Cultivating more consumers who buy more, more often, & tell their friends!
There’s a lot of content around that seems to be sparked by a thoughtful book and 2010 TedX talk by Simon Sinek. Essentially, the gist of his argument is that people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. It acknowledges the enormous power of engaging consumers emotionally around the deeper "why" questions. Sinek created a model called 'The Golden Circle' and exhorts companies and leaders of all stripes to lead with the “why” of their business above anything else.
While I enthusiastically agree with the underlying point about leveraging the power of emotion, it’s clear that the best brands get that way by a dual focus on both the "what" and the "why".
Apple wouldn’t be Apple if it just had great, emotionally resonant advertising but mediocre product. Nike wouldn’t be Nike without both great athletic wear and powerful, emotionally rich advertising. While Sinek suggests that the magic is in the "why", in reality it’s got to be both for the "why" to have any integrity and relevance. Without the "what", the "why" is just a hollow promise that fails consumer expectations and diminishes the brand.
In a recent AdAge article on this topic, a Coca-Cola exec (who is a fan of Sinek's work) suggests that her company's "why" is to make people happy. With respect, this dramatically oversimplifies what Coke is all about to the degree of obfuscation. The "why" of a large, publicly traded, global corporation cannot simply be to make people happy. It may be that their brands' purpose (i.e. an element of their marketing strategy) within the company is to make people happy via their products, but this is an important distinction.
The Coke exec says that:
"innovative companies" don't start their planning and strategies with computers, sneakers or search engines; they start with why they make computers, sneakers and search engines.
As someone who has led both iconic global brands and SMB companies, I respectfully disagree. The first question of entrepreneurship is precisely WHAT can the founders do to fill a need in the marketplace. That is a question about internal core capabilities and how they can be deployed to create the greatest value. Without this "what" question answered in compelling fashion, there is no "why".
The WHY is excruciatingly important but it is a tool of brand strategy, which must support the broader corporate objectives and strategy of the company. Based upon consumer insights, it’s an expression of what the company should do to present their product in the most compelling way. Frequently, it seeks to wrap an emotionally compelling “frame” around the core offering in a way that makes the entire brand “picture” more valuable.
So, the "why" question may be the first question that marketers ask. But the "what" question is the first question that founders, general managers, and shareholders ask. Answering the "what" question provides the critical strategic, product, and consumer inputs that inform the marketing and brand building effort. If it were as simple as Coca-Cola figuring out how to make people happy then they might be in the advertising business - producing heartwarming polar bear commercials. It is the "what" questions that focus their activities around their products and that interfaces with consumers in a way that creates revenue and profit. And to be sure, for long term business and brand success, BOTH questions must be satisfactorily answered!