Whether you’re shopping for blue jeans, a new iPhone, a pair of Nikes, or a Coke, it’s not just about features and benefits—and it hasn’t been for a long time. Jeans, television sets, MP3 players, even automobiles today are functionally all pretty much the same. They work and they’re easy to come by (when was the last time you stood in a bread line?). When products are the same, they are differentiated by something else–an ability to radiate desire thanks to a constellation of points that make you feel you’re a part of that brand community. When you feel you’re part of the community of people who wear Levi’s or Jimmy Choo or Lululemon, for example, you prefer those brands above all others.
That feeling of community is created by something called the primal code. This code is a pattern as simple as binary code, and just as powerful.
Seven pieces go into the primal code and, when they all work together, they form an almost irresistible belief system and brand narrative. It starts with a story of how the product or company started. Apple computers started in a garage, Abercrombie & Fitch began as a sporting outfitter, Burberry started in WW1 trenches, U2 is from Dublin.
The second piece of code is the creed. What is the product about? Gucci is about incredible style. BMW is the ultimate driving machine. Apple thinks different. Nike tells us to “Just do it.”.
There are also icons that are concentrations of meaning we quickly recognize as belonging to that brand. The Nike swoosh. The Chanel C. The Levi’s back pocket arcuate. Scent and taste are also strong icons. In fact, icons can inform any of the senses. Environments are also iconic, like the inside of an Ikea store, or inside a Starbucks.
Rituals are also important. iPods reinvented the way we listen to music. Voting, tweeting, and demonstrations can reinvent governments.
Communities also have their own vocabulary, Think iPod. Think iced grande skinny decaf latte. Think We the people.
When all seven pieces of primal code are attached to a product or person, they seize people’s imaginations with incredible emotional power. They surround brands with a belief system that attracts people who want to share their beliefs. That’s how you get power brands like Starbucks, Nike, Apple, and Oprah. People feel they want to belong to these brands, are excited by them and prefer them above other choices.
These brands enhance your entire experience. Think about it. You don’t just say you’re getting coffee, you say you’re going to Starbucks. You don’t go buy furniture, you go to Ikea. You don’t listen to music, it’s on your iPod.
These are brands that radiate with something much more than functional utility. They belong to us, and we belong to them. When we believe, we belong to a community. We smile at others we see carrying a white Starbucks cup, carry an iPhone, or are emblazoned with North Face gear. We are members of the same tribe.
We care. It’s intangible. And unbeatable. Try to take away someone’s iPod and replace it with a Toshiba Gigabeat. No way. These brands are intense deep-skin experiences that go beyond their products. They radiate with primal code and are followed by millions of people who share not just their products, but their beliefs. They’re more than customers, they are communities.
The next time you’re wandering through the mall, think about the stores you find yourself drifting towards. They probably have some or all seven pieces of primal code. Better bring along your wallet.