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Owner's Role: Harness the Power of Primal Branding for Small Business Success

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Small business owners often overlook the importance of branding, and yet, a strong brand is vital for growth and sustainability. Patrick Hanlon's book, Primal Branding, offers a powerful framework for building a brand that resonates with customers and stands out in the market. In this blog post, we'll explore the key concepts from Primal Branding and demonstrate how they can be used to transform your small business.

The Seven Elements of Primal Branding

Primal Branding by Patrick Hanlon lists seven elements business owners must consider when forming the foundation of their brand which, in turn, serves as the foundation of their business itself. At first reading, some of these may seem intimidating, but we will go through them each in turn, explaining first why they are important to any successful business, and secondly how an organization of literally any size can employ them. They are:

1. Creation Story

The importance of a compelling creation story lies in its ability to humanize your brand and create an emotional connection with your customers. A well-crafted creation story allows people to understand the values, motivations, and origins behind your business, which helps to build trust and loyalty. A strong creation story sets your brand apart from competitors and gives customers something to remember and share.

"Creation stories tell us why we are here and what we were meant to do. They create a shared history and connect us to a larger purpose" (p. 41). This emphasizes the role of creation stories in not only connecting with customers but also providing a sense of purpose and direction for the brand.

To craft your own unique creation story as a small business owner, follow these steps:

  1. Reflect on your beginnings: Think about why you started your business, what inspired you, and what challenges you faced in the early stages.
  2. Identify key moments and turning points: Consider the significant events that shaped your business journey, such as a pivotal decision, a chance encounter, or a significant milestone.
  3. Share your passion: Communicate the enthusiasm and passion that drove you to start your business, and let your customers know why your brand matters to you.
  4. Be authentic: Make sure your story is genuine and rooted in reality. Authenticity resonates with customers and makes your story more relatable.
  5. Keep it concise: While details are important, avoid making your story too long or convoluted. Aim for a succinct narrative that captures the essence of your brand journey.

Hanlon explains further: "When we hear a compelling creation story, we are drawn to it, we remember it, we tell other people about it" (p. 44). By crafting a unique and memorable creation story, you can effectively engage your customers and make a lasting impact on their perception of your brand.

2. Creed

The concept of a creed refers to a statement or belief that defines a brand's core values and mission. It serves as the guiding principle for the brand and helps form a strong emotional connection with customers. In Primal Branding, Hanlon states, "A belief system provides a backbone for your brand and encourages the formation of a community."

A creed is essential for a brand because:

  1. It communicates purpose: A strong creed clarifies the purpose of your brand and communicates the reason your business exists. This helps customers understand what your brand stands for and why they should care about it.
  2. It establishes brand identity: A creed helps shape your brand's identity by defining its values, beliefs, and mission. This distinguishes your brand from competitors and makes it memorable in the minds of consumers.
  3. It drives decision-making: A clear creed guides the decision-making process for both business owners and employees, ensuring that every action taken aligns with the brand's values and purpose.
  4. It fosters loyalty: When customers identify with your brand's creed, they're more likely to feel a sense of loyalty and commitment to your business. This can lead to increased repeat business and word-of-mouth referrals.

To create a strong creed for small businesses, consider the following guidance:

  1. Reflect on your brand's core values: Identify the values that lie at the heart of your business and are central to its mission. These values will serve as the foundation for your creed.
  2. Be concise and clear: Craft a creed that is simple and easy to understand, yet powerful and meaningful. Keep it brief, as longer statements may dilute the impact of your message.
  3. Make it emotional: An effective creed should evoke emotions and create a sense of connection between your brand and your audience. Use language that resonates with your target customers and speaks to their desires, needs, or beliefs.
  4. Be authentic: Your creed should genuinely reflect your brand's values and purpose. Avoid making empty promises or using buzzwords that don't align with your brand's identity.
  5. Share your creed: Incorporate your creed into your brand's communication strategy. Make sure it's visible on your website, social media channels, and other marketing materials.

As a reference, here's a passage from Primal Branding by Patrick Hanlon on the importance of having a creed:

"Creeds help define the culture of a company, its customers, and how they act toward one another. Whether or not you know it, you are in the community-building business. Your company creed is your flag." (Hanlon, Primal Branding, p. 58)

3. Icons

Icons play a crucial role in branding, as they serve as visual representations of your brand identity. These recognizable symbols help to create an emotional connection between your customers and your business. "Icons are quick-conveyance systems that express the values and meaning of a brand" (Hanlon, p. 97).]

