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?
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. If you’d like to learn more about my brand strategy process, watch my free video training Brand Strategy for Designers: How to Master the 3 Essential Steps.
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. Let’s play around with the Golden Circle as it relates to Asana:
The what: project management software
The how: by enabling teams to work together effortlessly
The why: to help humanity thrive (Asana’s current mission statement on their website)
Let’s imagine if Asana markets itself by leading with the what instead of the why. It would sound a bit like:
“Project management software that enables teams to work together effortlessly.”
It’s fine and simple. I understand what Asana does for me and how that happens. This statement is pure logic. But what if we flipped the script and instead began with the why. What would that look like and how would the emotion change surrounding the language?
“To help humanity thrive by enabling all teams to work together effortlessly.”
Come again? They didn’t even mention their what, it’s nowhere to be found. But even still, the second one is much more inspiring than the first one because it tugs at deeper feelings within us. Humanity thriving vs. project management software — which one do you find to be more compelling? It’s an easy answer.
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 more 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.
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 my essential steps. If you would like to learn more about brand strategy, watch my free video training Brand Strategy for Designer: How to master the 3 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.