The Story Economy Blog

I Know Why. Do You?


If you’re following along, you’ll remember that last week, I wrote about how businesses over-rely on things like bullet points and features and benefits (the what and how) in their marketing copy, instead of clearly expressing their WHY. In doing so, they miss the chance to connect with their ideal clients. If you missed last week, you can read it here. Or, just jump right in and I’ll explain.

So . . . why? Why do you do what you do? Why are you in the business you’re in? Supporting your family/living a certain lifestyle is actually not a why. It’s a result.

I’m talking about the deep why. The thing that drives you forward through life, the wrong you want to right, the thing you have always wanted — needed — to do since you were a kid or young adult.

People buy your WHY, not your WHAT

I started thinking about all of this after reading Simon Sinek’s wonderfully thought-provoking book, Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action.¬†If you own a business, want to own a business, or work for a business, you should read this book. Even if you’re not a nerd who devours books about leadership, success, and motivation (like me), you will still love this book. If you don’t want to invest a few hours in reading the book, then watch the 18-minute video of Sinek’s TED talk (on his home page): it’s an excellent summary.

Sinek makes the point that people don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it. Your why is what generates loyalty — not just among your customers, but among your employees as well. When someone gets your why and connects to it, they don’t just give you their money; they also contribute their sweat and pledge their loyalty. And then, they tell a lot of other people who will also connect with your why. Do you think Southwest’s customers sent them money to ensure they stayed in business after 9/11 because of what Southwest did? No, people pledged their loyalty and cash to Southwest because they connected with the company’s why (to level the airline playing field and bring low-cost air travel to the masses). As Sinek points out, it’s the same reason Apple fanatics only buy Apple (I’m one of them). We say it’s because the quality is better, the interface is prettier, and the design is sleeker. Eh, whatever. The real reason is that we love Apple’s why: to challenge the status quo.

The problem, Sinek says, is that most businesses start with what or how. They say what they do, why they’re better at it, and how they do it — and expect people to buy. But whatever you do — whether you make shoes, sell cheap camping gear, design buildings, or deliver babies — chances are there is a lot of it. There is plenty of what you do to go around.

But there is not a lot of why. Very few companies start with why.

I used to start with what, too

I sell writing. I know that I’m good at it. It was all I ever wanted to do, from the time I could hold a pencil.

But now I see that it’s merely WHAT I do. My WHY is to help people connect, because when people connect to other people, and to the products, services, and information they need, life is better. As for HOW I do it? I tell stories, because stories forge connection.

Figuring out your why is step one (actually, truly having a why is step one, but let’s assume that you do). The next step is communicating it in a consistent, creative way — in every single piece of your marketing. That means a web site that does more than lead with what you offer. That means an “about us” page that is truly about you, and why you are who you are (versus a resume of accomplishments).

So, let me ask again . . . why? If you have an answer, will I read it when I go to your web site?


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