Last Updated on 3 months by Usman Sheikh
In Your Branding Strategy…
Start with What & How – Not Why
With this blog, we are looking to help businesses understand how to come up with the right sequence for a powerful branding strategy.
Are you a business leader, marketer, or brand owner? Are you looking to revamp your brand, launch a new product, launch a new business? If you answered yes to these questions, then we hope the analysis we share in this blog update is useful to you.
So let’s get into it.
The information age is here to stay and nearly everyone is an internet user.
As a result, internet marketing is now bread and butter for a huge percentage of marketers.
On the flip side, internet users are grappling with the confusion created by businesses with a lot of noise and no walnuts. “Who can we trust” these users constantly ask.
Trustworthy brands have a higher competitive edge and take the share. We have talked about this many times before and shared research.
Related: How to establish trust online today?
Your brand is the face and identity of your business, shaping the perception of your target customers, your current and future employees.
As an employer, it is worth noting that a great brand can help you slash down your hiring and training expenses by up to 50%.
So, with these stats in mind, the issue of having a strong brand is not a matter of why (why do I have to build a strong brand), but rather you should be focused on what and how (what do I need to achieve with the brand and how do I achieve it).
The stats on this post, our previous blog on creating trustworthy brands online, and even common sense tell you that in order to have a good business, you need to create great brands!
The Purpose of Existence – the why?
So why do most businesses start? Why do brands do what they do?
To help people.
To create value.
To receive value in return.
Hopefully, the value created is less in costs than the value received over the long-term and there you have a for-profit business model.
In 2009, Simon Sinek wrote a book called “Start With Why” – and since then, he has become world-renowned after this book and as he eloquently articulates his claims the powerful TED Talk – that brands must start with the why.
I have to say when I read his book and watched his talk – I became a believer.
I drank the kool-aid.
Well, I can now safely say that over the years, experience has taught me otherwise.
As a marketer and a business leader – I cannot disagree more with the notion that brands must start with the “why”.
He uses examples (a lot of Apple – but many leaders including the Wright Brothers, Martin Luther King and Bill Gates to name a few) as a great way they tell their product stories.
Issues & Assumptions with the “Why First” Approach
According to him, he says that Apple has been successful because they share their “why” first approach.
There is an inherent fallacy and assumption in this argument. He is assuming that Apple always started with the “why” and then the “what” came.
A lot of the times when Sinek is referencing the “why” – he really means the “what” – but labels it as the “what”. I find that this is more to do with fitting events into this “Golden Circle” than actually calling out reality for what it is.
Apple initially did not necessarily start in creating the belief system on values in their marketing or brand development.
They wanted beautiful design and a closed system of a product that rivals its competitors in everything before they were willing to market it.
Their advertising and marketing campaigns initially were not around the “why” – it was about the “what”.
You cannot have a good “why” if you do not have a solid “what” first.
I will even go as far as saying that he says that in some ways.
There is a chapter called in his “Start With the Why, but Know The What First”…see below:
Image Source: Audiobook Chapters Page
I think he knows that you have to have the “what” first – but the way it is labelled to fit this theory of Golden Circle is where it goes off.
Now everyone thinks of their powerful commercial that has taken over the “hearts and minds” of the general society at large. If you have been in marketing long, you know the one – if not here is the link to it:
However, before having this amazing commercial, they had to have the “what” and “how” fully secured and humming so they can then build on the why.
Imagine having a what after you have sold the why? You can sell someone the dream, but if you do not have a product that backs it up, your brand is not going to last long in the market.
History is forgiving to the winners
The 1984 commercial we shared above is showing the iconic ad that was used to get in front of large audiences (a super bowl ad – so big budgets even for 1984 standards) after Apple had been working on the Macintosh for almost a decade.
That’s right, a decade. Eight years.
For eight years Apple was fine-tuning the engineering with a ton of investment (the what and how) before this ad came into play.
Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak did not sell the why until way later. They had to have what and how well developed, understood vs the competitors and positioned from a branding perspective before they really tapped into the “why” narrative.
Here is Apple fine-tuning its “what” and “how” over the years (when Steve Jobs was at the helm) before it really went after the “why”:
Image Source: Arseluna.org
The above ad is the “how” that Apple used with Steve Jobs at the helm in 1983. “Point. Click” is selling the “what” and features not a belief system, values or the “why”.
