Like Ripples in a Pond: Driving Brands with “Why”



The Golden Circle. It’s how author Simon Sinek visualizes a person’s decision making process. The “why,” representing a higher cause, directs the outer circles. The “how” ring, or value proposition, and the “what” ring, the process that realizes the “how,” are intuitively guided by the Circle’s core, the “why.”

Successful businesses and leaders, Sinek says, follow this pattern. They start by giving people a reason to believe in them before offering practical details.  As a brand, Apple started with a purpose: to challenge the status quo. This “why” drove the design and innovative technology found in all Apple products — the “what” and “how.” In turn, people believe in the company’s cause and allow their actions to follow. They overlook Apple’s executional blunders (ex: the antenna on the iPhone 4 and Maps in iOS6) and continue to believe in its cause and show religious-like devotion. The pattern can even be seen in historical events. As a civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gained prominence for his beliefs and convictions, not the specific plans he laid out for achieving civil rights. Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech (not “I Have a Plan,” as Sinek jokes) attracted over two hundred thousand supporters who believed in his purpose and allowed it to guide them to DC. His legacy lives on well after the passing of Civil Rights Act just as Apple’s will even after their market share wanes. Sinek concludes, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do.”  Communicating from the inside out drives behavior and creates long lasting relationships.

Recent studies in psychology and biology reveal the distinction between meaning, the “why,” and happiness, the outer two rings. Achieving meaning is allowing the “why” to drive the “how” and “what” and often necessitates a person to sacrifice along the way.  On the other hand, happiness is an emotion for the present. It is achieved by fulfilling fleeting needs and desires and then it fades as a person’s needs change, much like how a business’ “what” and “how” must evolve as the culture and technology around it change. The pursuit of meaning, researchers find, often counteracts “happiness” but ultimately leads to increases in overall well-being, life-satisfaction, and self-esteem.

We as marketers often speak about creating long-lasting and meaningful relationships with our customers. Advances in our understanding of the human mind point to the necessity of a brand or company standing for something people can relate to, believe in, and trust. This purpose, the “why,” should be the starting point for a brand. The details will follow.



Listening: A New Day-After Thanksgiving Tradition

A key part of my role as a planner is to be a good listener. So naturally, when I heard about The National Day of Listening — a holiday started by StoryCorps in 2008 — I wanted to learn more.

A noncommercial alternative to Black Friday, The National Day of Listening is celebrated the day after Thanksgiving by recording an interview with a loved one. It’s a day to honor someone in your life through the simple act of listening. StoryCorps calls it “the least expensive but most meaningful gift you can give this holiday season.”

What a beautiful thing.

If you’re not already familiar with StoryCorps through their weekly broadcasts on NPR’s Morning Edition or their really cool animated shorts, the holiday initiative is another good reason to get to know them. An independent non-profit, StoryCorps runs the largest oral history project of its kind, giving Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs the opportunity to record, share and preserve the stories of their lives.

New this year, StoryCorps has partnered with SoundCloud to provide an interactive venue for sharing Day of Listening interviews called the Wall of Listening. They make it really easy to participate and offer interview tips and sample questions to help you prepare. All this in an effort to remind one another of our shared humanity and teach the value of listening.

Here’s where I was going to talk about why listening is so important to the planning process, but I realized that’s a pretty obvious point. Besides, it’s almost Thanksgiving and I’d rather just share something nice with y’all for the sake of it.

Maybe I’ll catch your interview on the wall? I’ll have one up there.

Happy Thanksgiving!