As Simon Sinek (and definitely not Tom Jones) argues in his inspiring TED talk, everyone knows what they do, some know how they do it, but few people know why they do it. Yet your WHY should inform everything your business and brand does.
When we think of Apple, we think innovation. When we think of Nike, we think action. When we think of Disney, we think magic. Of course their products and services are fundamental to their success, but ultimately these brands are known for their WHY – Apple’s purpose to ‘Think Different’ and challenge convention, Nike’s purpose to inspire people to ‘Just do it’ and Disney’s purpose to inspire imagination.
Competitors can replicate your what and your how, but never your WHY. If you build your brand around your WHY it ensures you have (and always will have) a unique, authentic and defendable point of difference. The greatest leaders and organisations are so successful because they know their WHY, and they’ve built their businesses on it.
Apple for example, was founded in 1976 in the very early days of personal computers. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak brought the vision of changing the way people viewed computers, and ultimately changing the way the world operated by giving nearly anyone the ability to perform many of the same functions as a well resourced company. Apple has continued to successfully challenge conventional thinking ever since.
“The inspired leaders and the inspired organisations – regardless of their size, regardless of their industry – all think, act and communicate from the inside out.”
Simon Sinek, How Great Leaders Inspire Action
Often businesses waste money on things that don’t tie back to their WHY, or contribute to their overall goals. One of the reasons businesses do this is because they confuse business goals with brand goals. The majority of businesses have the same goals, from making more profit, to becoming the most successful business in their industry and region.
Although brand goals will most certainly help you reach your business goals, it is important not to confuse the two. Brand goals are the impact that you want to have, no matter how big or small. You need to ask yourself – how do you want your brand to make a difference?
Communicating from the inside out
Your WHY should inform everything your business does, from creating your vision, mission and points of difference to hiring and inducting new employees. It can be tempting to get carried away when starting up and rushing into creating a logo, a website and marketing materials.
Before taking the next step, taking your time to ensure that your WHY informs your brand character, strapline, key messages, tone of voice and other deliverables, will make sure that your messages aren’t diluted. To ensure that your WHY informs everything you do, it is important to understand that delivering your brand purpose isn’t a job for the marketing department alone.
Although it may take some time to get the ball rolling and come up with a meaningful WHY, it will save a lot of money and time down the line and your business will most likely be far more successful. Finding a WHY that resonates with a specific segment of society will differentiate your business and create loyal customers that choose to buy into your brand, thus creating returning and reliable customers.
One particularly interesting idea that Simon Sinek argues in his book, Start With Why, is that there are two ways to influence behaviour – manipulation and inspiration – and it works the same for businesses. Businesses can manipulate their customers through numerous strategies such as low prices, promotions, selling novelty, or making people fearful of outcomes e.g. outcomes of smoking cigarettes. The other option is for businesses to inspire their customers through selling their WHY. One of these options often has the outcome of generating transactions and one has the outcome of creating loyal customers.
If you are struggling to find your business’ WHY, take a look at well-known charities. All charities have a reason for existing and their sole purpose is to communicate their WHY in the hope that their message will resonate with people and inspire others. When people agree with your brand purpose and connect with your brand on a deeper level, it will be difficult for other brands services and products to compete.
Take note of the way charities raise awareness; by communicating their vision and selling their WHY not their WHAT.
If your business is already up and running there are a number of ways to discover, challenge and validate your ‘who, what, why’. Asking people what they think of you is one of the most effective ways to define your WHY. Involve your team, customers, stakeholder and partners in this. After all, brand is effectively reputation and in the words of Marty Neumeier “It’s not what you say it is, it’s what they say it is.”
The end of social purpose
An article published last year in Creative Review declared the end of brand purpose, as a result of the increasing popularity of brands using social purpose as a marketing strategy with no real intent behind their campaigns.
Just one of many examples – the recent McDonald’s advert – sees a boy asking his mum about his dead father and finding that the only thing they had in common was a fillet-o-fish. The ad was aiming to show us that McDonalds doesn’t just sell fast food, it’s also a part of our every day lives. The article argues, and we agree, that although brands do play a part in our every day lives, using these types of adverts to increase sales can often make the company appear rather insensitive.
A more well-known advert that received a lot of backlash was Pepsi’s 2017 ad which saw the reality TV star and model Kendall Jenner give a can of Pepsi to a police officer during a protest. The advert came under fire and received accusations of trivialising street protests across the US. Although Pepsi claims it was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding, they pulled their ad soon after and issued an apology.
Several other brands have attempted to weigh in on social issues, and there does seem to be a fine line between getting it right and getting it very wrong. There is always the question of whether the brands are simply trying to increase their sales or whether they are genuinely trying to inspire change and show support. It is important to be careful when weighing in on social issues and to always have your brand’s purpose in mind. In other words, people go to McDonald’s for fast food not because they have an emotional attachment to a fillet-o-fish.
The next step
In order to communicate through the noise it is essential to differentiate your brand. The best way to do this is to understand why you exist in the first place, the core message you want to express to the world and who you want your message to resonate with.
Your WHY should influence your values, how you treat your employees and how your employees treat your customers. Your employees’ understanding of your brand is crucial as ultimately your employees are often the ones delivering your brands’ personality.
Having a purpose, cause or belief that inspires you is the ideal foundation for a brand, and those who start with a powerful WHY have the ability to resonate with a group of people and inspire change. You can start by questioning the very heart and soul of your company, your reason for being. This is not just what you do, but who you do it for, why you do it and perhaps how you do it differently. Your WHY should then inspire every decision you make.