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Purpose in marketing: A book review of “Start With Why” by Simon Sinek

Why do some brands inspire more loyalty and success than others? Simon Sinek discusses this question in “Start with Why” – a book that explores the powerful connection between purpose and marketing. The premise is: “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

I don’t think I’ve written a book review since, oh, say, fourth grade. But after reading “Start With Why” by Simon Sinek, I feel compelled to share this marketing book with you.

I’ve found myself thinking about this book for several weeks.

Mr. Sinek starts his book with a question.

Why is it that some companies and some leaders are exponentially more successful than others?

Why is it that some brands inspire such powerful loyalty among their customers?

Consider a few examples…

Many motorcycle riders are so passionate about their Harley-Davidson motorcycles that they have tattooed the company’s logo on their bodies. According to Mr. Sinek, following 9/11, some of Southwest Airline’s customers sent the airline company money because they were “worried” about the airline and wanted it to make sure it survived.

(Can you imagine your customers sending you checks because they’re worried about you?)

The common thread, says Mr. Sinek, is that great companies and great leaders focus on why they do what they do, rather than focusing on what they do.

They’ve figured out, what is our bigger purpose in this world… our cause… our core belief? Why do we get up in the morning, and why should anyone care?

Here are some of the interesting marketing takeaways from the book:

Most companies market themselves backwards.

When most companies market themselves, they start with what they do (products and services) and how they do it. They usually avoid why they do it – probably because most companies aren’t clear on their bigger purpose.

In contrast, great brands and leaders start with why they do what they do. Then, they back up their beliefs with how and what they do. (They walk the talk.)

Mr. Sinek uses Apple as his example.

If Apple were like everyone else, he says, they would market themselves saying, we make great computers, and they’re beautifully designed and easy to use.

But instead, Apple says, in everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We challenge the status quo by making products that are beautifully designed and simple to use. Want to buy our computers… or MP3 players, tablets, or phones?

Apple inspires people, attracting people who want to be a part of their purpose: thinking differently.

Side note: So how can you integrate purpose into your messaging? To me, defining your purpose should be part of developing your brand strategy. 

Sharing your “why” is about winning hearts before minds.

When you communicate what you believe, there’s an emotional appeal. Of course, technically, you aren’t actually winning someone’s heart.

When you share your why, you are connecting with a person’s “limbic brain” – the part of the brain that is responsible for feelings (including trust and loyalty), emotions, and all decision making and human behavior.

When you focus on what you do, you’re connecting with the “neo-cortex” – the part of the brain that is responsible for analytical thought and language.

Communicating what you do doesn’t drive behavior. When you start with why you do what you do, you speak to the part of the brain that controls decision-making.

Side note: As a marketer, I know that appealing “to the heart” is critical; though, I had never heard the biological reason for it. I found the explanation in this book to be fascinating.

Your “why” differentiates you.

A company’s differentiation takes place in why and how you do it – not in what and how you do it.

The goal is not to do business with everyone who needs what you have, says Mr. Sinek.

People have a basic human need to belong. Belonging makes us feel connected and safe. To achieve a sense of belonging, people look for ways to be around other people and companies that are like them and share their beliefs. When a company clearly shares what it believes and consumers believe what it believes, consumers want that brand in their lives.

Ultimately, the goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe. If you talk about what you believe, you will attract those who believe what you believe.

Side note: I think that having shared beliefs with your customers is critically important from a working relationship “fit” perspective as well, particularly if you serve clients. Beliefs play a role from start to finish!

Where to learn more

To learn more about “Start with Why” or to purchase the book, please visit the Start With Why website. (Please note, this isn’t an affiliate marketing link. I’m simply sharing this book because it inspired me.)

To watch a TED Talk video on these ideas, check out this TED Talk video featuring Simon Sinek.

Until next time!

Ann