Why do some companies achieve things that completely exceed our expectations and defy all of our assumptions for what's possible?
This is a question that Simon Sinek asks the audience as he begins his famous Ted Talk. Sinek, a bestselling author, sets out to discover why companies like Apple have been able to achieve such extraordinary success while others, with the same resources, have failed.
He explains it through this idea he coined "Start With Why." And as it turns out, his findings have important implications for inbound marketers too.
This post summarizes the philosophy behind "Start With Why" and then dives into how it relates to the inbound marketing methodology. To learn more about Simon Sinek, you can check out his website.
Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Action
According to Sinek, the fundamental difference between the "Apples" of the world and everyone else is that they start with "why."
What does that even mean? To explain this concept, Sinek has developed what he calls the "Golden Circle."
- Why - This is the core belief of the business. It's why the business exists.
- How - This is how the business fulfills that core belief.
- What - This is what the company does to fulfill that core belief.
Sounds simple, right? But what Sinek found is that most companies do their marketing backwards. They start with their "what" and then move to the "how." Most of these companies neglect to even mention "why." More alarmingly, many of them don't even know why they do what they do!
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But Apple starts with "why." It is the core of their marketing and the driving force behind their business operations. To help illustrate this point, imagine if Apple also started backwards by creating a marketing message that started with "what."
"We make great computers. They're user friendly, beautifully designed, and easy to use. Want to buy one?"
While these facts are true, I'm not sold. We want to know why they are great and user-friendly. Turns out Apple has figured this out over the years and knows better. Here's what a real marketing message from Apple might actually look like.
"With everything we do, we aim to challenge the status quo. We aim to think differently. Our products are user-friendly, beautifully designed, and easy to use. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?"
See how different that feels? Because Apple starts with "why" when defining its company, it's able to attract customers who share its fundamental beliefs. As Sinek puts it, "People don't buy what you do. They buy why you do it." Starting with "why" makes Apple more than just a computer company selling features, and that's why their products have flourished while their competitors' products with similar technology and capabilities have often flopped.
But enough about Apple. Simon Sinek's "Start With Why" philosophy isn't just about billion dollar businesses. It also has implications for inbound marketers in any sized business. Let's take a look at some of the key marketing takeaways from the "Start With Why" philosophy.
3 Key Takeaways for Inbound Marketers
1. Take a step back and use "why" to think about your own business.
Do you know your company's "why"? (Hint: It's not to make money.) Think about the core purpose of your business, and then think about how you market your products or services. Are they aligned? As Sinek has found, having loyal customers is all about attracting the people who share your fundamental beliefs. Remember: People don't buy what you do. They buy why you do it.
Yes, this might seem obvious, but it's a critical step that is often overlooked. If you were (or are) the founder of your business, wouldn't you want the people marketing it to know why you started it in the first place? Understanding "why" is essential to knowing how to communicate the "how" and "what."
2. Incorporate "why" into your marketing copy.
The idea of starting with "why" is also a copywriting best practice. The next time you're writing an email, a blog post, or a landing page, start your writing with "why."
You see, "why" explains the underlying value of what you're promoting. Consider these two opening sentences to a hypothetical email:
"Check out our new ebook, 7 Ways to Generate Leads with Social Media. We’ll show you the seven most effective ways to use social media to generate leads for your business."
"In the past decade, social media has become a very powerful tool for businesses. More and more businesses are adopting social media strategies to fuel their lead generation. In our new ebook, we’ll show you the seven most effective ways to use social media for your business. Check out 7 Ways to Generate Leads with Social Media."
What we've found is that the second type of email copy leads to a significantly higher click-through rate. Communicating the value (aka the "why") right off the bat sparks the reader's intrigue, at which point all you need to do is close the deal with the details (how and what).
3. Redefine your buyer personas.
I'll say it again: People don't buy what you do. They buy why you do it.
With that mind, think about your buyer personas for a moment. Are they based purely on target demographics and assumed characteristics? Are they the kinds of people who might share your core values? What is it that drives them to buy your products and remain loyal over a long period of time?
If you don't know the answers to these questions, it's ok! You don’t necessarily have to scrap your buyer personas and start over. Just add more context to who they are and how they identify with your "why." Doing so will get you to start thinking about the internal motivation that goes behind their purchase decisions.
Perhaps you are a small business with large competitors and your customers are loyal to you because they like to support the little guy. Maybe you’re making the world a better place, and your customers love you because they believe in your cause. Whatever the reason, redefining your buyer personas to match your "why" is critical in creating marketing that inspires them to continue advocating for you.
Get Started. See What Happens.
Now that you have a good understanding of Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why” philosophy, go out and give it a try. Write a blog post that explains what your company believes in. Maybe track a few keywords that could uncover people who share your beliefs. Then get on social media to spread your cause. You’d be surprised to see how supportive your leads and customers alike will be. When someone believes in your "why," they're more than a lead or customer; they're an evangelist.
Originally published May 14, 2014 9:00:00 AM, updated October 29 2019