We look for meaning everywhere, in everything.
We may not even be aware of it, but we all look for it all the time. It’s how we’re wired. When we get even a small taste of meaning, even for a second, we want more.
It could be something simple, like reading a social media update from an old friend, or more meaningful, like creating a memory with a close family member. Meaning can be found in relationships with people, organizations, or even in brands we love. They have different depths of meaning to us, but meaningful moments deepen the connection of the relationship.
It affects how we buy and buy-in.
We believe those meaningful connections happen with brands when the communication is authentic and built around WHY your organization exists. Simon Sinek’s famous TED talk explains this concept well, as does his book, Start With Why. Let’s review some of the key concepts, and then I’ll add my take on how to bring it to life in your organization.
What Simon Says
All great leaders and organizations communicate from the inside out. They have a purpose, cause, or belief that drives WHY their organization exists, and people are attracted to it. People who believe what they believe want to be a part of it. They want to align with that purpose, not because of WHAT the organization does, but WHY they do it.
Starting with Why means that you lead your brand communication with WHY your organization exists, and then talk about HOW and WHAT your organization does. The difficulty is that most organizations don’t know why they exist. They all know what they do, but tying it back to a meaningful, unique purpose or belief can be challenging.
It’s Not Opinion. It’s Biology.
The science of how the brain works reveals that people make decisions in the Limbic system of their brains. That’s the part of the brain that controls emotions and feelings, and it’s where WHYs are processed. This is why you often hear people talk about ‘gut feelings’ driving their decisions as words cannot be processed in this part of the brain.
Words are processed in the Neocortex. Facts, figures and data live there. Decisions are first made in the limbic system and those decisions are then rationalized in the neocortex. All decisions are emotion-based and logic-supported. That’s why impacting buying or buy-in decisions has to be done by creating meaningful emotional connections, instead of just stating what your company does.
Inspiration vs. Manipulation
Organizations that start with WHY build meaningful connections with their audience through inspiration and trust, as opposed to manipulation or transactional interactions. When someone connects with your brand based on things that inspire them, their connection to your brand is more about what your brand says about THEM. They want to “belong” to your brand because of how it makes them feel about themselves and how they believe they will be perceived by others.
Apple leads from their core
Apple is a great example of a brand that starts with why. Their brand was founded on the belief that the individual should challenge the status quo and think differently. They believe that when individuals are given tools to help them challenge the status quo, that those individuals can change the world. Their products make that possible. Their products are an embodiment of that belief.
And now with that brand purpose so ingrained into the Apple culture, their customers now want that purpose to be true of themselves. So much so, that they are willing to spend twice as much and stand in long lines to get the products that make them feel that way about themselves.
And I’m one of them. I love Apple products. They’re intuitive, classy, and intelligent. Those are all characteristics I want to be true about me and my company. I don’t even know what other competitor products are comparable any more. It doesn’t matter. My bond with that brand is so strong that I don’t care. And isn’t that how you want your audience to feel about you?
TiVo is an example of a brand that Sinek describes as one that didn’t start with why. They were first to market. They had a superior product. “TiVo it” became a verb for crying out loud. Yet they eventually lost their market share. You don’t hear much about them anymore. So what happened?
TiVo’s marketing was all feature based (WHAT’s). They talked about how they could pause live television, record your favorite shows, and skip commercials. Those things are awesome, but there was no WHY infused into their message.
They could have started with something like, “We believe that time is our most valuable asset. You deserve to control how your time is spent, so that you can achieve the things that are most valuable to you… on your schedule… when it makes sense to you.” That already feels more powerful and could have positioned them more strongly with their audience.
They didn’t however. When cable providers brought in their own DVRs, and other options came along, TiVo began to struggle. The company was competing on cost and features, and there wasn’t enough loyalty and purpose built up in their brand to overcome it.
