It’s Not Brand, It’s Community


During the 1992 Presidential election, political analyst James Carville kept reminding campaign workers of the issues they needed to focus on. The first was “the Economy”, and Carville’s oft-repeated mantra became “It’s the Economy, stupid!”

For brand stakeholders, the focus in 2016 is on “the community”. As Branding as a practice has evolved, so has our understanding of what it means to be a Brand.

The idea of brand has flipped from a product or service supported by a corporate power to (here comes the flip) a quality of belief and meaning that attracts individuals who share those same values and ideals.

They can become so passionate about the brand’s values they feel obligated and willing to help create that success themselves.

Nearly two decades into the millennium, it is now essential for anyone trying for mass appeal to move their enterprise from being meaningless technology to becoming an essential, relevant and meaningful part of our world. Many unicorns have died to make that statement true.

Quality and quantity have been flattened through the magic of global logistics. Mass differentiators during “The Madmen” era, today they have become price of admission. So much so, that today people are thinking global and producing local. (For those who know history, this is an 1820s New England Industrial Era construct.)

As many already know, Communities organize themselves around a belief system. A belief that humankind is created equally. A belief in life after death. A belief in good schools. A belief in aspirations. Think different. Just do it. Imagine.

These are the ideals, values and emotional touchpoints that resonate, attract and connect people together. They are a web of connecting points that attach themselves at the deepest levels of human behavior. A few years ago, we called this “primal code”. Today, acknowledging the rise of social community, these same elements have evolved to become the
“social code”.

A collection of seven data points (creation story, creed, icons, rituals, lexicon, nonbelievers, leader), the pieces of social code design and attract social community. They can be identified, put within context, analyzed, promoted, and create a systematic, strategic affinity engine. Designed with an overlay of individual behaviors they can increase advocacy and behaviors.

Strung together in a strategic brand narrative, they create meaningful interactions that become the magnetic core that attracts others to your beliefs—whether it’s two brothers building a bomb in a Boston basement, or 2 billion people calling themselves a nation.

Using this methodology, you can deconstruct brands for competitive advantage, design counter-narratives and distribute digital, social and traditional media in a holistic manner that creates one-to-one conversations, disrupts apathy and moves people from “Nobody cares” to “Everybody cares!”

This is the core of fandom and advocacy: The community of fans, advocates, zealots, and public who believe in and belong to your cult of passionistas. In fact, they may become so passionate about your success, they are willing to create it themselves.

Hashtags, Pins, likes and attendance are the rites of belonging. When those rites are embedded with more and other pieces of code, your fans become more connected to your strategic narrative—all of which makes your community more relevant, resonant, noteworthy and powerful.

The role of “brand management” is not to belabor your innovation and design thinking, but discover how to become more adept at delighting your brand community in every way possible. Sure, sometimes it might be an innovative new product, but more often it will be just figuring out how you best can welcome them into your brand community. Reminding them how important they are to you. And how you can keep them happy, happier, happiest.

They believe in you and they want you to believe in them.

Too many companies make the mistake of turning their consuming public into aggregate data points indicating growth, share, and margins gained when, in fact, every single sale is precious. Each ring of the cash register is a signal of belonging to your community.

If sales are down, it’s a sign that people don’t feel they belong in your community any more. They don’t identify with you. People might be confused about who you are, or you simply might be meaningless to them. Find out.


Identify what’s sticky about your brand community—what makes them stay? You may not want to mess with that. (When he became ceo of JCP, one of Ron Johnson’s first announcements was that he was abolishing the Thursday sales. Sale shoppers were cast out. Unfortunately, Thursdays were the biggest shopping days and one of the strongest reasons why people were shopping at J.C. Penney. There was no “brand” literally or figuratively, without those sales.)


Next, figure out what’s keeping people away. In classic marketing terms, what are the barriers to entry? If you can figure out how to remove those barriers, (for example, no one’s writing any reviews) you’ll be much better off.

The role of “brand management” today is to offer information, experiences, and interactions.

But it’s all really about the people. Whether it’s 200 people or 200 million, they are your brand community. Stay tuned in.

Can’t wait to see what happens next.

Photo by Rogue King Photography
A version of this story first appeared in Forbes

Thinktopia Launches New Primal Branding Website


Primal crowd 7 thingsThis weekend, Thinktopia® is soft launching a new site called The site is inspired by the success of the book Primal Branding. In the Fall, the site will launch a new service to help people put the Primal Code™ into action.

Primal Branding: How To Create Zealots for Your Brand, Your Company and Your Future was published by Simon & Schuster/Free Press in 2006 and has become (we are told) a cult classic in marketing and branding.

Branding legend Al Ries declared when the book was launched that Primal Branding was, “Not the same old branding B.S.”

For the last decade, Thinktopia has been using the construct outlined in Primal Branding to help Fortune 100 companies and start-ups alike define brand strategy, launch new brands, and help to re-engineer existing products and services.

The seven pieces of Primal Code™ are what move people, places and things from being meaningless (or unbelievable) to becoming meaningful enough to gather millions of fans. In fact, the primal construct of creation story, creed, icons, rituals, sacred words, nonbelievers and leader can be identified in the most popular and powerful brands that exist.

Even YouTube, the largest social engagement platform on the planet, teaches fledgling videographers and storytellers this primal construct. YouTube metrics show that the most-watched YouTube videos all include at least five out of seven pieces of “Primal Code.”

This is because Primal Code designs a system of belief that attracts others who share that belief, creating a community of believers: the tribe of people “like us.”

This also can be said for the communities that surround powerful brands like Apple, Nike, Google and Facebook as well as for the communities that surround Obama, Lady Gaga, New York City, Silicon Valley, the Civil Rights Movement and climate change.

The construct of Primal Code is even used in military intelligence and artificial intelligence.

“Until the concept of Primal Branding, marketers worked in a maze without a flashlight,” says Primal Branding creator Patrick Hanlon. “Thanks to this fresh understanding of how we can design and embed the emotional connections that attach people to brands, we have helped brands get unstuck, and find new markets.

“Most importantly, we have helped marketers create new social media strategies that help them attract new communities of people that want to participate with them because they are attracted to their values, their products, and their actions.

“Every tactic now becomes a long-term investment in their Brand, rather than a one-shot buzz.”

The new website which is beginning its soft launch in July, will feature articles on current events and other communications that highlight the impact that Primal Code has on Brand culture and society as a whole.

The best way to see how a community evolves is to take part in its evolution. You’re invited to come along and offer your own comments and help us make the site better for everyone at