When Buying, Start With What

Manny Vallarino
May 30, 2018 · 3 min read

Many of us are familiar with Simon Sinek’s book Start With Why or with the ideas presented therein, some of which are also present in his first TED Talk.

Start With Why provides us with an insightful way of thinking about communication, branding, marketing, or selling, in a way that inspires others to take action.

In essence, this is what Sinek sets forth in Start With Why:

Everyone knows What they do — their product or service, some know How they do it — their process, but few know Whytheir purpose.

Most individuals and companies communicate What they do first, then How, and then, maybe, Whyif they even know their purpose, that is.

However, it’s only those that Start With Whythose that know and communicate their purpose first and clearlythat are able to sell their ideas and change the world.

Simple, elegant, and insightful. Any of us looking to become better communicators can learn and improve by practicing Sinek’s ideas.

But then comes the tagline that has come to define Sinek as well as Start With Why; the tagline that inspired me to write this article:

“People don’t buy What you do, they buy Why you do it…”

…Except we don’t.

We might feel like we do.

But we don’t.

Which is why, when buying, we should Start With What.

Because at the end of it all, once our emotions are done guiding our buying behavior, moved by the seller’s Why, we’re left only with What we bought.

We might feel like we’re buying a Why, when we’re really buying a What.

This cognitive illusion, born in the neurological space that separates Why and What, leads us to participate in all kinds of over-emotional buying behavior:

  • We feel like we’re buying style, when we’re really buying a shirt.
  • We feel like we’re buying innovation, when we’re really buying a smartphone.
  • We feel like we’re buying independence, when we’re really buying an apartment.
  • We feel like we’re buying musical tradition, when we’re really buying a turntable that doesn’t even sound that great and that we will never use, until, one day, we finally decide to donate it to Goodwill.

I’m sure we can all relate to each of these examples.

I’m sure.

My point is this: When buying, Start With What.

To do so, you can ask yourself the following questions:

What do I want or need?”

What features or specifications will fulfill that want or need?”

What product or service has those features or specifications?”

That’s it.

It’s not about the seller’s Why.

It’s about you and about What you want or need.

The only instance where the seller’s Why or How could and should come into play, is if either of the two infringes upon your nonnegotiable principles, in which case the What is out of the question from the beginning.

In all other instances, when buying, Start With What.

Is What you’re thinking of buying What you want or need?

If it is, perfect.

If not, Why buy it?

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