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People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it

Posted: Wednesday December 15, 2021 by effinlazy

The commercial success of your business comes down to one thing. 

It isn’t how much funding you have behind you, whether you’ve hired the right people, or even if your product is the best of its kind on the market. 

It’s all about effectively communicating ‘why’ you do what you do and backing that promise up with your actions. This is how you become a brand your customers will love

What this comes down to is human biology. By nature, we crave connection, and your audience wants to find a brand it can connect with. By communicating the reasons behind your actions, your drive, your why, you can draw people to your business. 

I recently enjoyed a fantastic TED Talk titled ‘How great leaders inspire action’ by leadership expert Simon Sinek, which has served as the inspiration for this blog. If you want to watch the whole TED Talk, which is one of the most popular talks in the series, you can find it here

Why do some businesses succeed and others do not? 

Think about it, why do some brands thrive while others do not? Consider major success stories like Apple, the Wright Brothers, and Martin Luther King Jr.

All three of these brands or leaders were just like everyone else and had access to the same resources. Yet, we consider tech giant Apple to be more and more innovative every year, the Wright Brothers were the first to figure out man-controlled flight, and Martin Luther King Jr. became the face of the American civil rights movement. 

You may be wondering, what do these three brands or leaders even have in common? Apple is a multi-billion dollar company and Martin Luther King Jr. was an activist. They couldn’t be more different. 

But there’s a pattern here and once you know what it is, what you need to do next for your own brand will become crystal clear. 

What these three innovators have in common is that they think, act and communicate in the exact same way. And it’s the complete opposite to how everyone else thinks, acts, and communicates, in a way Sinek describes as The Golden Circle. 

The Golden Circle Explained 

The Golden Circle is why, how, and what. Successful organisations start with the why part. 

You may be thinking, every business has these, right? But this simple idea explains how some brands or people are able to inspire and genuinely differentiate their organisation when others cannot. 

Let’s break it down. The Golden Circle is: 

  • What: Every single organisation on the planet knows what they do. 
  • How: Some organisations understand how they do it by defining their value proposition or unique selling proposition. 
  • Why: This is where inspiring organisations set themselves apart because only some brands know why they do what they do. And, unsurprisingly, it’s not just to turn a profit. 

What we are talking about here is the brand’s purpose, beliefs, and mission. Inspired organisations and leaders all act from the inside out, letting their why lead their how and why. 

Let’s take Apple as an example here. While other marketing messages may go from the outside in (what, how, then maybe why if they make it that far), Apple does it the other way round. Everything starts with their why, such as their desire to challenge the status quo or the fact they think differently. This then leads into how their products are superior and that they happen to sell computers and other technology. 

And try as they might, while Apple’s competitors are equally qualified and producing similar products, they haven’t been able to sell them with the same compelling message. 

The way this brand explains its why, how, and what leads to why we are comfortable buying more than just computers from them. We are also comfortable purchasing a range of other products such as headphones or TVs. Let’s be honest, are you reading this on an Apple device right now? 

Does it make sense that we are buying things other than computers from a computer company? Not really. But Apple has figured out their business goal is not to do business with people who need what you have: the goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe. 

Understanding Biology’s Role in our Decision-Making 

The key to this marketing strategy is understanding our biology. You know that “gut feeling” you get when something feels overwhelmingly right or wrong? It’s about how our brains are wired. 

The average adult makes, on average, 35,000 decisions a day. Many people believe that we make decisions based on facts, but research shows that we also make decisions based on our feelings, our gut, or intuition. In fact, these biological processes may have more of an influence on the decisions we make than previously thought. 

Sometimes you can have facts and figures in front of you, but you hesitate in making a purchase or other decision. You think: “It just doesn’t feel right” but can’t articulate why. This feeling comes from the part of the brain that controls decision-making which is a different part of the brain that processes language. 

So when companies communicate from the outside-in of The Golden Circle, consumers can understand what a brand is saying, but it isn’t going to drive behaviour.  That’s what happens when marketing is talking to the wrong part of your brain. It doesn’t encourage you to become a loyal customer. 

But when you communicate from the inside out, starting with the why, a brand is talking directly to the part of your brain that controls behaviour. It can compel consumers to rationalise a purchasing decision backed up by the how and what, the things the brand says and does. 

The Importance of Brand Purpose 

I’ve written before in one of my other blog posts about the importance of having a purpose driven-brand. Simply offering your great product or service is no longer enough when it comes to making your company a success story. This is true both on the customer attraction and retention side and internally when it comes to getting the best out of your people. 

