Patrick Hanlon: “Here Are 5 Things You Need To Do To Build A Trusted And Beloved Brand”

The first thing to understand is that nobody cares. This is difficult to swallow, but nobody cares if you succeed (except you) — so, you have to gather a community of advocates around you that care so much about your success that they create it themselves. They do it through word of mouth, they do it by […]

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The first thing to understand is that nobody cares. This is difficult to swallow, but nobody cares if you succeed (except you) — so, you have to gather a community of advocates around you that care so much about your success that they create it themselves. They do it through word of mouth, they do it by defending you, they do it by telling your story to others, they do it by buying your products or using your services — and then they tell others about it. And those three people they tell three more and so on. And so on.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Patrick Hanlon, CEO of Thinktopia and newly formed Hanlon works with billion dollar Brands and those who want to become billion dollar brands. His book “Primal Branding” is required reading at YouTube. Client list includes Google, Shopify, Levi’s, TimeWarnerCable, Yum!, Domino’s, Experian, Activision, PayPal, United Nations and more.

Thank you for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I have always been interested in design, technology and entrepreneurship. When I first got out of college, I started my own firm. Then I realized that maybe I should get some experience first. So I got a job at an agency and then moved to New York City and “Madison Avenue.” I had three jobs my first year in Manhattan and followed that trajectory for 20 years. Then I discovered something else.

Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I don’t know if this was a mistake, it’s more like a regret. I was working on the Jaguar automobile account and the client had grown tired of using the legendary Etta James. So I replaced Etta James with a young singer who was (I think) still in high school, named Madeleine Peyroux. That wasn’t the mistake. Madeleine Peyroux went on to create her own brilliant career. The mistake I was that I didn’t go to the recording session. The session was going to be late at night — I’d already worked a long string of late nights and was missing my kids so I left it to the producer to cover. That’s not funny, just dumb. I made it to all my other sessions thereafter — and loved using musicians as voiceovers. The most brilliant being using Black Flag singer Henry Rollins as the voiceover for GMC.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

A client just asked me this, this morning. We are able to very quickly unbundle what is important to a company (or person) and put everything back together into a meaningful narrative that can then be distributed across social, digital and traditional media.

Organizationally, we consider Brands as belief systems . Once you create a belief system, you attract others who share your beliefs. This creates social communities around people, places, and things — usually ‘things’ are products and services, but they can also be concepts like ‘climate change’ or the ‘unbanked.’ Because I come with an advertising background, I know how to slipstream strategy into storylines. Sometimes we are asked to do creative work, (this is a client quote) “before the agency fucks it up.”

We also work on a rapid prototyping model, which eliminates politics and warm up duties. We solve problems in a matter of days or hours, not weeks and months. As one client wrote me, “We now see our unique brand elements as equities we need to leverage, rather than problems we have to overcome.”

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We don’t really talk about current projects, but we have been working with the world’s most responsible bank. And a new superfoods Brand. Now we are working on a project for public safety and an organic wine. We work with billion dollar brands and companies who want to become billion dollar brands. 96% of our work is via word of mouth.

Ok let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?

Those are conventional old-world distinctions that really don’t apply in 2020. There is a new consciousness evolving in how human beings socialize and communicate with one another and interface with the world at large that is being explored by social, behavioral and neuroscientists, that entrepreneurs and marketers need to respond to. There are also powerful marketing systems already at play (including Google, Amazon and more) that make traditional marketing models fairly useless.

A part of this evolution is that there is no difference between brand and product (or performance) marketing — they are pieces of the same thing. My book “Primal Branding” anticipated this evolution in 2006 and we try to remain at the forward edge of this as we move forward.

Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?

It’s no secret that “Brands” have intangible assets that are worth far more than a “company.” So, as an entrepreneur, when it comes time to sell your company — with its products, services, distribution, systems and other assets, you’ll get one dollar figure. But the same company with products, services, distribution, systems and assets that has also become a Brand, will get a much higher valuation. Why? Because transactional low-interest companies are meaningless.

Brands, on the other hand, are vibrant platforms that resonate with vision, trust, values, purpose and meaning that people crowd around, participate in, believe in, and want to become a part of. Building a company is hard work — so after 20 years, which one would you rather build?

