What’s your why? Again.

Re-visiting the murky waters of Why.

It seems like every couple of years the question of “what’s your why?” comes up.

I blame Simon Sinek. He did a talk at TEDxPugetSound back in 2009 called “Start With Why. How Great Leaders Inspire Action.”

Sinek is a leadership guru and founder of a consultancy specialising in “Corporate Refocusing.”

Read that bit again, its important information about Simon’s why. He’s also an ex advertising guy. That’s important too.

SS starts out by talking about why Apple is so successful, so innovative when “they’re just a computer company, they’re just like everyone else.” He goes on to talk about why Martin Luther-King led the civil rights movement when there were many other disenfranchised orators who could have done the job, then why the Wright Brothers beat all the competition to powered man flight.

Then viola! SS reveals that HE discovered why this happened. He boldly states that ALL the inspiring leaders and organisations in the world (remember his target market) “think, act and communicate in exactly the same way.”

Without any evidence at all, he states that:

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

This is one of the biggest marketing bullshit statements of all time.

To support his theory, he puts in some biological, behavioural theory terminology but what he doesn’t do is talk about all the businesses that have succeeded despite them not having a motivational why, despite not having inspiring leaders and despite people not believing what they believe. If you had asked Mark Zuckerberg or Brian Chesky (of Airbnb) “What’s your purpose? What’s your cause?” when they started out, their answers would have probably have been getting rich and/or getting laid.

When you consider that Facebook started as a “hot or not” game comparing female students it says more about Zucks motives (and morals) than his later exploits.

Despite being among the most hated companies in the world, Amazon and Monsanto are successful because they give their customers what they want – they fill a need.

The other thing SS ignores is all the companies that had a great “why?” but failed anyway – in some cases because their why got in the way of innovation and change. Firestone, Laura Ashley, Kodak, Nokia and Yahoo! are just some examples. Yahoo! had a deal to buy Google in 2002 and another to buy Facebook in 2006 – but didn’t go through with either. Look how that might have worked out!

People who start their own businesses generally do it for a better lifestyle, to be their own boss or to make a living doing something they love. Their success depends less on other people buying into their belief as on their ability and talent to provide something other people want at a price they’re prepared to pay.

From cable ties to waste disposal, accountancy to hairdressing, your why is of no interest to the people who need your product or services.  What they want to know is what you can do for them, what need you’ll fulfil. If you get that right they’ll buy from you even if your only why is to make money.

If you’ve got an outstanding why and back it up with everything you do, like Patagonia, good for you, but most small businesses don’t, and that’s OK.

A masterclass in marketing

Sinek’s video is a masterclass in marketing. His tenure at Ogilvy & Mather taught him well. While his ideas are flimsy, the strategies he uses to sell them are extremely effective.

The best lesson in the video is to watch how he establishes himself as an expert. He uses scientific language, he exudes supreme confidence, he is engaging and likeable, he tells us what to do to be successful.

If you want to follow his example, talk about your offer as if it is the one and only answer to the problems your clients face. Combine it with a healthy dose of science and verbal manipulation, present it with confidence and good humour and (all other things being equal) your sales will grow – even if you didn’t start with why.

If you’d like to talk about how you grow your business, whatever your why, let me know and we’ll have a chat. 

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