Your Purpose is already in you
This is where this whole concept becomes powerful to me. The key to connecting with your audience’s WHY is to start with your own WHY and build your brand around it. Your purpose is meaningful. You may not yet think so, but it is. You may not even know what it is, but there’s a God-placed purpose in you, put there to deepen your relationship with HIM, and ultimately everyone you come into contact with. He’s given you a specific burden and calling along with gifts and talents that are there to help you serve others and achieve the vision He has designed for you.
Your WHY is expressed in everything you do. Whether you are leading your business, parenting your kids, or coaching a little league team, you are operating within your God-given purpose. It may need to be developed in order for you to understand it and articulate it clearly, but it’s there. I guarantee it. It’s how you were wired, and it’s specific and intentionally designed for you.
Let’s talk about me
My personal WHY is to inspire and equip others to fulfill their God-given purpose. That is also the vision of our company. Our company accomplishes that by helping other leaders uncover their purpose, unify their team around that purpose, and energize their brand by effectively communicating that purpose in a compelling way (our HOW). Branding, marketing and technology systems are WHAT we do to achieve our WHY.
To uncover our vision and develop our WHY required multiple conversations with God and others. Through my experience with Kingdom Business Leaders and through some other collective resources and mentors, we now have a process called OVRFLO that streamlines all the steps to bring your purpose to life. That purpose becomes your organization’s identity (your WHY). Once that becomes clear, we then work to align it with your audience’s WHY and build the tools needed to best communicate it in a way that is valuable to them.
When you’re able to align your WHY with your audience’s WHY, then you have something powerful. From employees to new customers or partners, it will attract people who align with your WHY to your organization. They will be excited and inspired to connect with your team and your brand, which will in turn confirm the value and meaning of your identity. Speaking from my experience, the clarity is empowering, and the confidence is intoxicating.
It’s not a new concept
This may be new to you, as it was to me, but honestly there have been business consultants championing the idea of leading businesses with purpose for many years. I’ve actually found that many CEOs have read these same books I have referenced and been inspired by them. The trick is finding someone who can help bring your purpose to life, in you AND in your organization. That is where my purpose comes in. God has been gracious to allow me to help others reveal His purpose in them through the OVRFLO process.
It’s crazy to think of the thousands of lives that are ultimately impacted every time we take a client through this process. Imagine what it would be like for not only you, but your entire staff, to be excited about showing up to work every day, to know clearly what the purpose of your organization is and how you make lives better through what you do. That will impact their families, your audience, those they impact, and so on. It’s huge. It’s God-sized actually.
So what’s the problem?
Well, that all sounds fascinating I’m sure, but what are some obstacles that could get in the way of this working in your organization? Good question. Let’s look at a few challenges that need to be overcome to make this successful.
If the leader, or leadership team, has not “bought into” the WHY-focused approach, then getting them to be consistent in starting and leading with it will be difficult. The owner or leader is the one whose purpose fuels the process and they must be involved to champion the new direction of the organization. They also are the ones who can dilute or distract from the brand whenever a new whim arises. It takes consistency. The only way they will be consistent is if they are the one who truly believes in the long term value of this approach.
If any of the players on your team who are responsible for communicating your organization’s message (especially sales and marketing) do not communicate out of the overflow of your unified purpose, then this process is weakened, and ultimately could fail. When there’s ambiguity in who your team says you are, whether in marketing, sales, or even operations, then your WHY will eventually get fuzzy, and a split will likely occur, causing it to weaken and fade. The whole organization needs to realize their part in telling the big WHY story to your audiences. If they are excited about it, and aligned with it, then it will be effective and meaningful for all.
People support what they help create
Leaving out key people in the process will lead to a lack of buy-in when the new brand focus is rolled out. That means you have to include them. You have to show them how their WHY is aligned with the organization’s WHY. Then you have to show them how this is not a threat to the old ways of doing things, but a strengthening of them.
Try it for yourself
The next time a prospect calls you to learn more about your organization, they’ll likely start by asking you a bunch of WHAT questions (features, costs, details, etc). Resist the temptation to simply answer their questions. This time, start with WHY your organization exists, and then build toward HOWs and WHATs and see how they react. Most likely, they’ll remember the WHY story more than the WHATs, and a meaningful connection will have begun.