Can you share 5 strategies that a company should be doing to build a trusted and believable brand? Please tell us a story or example for each.

It doesn’t matter if companies are large or small, many principles are the same. What matters is that you do what solves for your unique situation.

The first thing to understand is that nobody cares. This is difficult to swallow, but nobody cares if you succeed (except you) — so, you have to gather a community of advocates around you that care so much about your success that they create it themselves. They do it through word of mouth, they do it by defending you, they do it by telling your story to others, they do it by buying your products or using your services — and then they tell others about it. And those three people they tell three more and so on. And so on.

This creates a network that goes further beyond lifetime customer value (LCV), because people are using and talking to others all along the chain.

This is almost never discussed during traditional customer journey models, and it’s the most important factor.

Importantly — if you anger or lose a customer, this has the opposite effect. And remember, most customers don’t tell you why they’re angry: they just walk away and don’t come back. Worse, they tell others about their bad experience.

I said earlier that it doesn’t matter if a company is large or small — and that is true until you get to execution. You need money to execute properly. You need bright, talented people and you need to buy media: both these things cost money. This is the difference between Coke (with $1 billion budget) and the other 100 kinds of soda that aren’t Coca-Cola or PepsiCo.

The objective for everyone today is to get people talking about you: we call it Word Of Mouth (WOM), but we should probably call it Word Of Mouths — plural. Because the more people we have — the more five-star reviews we have, the better.

Example. Imagine you’re on vacation in Oaxaca, Mexico. A friend at work kindly gave you the name of a terrific restaurant. But when it comes time to go out to dinner in Oaxaca, someone checks their app and the restaurant your friend suggested has only 3.5 stars. While the place they’re suggesting has 5 stars. Guess where you’re going?

This is Word Of Mouths — the crowd determines people’s actions, no matter the individual’s original intention. The bad news is that you may have been incented to death by that first restaurant (free drinks, etc.) and they may have thought they had you in the bag — until you were turned at the last minute because of the star count.

Strategy: What this means is that marketers are better off pushing to get more stars than more Super Bowl spots. Go for the stars.

People don’t care about what you have to say about yourself. But they do care about what others have to say about you.

Strategy: Put your reviews at the top of your website, not in the middle or at the bottom of your site. Your mission statement is usually one of the first three pages of your website, right? Well, your mission will have far more meaning, if newcomers first see that everyone likes you.

People have to see you in five different platforms before they’re even aware that you exist. That means before they even say, “Yeah, I think I’ve heard about them.”

Strategy: Spread your messaging across the media ecosystem (this is where having a larger media budget gains advantage). Try a mix of social, digital and traditional media: YouTube, Instagram, FB, public relations, streaming appearances (not advertising), outdoor (wild postings, billboards or subways), blogs, stunts.

Some sociologists in Wisconsin came up with an interesting metric last year — it takes 100 hours to make a friend. Now imagine all your fractional moments of connecting with your customers over your omnichannel media spread — does it add up to even 100 minutes? In an era of establishing relationships rather than transactions, 100 hours is a long way to go. Your job is to decide how to get there?

Strategy: Determine how to spread yourself across omnichannel media (YouTube, Instagram, FB, public relations, streaming appearances, outdoor, wild postings, billboards, subway boards, and stunts) in order to achieve those 100 hours.

The killer is to create all of this in a way that customers opt-in to your efforts, look forward to being with you no matter where they are, and keep it going morning, noon and night, 365 days a year. This is where artificial intelligence, learning engines, and other technologies can take a part.

Strategy: Create a social advocacy engine that is unique to your company, niche or market. Turn it on and keep it going.

Not everyone is going to like you. One of the biggest marketing myths is that what holds back sales is that people just don’t know about us. We need more awareness. That may be true if you’re in launch mode (see above). This triggers you to push the media button to acquire more reach and greater frequency — but they are not always effective.

Instead, acknowledge that some people just won’t buy into us. For every Starbucks drinker, there’s someone who would rather drink Dunkin’ Donuts. Same goes for Samsung rather than Apple. Volvo versus GMC. “Regular” food rather than organic. And so forth.