Some well-known examples of icons in branding include the Apple logo, McDonald's golden arches, and Nike's swoosh. These icons are instantly recognizable and evoke emotions and associations related to the respective brands.

For small business owners, creating a recognizable icon may seem challenging, but there are several strategies that can help:

  1. Simplicity: Keep your icon simple and easy to recognize. A clean, minimalist design often works best, as it can be easily reproduced in various sizes and contexts. As Hanlon mentions, "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication" (p. 100).
  2. Relevance: Ensure that your icon is relevant to your brand and communicates its core values or products. For instance, if you own a bakery, an icon featuring a loaf of bread or a rolling pin might be suitable.
  3. Consistency: Use your icon consistently across all marketing materials and platforms, such as your website, social media, packaging, and signage. This consistency helps to reinforce your brand identity and makes it easier for customers to associate the icon with your business.
  4. Uniqueness: Strive to create an icon that is distinct from your competitors' icons. This uniqueness will help your brand stand out in the market and make your icon more memorable.
  5. Test: Seek feedback from your target audience to ensure that your icon resonates with them and accurately represents your brand. Use their input to refine your icon if necessary.

In conclusion, icons are essential components of your brand's identity. By following Patrick Hanlon's advice in Primal Branding and creating a simple, relevant, consistent, unique, and well-tested icon, small business owners can strengthen their brand and create a lasting connection with their customers.

4. Rituals

Rituals are a crucial aspect of Primal Branding, as they help create customer loyalty and engagement. In his book, Patrick Hanlon explains the significance of rituals, stating, "Rituals are the shared experiences that help us to bond with the product, service, or the community gathered around it" (Hanlon, Primal Branding, p. 73). Rituals are the repeated behaviors or actions that customers associate with a brand, creating a sense of familiarity and belonging.

When small businesses establish their own rituals, they can foster a sense of community among their customers, encouraging them to become loyal advocates for the brand. Here are some ideas for small businesses to create their own rituals:

  1. Personalized greetings: Train your employees to greet customers with a warm, personalized welcome when they enter your store or interact with your business. This simple ritual can make customers feel valued and appreciated.
  2. Seasonal events: Host regular seasonal events or promotions, such as an annual holiday sale or a summer barbecue for customers. These events can become traditions that customers look forward to and associate with your brand.
  3. Exclusive perks: Offer exclusive perks or rewards for repeat customers, such as a loyalty card that provides discounts or free items after a certain number of visits. This ritual can encourage customers to keep coming back to your business.
  4. Behind-the-scenes access: Share behind-the-scenes content, such as the process of making your products or the story behind a new product launch. This can create a sense of intimacy and connection between customers and your brand.
  5. Community involvement: Participate in local community events or support local causes, demonstrating your commitment to the community in which your business operates. This can become a ritual that reflects your brand values and strengthens your connection with customers.

By incorporating rituals into your small business, you can foster a sense of belonging and loyalty among your customers, creating a strong emotional connection with your brand. As Hanlon points out, "Rituals are the glue that holds the community together" (Hanlon, Primal Branding, p. 74). By establishing meaningful rituals, your small business can develop a dedicated customer base and thrive in a competitive market.

5. Sacred Words

Sacred words are unique phrases, terms, or expressions that are closely associated with a specific brand. They help create a sense of exclusivity, familiarity, and identity that can distinguish a brand from its competitors. Patrick Hanlon emphasizes the importance of sacred words:

"Sacred words are the special terms that are unique to your community. They are the vocabulary that sets your brand apart and defines the language, tone, and voice." (Primal Branding, p. 141)

Sacred words can be a powerful tool for small businesses to create a stronger connection with their target audience. By developing a unique vocabulary, small businesses can foster a sense of belonging among their customers, making them feel like insiders who understand and appreciate the brand's culture and values.

To develop your own unique vocabulary, follow these suggestions:

  1. Consider your brand's core values and identity: Identify the key concepts that define your brand, and brainstorm words or phrases that can effectively convey these concepts to your audience.
  2. Observe your target audience's language: Pay attention to the words and phrases your target customers use when discussing your products or services, and incorporate this language into your brand's vocabulary.
  3. Use storytelling: Incorporate your unique vocabulary into your brand's storytelling, including your creation story, creed, and other brand communications.
  4. Be consistent: Use your sacred words consistently across all platforms and channels, including social media, website, packaging, and customer interactions, to reinforce their significance and create a cohesive brand image.

