Aug 5, 2010

Finding what drives your brand

Why do you do what you do? Think about it.

Why do you get out of bed in the morning? Why do you go to work? Why do you serve your customers? Why do you do what you do?

Hopefully you’re working for more than a paycheck (or a revenue target).

Start with the why

Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why, says, “People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it.”

Leading with “what you do” is traditional. Most companies lead with what they do, and then follow up with how they are unique and different. This is the traditional structure of an elevator pitch.

Sinek uses Apple as an example, and how they might present themselves if they used a traditional elevator pitch, “We make great computers. They’re beautifully designed, simple to use and user friendly. Want to buy one?” It’s a straight forward and factual message, but not very inspiring.

Sinek goes on to explain how Apple actually presents itself, “In everything we do we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user friendly. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?”

The two pitches are fundamentally the same, but the second is far more engaging and interesting. When you lead with the “why” you catch people’s attention. It gets them to think about what makes you tick, what compels you to be in business and what makes you unique.

Use “why” as a compass

When I think about “why” I try to set the bar very high. I look to powerful mission statements to guide (and inspire) my thinking:

  • “Put a computer on every desk and in every home.” – Microsoft
  • “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” – Google
  • “To build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.” – Amazon

These are powerful statements to guide the focus and commitment of the business. They act as a guide. They focus the organization’s efforts, and they let customers know what to expect from the company and its products. The purpose, or the “why,” provides a higher calling.

What are you compelled to do?

Simon Sinek’s message inspires me and frustrates me at the same time. Finding your “why” is easier said than done. I am sure Apple, Microsoft and Google didn’t discover their mission statements over night. They scratched at them, worked at them and eventually came to a “why” that inspired them and was true to themselves.

One exercise I use to discover an organization’s “why” is to ask, “What are you compelled to do?” These are the activities you are compelled to do whether you are paid to or not. These are the actions that cut to the core of who you are, and the value you bring to your clients.

Try it out. Get your leadership team to each make a list of twenty items your firm is compelled to do. Once everyone is done consolidate the lists. As you compile the lists you will quickly see trends. The items that come up consistently point to your “why.” When you know what you do naturally, you can start to figure out how you can apply them in a purposeful way.

Check out Simon Sinek’s TED Talk

Take 15 minutes and watch Simon Sinek’s TED Talk. What do you think?

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