Strategy: We find out who our zealots are, and what makes us sticky. Next, we figure out who our potential zealots are, and what’s holding them back: it might be product, price, distribution, social pressures, whatever. Then we try to remove those friction points. Because when we convert potential zealots to zealots, we can impact business results more immediately and grow the entire platform organically. The system feeds itself.

Many entrepreneurs look at what has helped others succeed and try to mimic that success for themselves. Sometimes that works, mostly it doesn’t. In the 1990s, marketers flocked to NASCAR, Super Bowl spots, mostly because that’s what other marketers were doing. I used to write Super Bowl spots and I had one that failed completely and another that was claimed one of the Top 10 Super Bowl spots of all time. They were both good spots (I thought) but one was appropriate for the Super Bowl — the other (in hindsight) shouldn’t have aired on the Super Bowl, an environment better served for chips and beer commercials.

Strategy: Find the media environments and experiences best-suited to your Users and customers. (If you ask them, they’ll tell you.) Like Red Bull, you might have to create your own. So do that, and create your own success, rather than imitate.

In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job building a believable and beloved brand. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?

First, as mentioned above, there’s a problem with people trying to replicate someone else’s success. Imitation is the sheerest form of imitation. I understand that people do that — that’s why we have coffee shops on every corner (imitating Starbucks’s success). But there are other ways to do the same thing — only different.

My latest favorite is probably Warby Parker — I’m on my fifth pair of glasses from them, and just bought a new pair. Warby Parker’s model inspired Casper mattress, which inspired someone in another category and another and it just keeps going (I suppose TOMS footwear came before WarbyParker).

Unlike the coffee shop example, entrepreneurs innovated and leapfrogged in different categories — cosmetics, razor blades, towels, superfoods, and more to come. Warby Parker acts real, solves customer problems seamlessly, has terrific products at fair prices and has changed my world.

In advertising, one generally measures success by the number of sales. How does one measure the success of a brand building campaign? Is it similar, is it different?

First, understand that “success” is a subjective term. You have to establish what “success” means for you. Then, there are several metrics. The first is certainly sales.

Another metric — since “Brand” is about building community, head counts or the number of fans or views you have is certainly valid.

Another is your Net Promoter Score — would people refer you to others?

These days, new tools are being invented that also measure empathy, sustainability, and totally new measures of success. You have to decide what is right for you. You may even have to innovate and invent your own metric.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

Branding is not a logo or website. First and foremost, branding is about building a community of fans, advocates, shoppers, consumers, customers, players — whatever your ‘tribe’ is called.

So, social media plays a major role, because that’s how human beings communicate in the 21st century. We’re on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, those are big players for us. We haven’t tried TikTok yet, although I met those people when I spoke at VidCon2019 in July.

But, the real point is that people don’t care about what the company has to say, as much as they care about communicating with each other. So, recently we started having Primal.Live events in New York City, Los Angeles and elsewhere so Primals can meet each other face to face and connect — which is about as “social” as it gets.

What advice would you give to other marketers or business leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?

I don’t know what burnout is. If I’m tired, I go to sleep. If I’m depressed, I go somewhere else and get inspired. Paris is good. Rome is good. New York City is good.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

There is a rising consciousness that our anthropocene era is having negative effects on Earthly biosystems. As a public, we keep leaning on government and international organizations to provide solutions, but it is time to realize that that has not happened in the 50 years since the first Earth Day — and it is not happening now. The Movement that needs to take shape is one in which entrepreneurs bring together design, technology and purpose-driven entrepreneurship to create real changes. Not greenwashing, not label-baiting, not PR releases, but IRL meaningful solutions. Build it and they will come.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

The only real way to create meaning is to find your own story and follow it. You can’t find true meaning if you’re working for someone else. There are a thousand clichés that surround this notion — but, realistically, people with “jobs” are living inside someone else’s story. Tim Cook has a great job, but he’s making Steve Jobs’s dream come true. The CEO of GE is helping to keep Thomas Edison’s dream alive. That’s fine, we need people who want to do those things. But people with jobs are living inside someone else’s dream. It might be time for you to unwrap your own narrative.

Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this.

Yes, I’d like to have breakfast with Elon Musk. I have an idea — and he’s the only person crazy enough to tackle it. I’m available tomorrow at 6:30AM.

Thank you for all of these great insights!

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