Your Brand’s “Why” is More Important Than Ever
“We really need help articulating our why.”
This was a comment made by an executive at a large company while I was pitching him on the merits of a brand storytelling workshop.
His comment resonated because over the past few months, “why” has been frequently mentioned.
In a fast-moving world, a growing number of brands see “why” as a fundamental part of how they do business.
The question is, ironically, why? Why the focus on “why”?
Remember, it’s been nearly 10 years since Simon Sinek’s published his book, “Start With Why”. (Here’s his TED talk)
“Start With Why” struck a chord because it focused on how brands need to more than just the products they sell.
To connect with consumers, Sinek said it was important for brands to think about why they exist and what they’re looking to accomplish. “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe” is a popular Sinek quote.
Today, I would argue that “why” is more important ever.
We live in a world of endless options. The competition is just one click away. If your product doesn’t resonate, you’re toast. Consumers are impatient, fickle, selfish, and looking for instant gratification.
They have access to a tsunami of information. They have instant knowledge of prices, features, and benefits. And they can easily buy from anyone.
How do brands compete? How do they stand out from the crowd when competitors can claim their products are better, cheaper, faster, easier to use?
For many brands, the landscape is volatile, troubling, irrational and unpredictable. Today, they’re thriving. Tomorrow, they’re left behind.
“Why” is important for a few reasons:
It establishes better and stronger relationships with the people who matter: consumers, employees, partners, and investors. It explains to people how a company makes a difference.
For consumers, particularly millennials, making a purchase is more than just a transaction. Increasingly, it’s an experience. Consumers want to imagine the experience of using a product before they buy it. Retailers need to create an experience rather simply revenue.
Products have become commodities. The barriers to entry are low. A product can evolve from an idea to a best-seller literally overnight.
To compete, brands can no longer rely on selling a good product. They need to create relationships with consumers based on purpose, values, and authenticity. If a consumer believes their values align with a brand’s values, they not only become loyal customers but evangelists.
Think about how consumers feel about Apple. They buy into the idea that Apple “thinks different” and their products are designed to drive creativity and freedom of expression. Apple doesn’t sell computers. It allows people to become part of a community and a movement.
As a result, consumers happily pay premium prices for a Mac when, arguably, Windows computers are just as good and less expensive. Apple’s “Why” makes it the most profitable computer maker in the world…and the world’s most valuable brand.
“Why” also allows a company to establish a competitive edge.
To stand out, a brand needs to stand for something.
If products are commodities, what differentiates a brand in an ultra-competitive world? It could be price (e.g. Wal-Mart) but that’s a challenge proposition in the long-term. it could ubiquity (e.g. Starbucks) but being everywhere is capital intensive.
For most brands, a strong “Why” allows them to thrive and survive. It provides them with something that’s difficult, if not impossible, to imitate.
Think of TOMS. It makes shoes. They’re nice shoes. But TOMS is a compelling brand due to its “Why”: improving lives. For years, TOMS has given back to communities in need. Its “One for One” program has given 86 million pairs of new shoes to children around the world. It is a powerful brand “Why” that resonates with consumers.
Dove is another example of a brand with a “Why” that makes an impact. Dove sells soap but its “Why” is empowering women and improving their self-esteem. This is a powerful proposition that attracts consumers, who embrace the company’s values and goals.
TOMS and Dove epitomize an important key pillar of “Built to Last“, the seminal book by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras on the successful habits of “visionary” companies.
“Leaders die, products become obsolete, markets change, new technologies emerge, and management fads come and go, but core ideology in a great company endures as a source of guidance and inspiration.”
In other words, everything is relatively short-lived but a brand’s “Why” has a long shelf life.
it makes also makes a company more successful. They achieve higher sales growth and successfully innovative.
In a research report, “The Business Case for Purpose”, a team from the Harvard Business Review Analytics and EY’s Beacon Institute found that 58% of companies with clearly articulated purpose (aka their “Why”) had growth of +10% compared with companies that did not prioritize their purpose.
What makes these companies more successful? A compelling “Why” engages and attracts consumers but it also inspires employees. It inspires them to work hard because they believe they’re making an impact and driving change, rather than simply selling a product.
At a time when many companies are battling for talent, particularly in the technology sector, a brand’s “Why” makes a huge difference in attracting the best people. And let’s not forget that millennials are looking to work for an organization that delivers more than just a paycheck.
Going back to the beginning of this post, the executive touched on something that many brands are scrambling to figure out to stay competitive. It’s not about the product. It’s not about sales. It’s about making an impact during an age of uncertainty and volatility.
In my next post, I’ll provide guidance on how brands can find their “why”.
Question: does your brand have a compelling “why”? If so, what is it? How was it developed?