A lot of folks favourably recall the 1984 iconic super bowl commercial and think that is where Apple started or even took off.
That is selective memory and crafting a narrative using some facts while omitting others to tell a great story.
Apple had engineers that built products and computers before they had started dabbling deeper in the why to position themselves differently vs. their competitors.
Apple did not market saying initially when they were figuring out what they will sell that – “hello potential customer, your belief and our belief are the same – so buy a mac”. It was “hey – our technology is awesome, easy to use and you should buy it”
They still have a lot of these messages in their campaigns even today.
Image Source: Apple Website
They had to have a great product first (which is the “what” and “how”) before the storytelling on the why could be formed.
This is also true for – Tesla, Google & Amazon.
Did you think Facebook had the “why” before the “what”? Facebook’s branding strategy was simple enough in its initial stages before they got into the deeper development of “what”.
Has Facebook been successful in gaining brand awareness, capturing the market without the “why”?
Let’s take a step back. These are giants that are used to showcase examples and illustrate a point.
Let’s bring it close to home…what about our own experience?
Branding Strategy: Our Experience
As an avid reader and student of business and branding books, an instructor of business at local colleges and postgraduate programs, a content writer on business topics, a business leader running a digital marketing agency who has helped brands large and small – I can tell you that we do not start our support with the why when we help brands.
I know I am not as famous as Simon here. I also know we have not reached the level of success that Simon has with his book and business – yet.
(what – a guy can dream!)
However, I also know I would side with a fool over a great storyteller when that fool is technically correct.
At Web Worx Labs, our questionnaire and discovery process begins by asking our prospects and potential partners what they are selling and where they need to go.
We then come up with strategies to help them get there.
If the brands do not have a product, an offering and simply just a belief system, then we humbly ask them to come back to us at a different stage in their business journey.
Ideas and beliefs without solutions cannot sell alone.
We tell our prospects who are initial stages of ideation or brand development to get back to us with a product, a service or a solution that can be marketed before we fine-tune their brand.
We fine-tune with embellishing their brand stories (origin stories, product or customer success stories).
We help them with branding collateral in general with compelling photography, design, video and build other brand assets.
We help them design their online and offline presence, document and align on their target buyer avatars or buyer personas.
We help craft messaging and research the right placements of their messages that can be shown online with ads or organic discovery.
We agree and recommend on where they should be hanging out – the networks they should have a presence in.
All this can only be achieved when we know what we are selling as part of the branding strategy we align on with our partners. The why comes in after as part of the messaging and marketing.
The brand starts with the what, how they will deliver their promise to the customers day-in-day-out, and then that’s where we come in as an outside agency representing their brand to help them with the why and their messaging.
Starting With The Way Approach Is To Really Take Off
Focusing on “why” helps brands (and business leaders) who have established a revenue stream, have the “what” and “how” figured out – to really take off.
Even in his TED Talks – he references this with the Early Majority table:
Image Source: Emcrit.org
The above is Geoffery Moore’s Technology adaption lifecycle
Simon Sinek is a great mind and I have a ton of respect for him and the brands he has helped. He has done good work. I am not taking away any of that.
I also get that he is trying to fit a narrative in a theoretical concept so it is easy to explain. I also get that he is trying to ignite the passion that leaders have when running their brands to help get to that “tipping point” from early adopters to the early majority. That is all clear.
However, I believe his name to fame has more to do with his presentation style, his ability to tell great stories and oration skills than actual practical advice that business leaders should take verbatim from the book.
Hopefully, I have been at least successful in creating some doubt in your belief that it starts with the “why” if you are a huge Simon Sinek fan. From my perspective, given our background in branding strategy, it starts with the “what” and “know-how” before the “why”.
In one of my upcoming blogs, I will get into the “how” and “what” a brand needs to get started with or must have when looking to revitalize before the “why”.
Do you agree with my assessment and analysis above?
Reach out if you have any questions and or thoughts on our contact-us page. Or simply comment below. We check our blogs and emails regularly 😊. Good luck on your brand development journey!
From a start-up helping local small businesses, over a span of 5 years, Usman has built Web Worx Labs to be a leading provider of digital marketing solutions that employed 15+ full-time employees and had customers in over 30 countries.
Outside of work and his passion for all things digital, Usman is a proud father of three, loves running and is an avid reader.