Let’s bring this back to the story of the Wright Brothers. At a time when everyone was pursuing human-crewed flight, why were they successful when others were not? 

One of these unsuccessful pioneers was Samuel Pierpont Langley, who was given $50 million to work on this, held a seat at Harvard and worked at the Smithsonian, and hired the best minds. And yet, he failed.

So how could the Wright Brothers, who were funding their experiments with the proceeds from their bicycle shop and not a single person on their team had a college education, achieve what Langley couldn’t? 

They were driven by a cause. They believed if they could figure out how to fly, it would change the world. Instead of pursuing riches or fame, they were following a dream. And those who worked with the Wright Brothers were working towards the same vision. 

If you talk about what you believe in, you too will attract people who believe what you believe to your organisation. 

‘The Law of Diffusion of Innovation’ 

Being surrounded by people with the same passion matters because of the Law of Diffusion of Innovation. While you may not have heard of this, you probably have an understanding of it already. 

This law breaks the population down into: 

  1. Innovators: 2.5% 
  2. Early Adopters: 13.5%
  3. Early Majority: 34%
  4. Late Majority: 34%
  5. Laggards: 16% 

We all sit at various places on this scale. For example, developers fall into the innovators category, those of us rushing out to spend big on the latest tech would be early adopters, and your grandparents or parents who haven’t figured out how to use a mobile phone yet would be laggards. 

According to the law, an organisation cannot achieve mass-market success until it achieves the tipping point between 15% and 18% market penetration. Every brand has 10% of customers who “just get it,” but you need more than that to achieve widespread success. 

Innovators and Early Adopters are driven by what they believe in, not just what products or services are available, and are more comfortable making those “gut decisions” we were talking about earlier. These are the people who want to be first, and they do what they do because that’s how they want to be seen. 

This is necessary to encourage the Early Majority to try something new – they need to see someone else do it first – thus reaching that all-important tipping point. 

Tivo and Martin Luther King Jr.: One Failure, One Success 

There is no one recipe for market success, and that is blindingly obvious when you compare the examples of Tivo and Martin Luther King Jr. 

Tivo had everything you would expect a company would need to thrive: they were well funded, the market conditions were fantastic, and it was a good product. In fact, Tivo was so well known that the company name became a verb, with people commonly saying things like “I Tivo all my favourite shows.” 

But Tivo was a commercial failure. This brand, which supposedly had all the tools it needed for success, has never made any money. When Tivo launched, they told consumers what they had: a product that pauses live TV, rewinds live TV, and learns your viewing habits. Consumers did not like this. 

Imagine if they tried selling their why instead. As Sinek suggests, Tivo should have told consumers: “if you’re a person who likes to have total control over every aspect of your life, boy do we have the product for you.” Then launch into the product’s features. It basically then sells itself. 

Once again, people don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it. 

On the other hand, let’s take Martin Luther King Jr. as an example of the success of the Law of Diffusion of Innovation. We view Martin Luther King Jr. today as an inspiring leader, but at the time of the civil rights movement, he was far from the only man who had suffered in pre-civil rights America or who was a great speaker. 

But what set Martin Luther King Jr. apart from the rest was the fact that he went around telling people what he believed in. After all, his iconic speech is called ‘I have a dream.’ 

And people who believed what he believed took his cause and made it their own. A quarter of a million people once came to hear Martin Luther King Jr. speak. But they did not show up for the man himself – they were showing up for themselves.  

When you are thinking about how to position your brand as a leader, you need to remember that there are leaders, and there are those who lead. Those who lead are the ones that inspire people to follow them, not because they have to, but because they want to. They want to be a part of your dream for themselves. 

Start with Your Why for Brand Success 

Now, you may be wondering what all of this means for your business. It comes down to the need to rework your messaging to incorporate the why of your business. 

You need to think about why you started your business. Was it to make more money, because you want to help others overcome the same issue you had, or something else entirely? What made you so excited about the idea in the first place? 

Once you have your ‘why’, you’ll have your secret selling sauce. Next, you need to use this to back up the what and how in your communications strategy. This will draw customers to your brand because you will be triggering the decision-making part of their brains. 

Whether you are new to entrepreneurship or have been running your own business for years, Effinlazy’s Brand Strategy and Consulting Services can help you take your why and put it into words. We will use this to position your brand for long-term success. Learn more here