like marketing and podcasts you need to check this out.

Last but not least …

Until next week, I’ll see you on the Internet!