Remember, the key to creating effective sacred words is to ensure they are authentic, relevant, and meaningful to your target audience. By incorporating sacred words into your branding strategy, you can create a stronger emotional bond with your customers and set your small business apart from the competition.

6. Nonbelievers

Nonbelievers are those who do not yet identify with or support your brand. They may be unaware of your business, prefer a competitor, or simply be indifferent to your products or services. Regarding the significance of nonbelievers:

"Nonbelievers help you focus your message. They help you understand what you are not. Without nonbelievers, there is no tension. Without tension, there is no story." (Primal Branding, p. 172)

Identifying nonbelievers is crucial for small businesses because it helps them refine their brand message, understand their target audience better, and create opportunities for growth. Engaging with nonbelievers can lead to valuable feedback, generate new customers, and even turn some nonbelievers into loyal followers.

To effectively engage with nonbelievers, consider these strategies:

  1. Understand their perspective: Determine the reasons behind their disinterest or preference for a competitor. This can help you identify potential areas of improvement and opportunities to differentiate your brand.
  2. Address their concerns: Address the concerns or objections nonbelievers may have about your products or services. Offer solutions or explanations that highlight your brand's strengths and advantages.
  3. Create compelling content: Develop informative and engaging content that showcases the benefits and value of your products or services. This can help you capture the attention of nonbelievers and encourage them to reconsider your brand.
  4. Leverage social proof: Share positive testimonials, reviews, and case studies from satisfied customers to build credibility and trust with nonbelievers.
  5. Offer incentives: Provide special offers, promotions, or discounts to encourage nonbelievers to give your products or services a try. This can help you convert them into customers and potentially loyal followers.

By understanding the importance of nonbelievers and employing strategies to engage with them, small businesses can expand their reach, refine their brand message, and create new opportunities for growth.

7. Leader

The role of a leader in brand-building is crucial for establishing and maintaining a strong brand presence. Leaders not only set the vision and direction for the brand, but also embody the brand's values, beliefs, and purpose. To emphasize the importance of a strong leader:

"The leader is the visionary. The person who not only has an idea about how things should be, but actually makes it happen. The person who creates the future." (Primal Branding, p. 204)

To become an effective brand leader for your small business, consider these tips:

  1. Live your brand's values: As a brand leader, you should not only communicate your brand's values, but also demonstrate them through your actions and decisions. This will inspire your team and customers to embrace and support your brand.
  2. Communicate a clear vision: A strong leader provides a clear and compelling vision for the brand's future. Ensure that your vision aligns with your brand's core values and mission, and communicate it effectively to your team and customers.
  3. Foster a culture of brand advocacy: Encourage your employees to be brand advocates by involving them in the brand-building process, recognizing their contributions, and creating a positive work environment that reflects your brand's values.
  4. Be adaptable: In the ever-changing business landscape, it's important for leaders to remain flexible and adapt to new challenges and opportunities. Be open to new ideas and feedback, and continuously evolve your brand to meet the needs and expectations of your customers.
  5. Engage with your community: Establish strong relationships with your customers, suppliers, and partners by being accessible, responsive, and genuinely interested in their needs and opinions. This will help you build trust, loyalty, and a positive reputation in your community.

By embracing these principles, small business owners can become effective brand leaders, guiding their brand towards long-term success and cultivating a loyal following of customers who identify with and support their vision.


In summary, the key takeaways from this blog post are the importance of Primal Branding for small businesses and the potential it holds for creating a brand that resonates with customers. Patrick Hanlon's Primal Branding offers a powerful framework that consists of seven elements, which, when employed effectively, can lead to growth and sustainability for small businesses. The seven elements are:

  1. Creation Story
  2. Creed
  3. Icons
  4. Rituals
  5. Sacred Words
  6. Nonbelievers
  7. Leader

"Primal Branding is a new way to look at brands and branding that focuses on creating a belief system that attracts communities of people who want to believe." (Primal Branding, p. 11)

We encourage small business owners to start applying the Primal Branding concepts to their businesses. By doing so, they can build a strong foundation for their brand, establish an emotional connection with their customers, and ultimately achieve success in today's competitive marketplace. Take the first step by examining your brand through the lens of the seven elements, and identify areas where you can implement these concepts to create a more cohesive, memorable, and compelling brand story.

Remember, every small business has the potential to create a powerful brand that stands out in the market. Embrace the power of Primal Branding and unlock the full potential of your small business.

Coming up...

Join us over the next few weeks, as we walk through these seven elements in order and explore practical steps for implementing Primal Branding concepts in your business.