Why? How? What?

Consider these two marketing messages.

We make great computers. They’re simple to use. Beautifully designed and really user-friendly. Wanna buy one?

In everything we do we believe in challenging the status quo. We do this by making products that are simple to use, beautifully designed and user-friendly. We just happen to make computers. Are you ready to buy one?

Much as I’d like to, I can’t claim the credit for that. I’ve taken it from Simon Sinek’s TED talk in 2009 – ‘How Great Leaders Inspire Action.’

In the talk Sinek discusses what he calls ‘the golden circle.’ The ‘why,’ ‘how,’ and ‘what’ of business. His point is simple: all businesses and entrepreneurs know what they do. Most know how they do it. But very few know why they do it. And it’s the ‘why’ that distinguishes the truly great businesses. As you may have guessed, Sinek was using Apple under Steve Jobs as the example for the marketing messages above.

What does Simon Sinek mean by ‘why?’ Well, what he doesn’t mean is profit: in his view, profit is simply the result of doing what you do. ‘Why’ is the core belief that underpins your business: it’s the reason you get up in the morning: it’s the reason why you care – and the reason why anyone else cares about your business.

As Sinek says, people don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.

Do I agree with this? Yes. Absolutely. A hundred per cent. And so on.

Every time I see someone build a really successful business, there’s a compelling ‘why’ that underpins their journey. It can be anything from a deeply personal story to a simple belief that there has to be a better way. Or as one business owner said to me, “This is what makes me truly happy. This is what makes me sing and dance. This is what I was meant to do.”

The ‘why’ – the core belief – is almost never money. In my whole business career, only twice has an entrepreneur said to me, “I’m doing this because it will make me thousands and thousands of pounds.” The overwhelming majority of the time it’s as Sinek says: if the underlying ‘why’ is there, then material rewards are simply the by-product of doing what you do. (If you want to read more about Simon Sinek’s ideas, here’s the link to his book, Start With Why.)

That’s why the marketing messages I quoted at the beginning of this post are so important. I’ve talked many times in this blog about communicating with clients and potential clients, especially through your website. And my view has always been the same: you should write what your clients want to read, not what you want to write.

And what clients want to read is why you care and whether or not you’d be good to deal with – not how well qualified you are.

In Simon Sinek’s terms too many businesses communicate from the outside in: this is what we do and this is how we do it. We’re great solicitors, we’re really well qualified and we work from these superb offices.

What they should be doing is working from the inside out – this is why we do what we do. We believe that everyone has the right to an outstanding legal service: that’s why we pass exams and keep our knowledge up to date…

Just try that on your business. Spend ten or fifteen minutes working from the inside out – from ‘why’ to ‘what.’ A great place to start is with a blank sheet of paper and the words, ‘We believe.’

Give it a try. You might be surprised where it takes you…


One comment

  1. Sarah Shafi · June 28, 2013

    Just checked the ‘About’ page on my website…’We believe’ kicks it off…Phew!
    Powerful as ever Ed.

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