The Power of Knowing WHY

The most important concept I learned as a writer is the power of a tag-line, a one-sentence summary of your story. Having a well structured premise written in a single sentence makes for much stronger stories. In nonfiction, a thesis statement serves to keep the main thing the main thing.

Running a business or serving a cause is like telling a story. A Mission Statement of other simple statement of purpose, your reason for doing something, keeps your business or organization’s story on track. 

A thesis statement and synopsis also prevent writer’s block in my experience, since the rest of the work is simply filling in that initial framework. Same with any project or business. You might adjust or even change the story along the way, but having a vision statement or guiding concept at the outset keeps you focused. If the thesis, or value proposition in a project, isn’t working, then it becomes clear by having the purpose stated from the outset.

I’m a big fan of Simon Sinek’s “Start With Why”. The simple premise of the book lies in “Why you do what you do” makes the “how” and the “what” more effective. In a world filled with computer and cell phone manufacturers, Apple’s marketing has caved out an extremely loyal following based on their WHY: “innovation”. Sinek says…

If Apple were like most other companies, a marketing message from them would move from the outside in of The Golden Circle. It would start with some statement of what the company does or makes, followed by how they think they are different or better than the competition, followed by some call to action. With that, the company would expect some behavior in return, in this case a purchase. A marketing message from Apple, if they were like everyone else, might sound like this: ‘We make great computers. They’re beautifully designed, simple to use and user-friendly. Wanna buy one? (Simon Sinek)

That’s how most companies present their product. A residential cleaning service: we offer meticulous (how) cleaning services (what). An attorney: we offer knowledgeable and ecperienced (how) legal counsel (what). Apple’s WHY used to go like this:

“Let’s look at that Apple example again and rewrite the example in the order Apple actually communicates. This time, the example starts with why: ‘Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use, and user-friendly. And we happen to make great computers. Wanna buy one?’ (Simon Sinek)”

As Sinek illustrates, people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. Needs are bought based upon objective reason. Wants are subjective, emotionally driven purchases. In the Apple example above, the choice to buy an iPhone 8 rather than a Galaxy 5 says as much about the consumer’s beliefs as it does about Apple.

Apple has shifted their mission statement and marketing to “we make the best (how) computers (what) in the world.” We’ll see how that works for or against them in coming years. Might they see another slump without Steve Jobs at the helm, as they did after firing him in the nineties then losing the original vision?

What is your WHY? In the above examples, a residential cleaning service might say, “We offer the freedom to enjoy the important things in life- spending quality time with family- while giving you the peace of mind to know your homekeeping is in capable, trustworthy hands.” An attorney might define his or her WHY as: “When legal matters disrupt your life, we give you peace of mind of having an experienced defender in your corner.”

Starbucks is another great example of WHY. The WHAT and HOW are simple: Starbuck’s is a coffeehouse (what) selling premiere (how) roasted coffees. Their websites About Page shows they understand their WHY so well they are currently the third largets fast food chain in the world. Starbuck’s describes themselves this way: “It happens millions of times each week – a customer receives a drink from a Starbucks barista – but each interaction is unique.” Starbuck’s does not sell premiere coffees. They sell an experience, a comfortable home away from home setting.

A powerful WHY not only gives you focus, it speaks to your target audience’s heart. The human brain will fill in the rest if your message touches the audience’s emotional core. Whether people are purchasing maid service, legal services, flowers, dinner, or a cup of coffee, it is important to understand and reach the true consumer want or need. It is rarely the obvious product or service. There are thousands of fast food restaurants. Both McDonald’s and Wendy’s understand their customers are looking for more than a burger.

So what is your true value proposition? What is it you really offer, beyond a product, service, a community around a cause, art, music, or writing? It’s worth taking a few minutes to write out your WHY, evaluate it, and see how you really connect with your website’s audience.

The WHY for this blog and my web developing business is to build value for both web audiences and website owners. An article like this one fits perfectly within that vision because it flows from who I am, and my desire to serve and offer value to the world. Website owners who consider their WHY will make the web a better place with stronger content.

Why do you do what you do? Does your “why” resonate with potenial customers in your website audience? What successes have you experienced in communicating your WHY? Where have you fallen short?


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