When approaching brand strategy, the number one question to ask is, “WHY does your brand exist?” It sounds simple, but it can be hard to answer on a deeper level when you sit with it. Your brain might initially think of statements like, “I wanted to make more money” or “I wanted to be my own boss and be in control of my own path”, but these are merely surface-level answers.
Starting a business is no cakewalk and there’s a reason why many folks continue to work as employees. If it were that easy, everyone would do it wouldn’t they?
Before we go any deeper, let’s break down the idea of starting with the why.
Likely the most important message for a brand to clearly communicate is their why. That deeper sense of purpose inspires consumers and brings them to take action.
World-renowned author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek gave a TedTalk about his Golden Circle concept — a talk I highly recommend you binge if you have some free time. His theory speaks of a circle with three distinct layers – the outside layer is the what, the middle layer is the how, and the inner layer is the why. He argues that everyone knows what they do and maybe even how they do it, but few know why they do it. As soon as I watched it, I knew it applied seamlessly to brand strategy. Since then, it has shaped the way I have approached my brand strategy process.
The 3 Layers of Purpose:
1. The What: Where most people usually start their messaging, this is the clearest and easiest to establish of the three. Simply put, this would be the product or service that the company provides. And it’s usually based on logic or features of the product or service. This part is the most rational.
2. The How: After someone’s established what it is they do, they usually move into how they do it; otherwise known as the process. Including information like the business’s strengths, values, and insight on competitors, the how is still rooted in logic and benefits.
3. They Why: People might glaze over their why and even hint at it, but most don’t. It’s the hardest to nail down, the least logical of the three layers, and deeply rooted in emotions. Your why usually centers around a core set of emotions, and those emotions lead viewers to become clients and connect with the brand! While it’s challenging to pinpoint, the why is easily the most important message that an organization should be communicating.
Most brands start with the what. It makes sense — since determining the what is the easiest and most straightforward question to ask about your business. But at the end of the day, it’s a surface level question and won’t form a deeper connection with your ideal client.
To highlight Sinek’s concept with a real-life example, let’s use Asana. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Asana, it’s a project management software that many small businesses and teams utilize
“PEOPLE DON’T BUY WHAT YOU DO, THEY BUY WHY YOU DO IT.” –
That should resonate with us because about 95% of people buy based on emotions. If we take that statistic and apply it to brand strategy, then it’s clear-cut the steps we need to take: start with the emotion, and you’ll see greater results.
Let’s imagine if you will, a time that you bought something based purely on emotion. For me, it happens quite often and usually with a product that has beautiful packaging. A common occurrence is when I’m at the grocery store and debating between that common Hershey’s bar and a gourmet chocolate bar with expensive wrapped paper that makes it automatically feel indulgent. The logical side of my brain understands that the taste might not be much different, but my emotions tell me otherwise; I’d feel extra special with a gorgeous product.
Perhaps for you, it’s that new couch you just splurged on because you knew it would make you excited to spend time in your apartment and get creative in that space. Logically a cheaper couch may make more sense, but spending the extra money was worth it for a pleasing aesthetic that makes you feel good.
People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.
Let’s explore a few examples — the shoe brand Tom’s. The style of the shoes or the material they’re made of is not why the brand is popular. Customers have made Tom’s so successful because they care about supporting a good cause. Their purchase is a direct result of the WHY behind Tom’s.
What about Red Bull, a product with such strong branding and a loyal fan base. Their brand’s why is, “to bring out the adventurous energy is all of us.” How will they do it? By giving wings to people and ideas. What do they do it with? Through energy drinks that vitalize energy and mind Nike is another great example of leading with the why.
Nike’s why is, “the belief that if you have a body, you are an athlete.” How do they share this belief with everyone? By bringing innovation and inspiration to every athlete. What do they do it with? By making all of us an athlete through accessible sports apparel and gear.
THE ENTIRE BRAND STRATEGY SHOULD ALWAYS LEAD WITH WHY. IT ADDS A HUMAN ELEMENT THAT ALLOWS US TO DEEPLY CONNECT WITH A BRAND.
Don’t you see how beginning with the emotions provokes a more intense response? Those powerful why statements are also embedded into a brand’s messaging, its values, the brand’s voice, the brand’s attributes, the brand’s personality, and even archetypes. All of these elements combined drive our ideal customer to feel inspired and eventually take action.
The WHY has become such an important part of my brand strategy process. In fact, it’s one of our essential steps.
Even if it takes time and introspection to find your true brand mission, your why will always be more powerful than your how or what. Remember, we are not selling products or services, we are selling emotional outcomes.