Finding Your Why: A Brand Purpose Exercise

“People don’t buy what you do they buy why you do it.” Simon Sinek challenged an entire generation of marketers with this simple phrase in his 2009 TED Talk on leadership. In it, he breaks down success stories like Apple and the Wright brothers, explaining how their pursuit of the Why rather than the What inspired consumers (for the former) and supporters (for the latter).

What Can Why Do For You?

The language of the Why, also known as your brand purpose, creates connections. It is defined as the reason you exist beyond the drive to make money. It appeals to the part of the brain that drives action. By leading with your Why and following with the What and the How, you hook your audience with emotion and follow with the facts, benefits, and details allowing them to rationalize the action.

The Why drives attachment and action, not only among your key audiences and customers, but in your employees as well. A Gallup poll found employees engaged in their company’s purpose and values are 59 percent less likely to look for a different job within the next 12 months.

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What is Your Why?

Finding your Why isn’t simple. (Something with the power to achieve the success of Apple and keep employees loyal never will be.) It’s more than just making a statement you think your audience will get behind. And it’s far more than co-opting the Why you’ve seen work successfully for others.

Audiences are smart. They’ll be able to spot a disingenuous Why in a single touchpoint. Your Why has to align with and drive everything else you’re doing, especially your vision, mission, and values. These internal markers of how your company operates are a good starting point for your Why. But it’s important to note they are different than your Why.

The Why can be seemingly nebulous and existential, but by asking the right questions, you can start to put parameters around it.

Your vision describes where your organization is going in the coming years. Your mission focuses on your business operations and the products or services you offer. Your values define how your entire organization should go about achieving your mission. Your Why shifts focus from internal operations to your external impact. It’s what the advertising leader Greg Ellis describes as your “philosophical heartbeat” It’s the reason your brand exists. Consider the philosophical heartbeats of these famous brands:

  • Dove: Achieving real beauty and encouraging women to love themselves
  • Patagonia: Inspiring and implementing sustainability in the outdoor industry
  • Crayola: Fostering creativity in children
  • Coca-Cola: Spreading and sharing happiness

How to Find Your Why

To find your Why, you need to dig deep and wide. The Why can be seemingly nebulous and existential, but by asking the right questions, you can start to put parameters around it. The process should involve internal team members, leadership, customers, data, service and product experience, your current marketing — all the little components that comprise your brand experience.

Industry

Trends in the industry are great indicators around what is driving action and connection in your audiences. Looking at your industry can also help you identify gaps in your communication, uncovering the emotional impact of what you’re delivering. Consider:

  • What seems to be the Why of others in this space?
  • What are these organizations missing?
  • What trends are emerging and what seems to be driving them?
  • How has the industry shifted since you first introduced your brand and what has remained steady in your brand despite these shifts?

Leadership

Hold discussions with your leadership team to understand what greater purpose they want your brand to achieve in the coming years. Ask questions like:

  • What do you believe our brand does that no one else can?
  • What makes us different?
  • How does it change the lives of our customers and all who encounter it?
  • What are we trying to change in the marketplace and our world with the work we do?
  • Why did you start this company? Why this industry?

Employees

Because your Why must be evident at every level of your organization, it’s key to get insight from employees in as many departments as possible. Start with customer service and work your way out from there. Ask them:

  • Why do you choose to work here over any other company?
  • What purpose do you feel you’re fulfilling at work each day?
  • What inspires the work you do?
  • What about our business motivates you?

Customers

Customers are the individuals who need to buy into your Why. They’re the ones who need to be moved to action above anyone else. They can help you see beyond the company line to determine what it really is that your brand brings to the table. Interview them to find out:

  • What motivated you to purchase from/do business with our company?
  • What do you love about our brand?
  • How has your day-to -day changed since purchasing our product/engaging our services?
  • How does what we’re doing make a difference in the marketplace?

Product/Service Experience

Use your product or service with the eyes of an outsider. As you go through the process of engaging with your team and the product, ask yourself:

  • How does this fit into my life? What gap is it filling?
  • What about it feels different than anything else I can get from the marketplace?
  • How does engaging with this brand/product/service make me feel?
  • How do I see this product/service making a difference beyond the benefits it delivers?

Data

The data can also give you answers to questions you didn’t know you should be asking. By analyzing patterns in the data you can uncover:

  • What topic areas are of most interest to my audience?
  • What product/service benefits are most important to them?
  • What emotion is likely driving this interest?
  • What problems are they looking to solve/answers are they searching for in this content?

Current Marketing

Your Why can also be hidden in the way you’re currently talking about your brand. Immersing yourself in your materials and reading between the lines can help determine:

  • What common themes appear in the way we talk about ourselves?
  • What is the emotional driver behind those themes?
  • How is the language we’re using different than the language of our competitors?
  • What are the benefits we’re touting really solving for our customers?

Once you’ve sifted through all these perspectives, you can start pulling together common threads. Maybe your products simplify the lives of your customers. Maybe they renew excitement in the hearts and minds of your audiences and employees. Maybe there is a sense of empathy for those experiencing difficult times. Identify these threads and start weaving them into your Why.

As you start to communicate Why, watch to see how your audiences react. See what resonates with them and what gets lost, and adjust your Why accordingly. But more importantly, make sure everyone understands your Why and make sure it’s driving everything you do. This alignment is going to be the biggest factor when it comes to making sure your Why makes the intended connection and inspires the most action.