It Isn’t About What You Do, It’s About Why You Do It

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It Isn’t About What You Do, It’s About Why You Do It


marketing overhaul find the whyFollowing the Super Bowl, many agreed there were not many commercials that stood out as YouTube-replay worthy. Sure, some conjured up a chuckle, but few made me stop and say, “That brand really gets me.” While we are talking about advertising here, I believe it is part of a bigger problem regarding the entire promotion industry, including advertising, marketing and public relations—brands continue to focus on product details rather than caring about the reasons behind the decisions people make.

Author and speaker Simon Sinek explains why we all need to start caring using his idea of The Golden Circle. “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it,” he says. “If you talk about what you believe, you will attract those who believe what you believe. Microsoft sells the ‘what’ and sometimes the ‘how,’ but Apple sells the ‘why.’” (If you have not watched Sinek's TED Talk, I highly recommend you do it now.)

Time for a Quick Biology Lesson

During his presentation, Sinek talks a bit about the brain and how marketing messages can affect it. The Neocortex is responsible for rational, analytical thoughts (the “what” and “how”) and language. The Limbic sections foster feelings, trust and loyalty. They are also responsible for human behavior and decision making but do not understand language. This is where “gut decisions” are made (often using the “why”). This is why something can look good on paper but just not “feel” right.

Apple is well aware of this notion and often taps into the Limbic section of our brains with innovative messaging. This is why people will wait in line all night for the next iPhone even if the Samsung Galaxy S III has more features. The iPhone “feels” right to many of us.

Who Did it Right?

This year, I would say Chrysler got it right with a simple tribute to farmers. “Make your living off the land and you can truly make something of yourself, your family — and a nation. No other truck understands this simple truth better than Ram.” The dialog didn’t discuss the speed, torque, weight, power or strength of the Ram truck, but rather used the famous speech given by radio broadcaster Paul Harvey during the 1978 Future Farmers of America convention, titled “So God Made a Farmer.”

Even those of us who don’t till our land or drive a truck can see that Chrysler understands its audience. We can see why Chrysler manufactures trucks, and for many farmers and hard workers, those reasons are parallel to the motives for waking early, working all day and understanding happiness doesn’t come easy. Now, a Ram truck just “feels” right.

Setting the stage for so many marketing musts—telling a story, tugging at the heartstrings and understanding the ‘why’—was Google’s 2010 Super Bowl commercial, Parisian Love. In less than a minute, we see a young man fall in love, move across the globe and start a family without ever leaving the Google screen. Google knows we use the search engine to answer the big and small questions in our lives. The commercial showed us that solving our problems is why it exists. Google just “feels” right.

Applying the Why to Your Marketing

Now comes the hard part: using this lesson in your own marketing efforts. I get it; it’s a big concept without a lot of direction. But it boils down to understanding why you do what you do and communicating that to the world.

Let’s say you are a manufacturer. Your campaigns and lead nurturing emails have become mundane, and the messages are uninspiring at best. Take a step back and ask, “Why do we do what we do?” And then ask yourself, “Why do our customers do what they do?” Figure out why that doctor became a doctor—to save lives? Why did that dentist become a dentist—to help people develop confidence and a beautiful smile? Why is that racecar driver a racecar driver—for the speed? The glory? The money? (Money may be the driving factor for many, so don’t be afraid to exploit that if necessary.)

So if you had the attention of more than 100 million viewers, what would you want your message to be? Do you communicate with the decision-making part of your buyers' brains? It can be more difficult than it sounds. And, most importantly, does purchasing your product or service just "feel" right? If not, it may be time to get back to the "why." 

This is my attempt to get marketing back to a place of inspiration and brilliance. What do you think?

brianne carlonWith a degree in journalism, Brianne has more than six years of professional writing and content marketing experience. Through web and editorial writing, she reaches target audiences for Fortune 1000 companies, as well as small businesses. She uses her content marketing powers to help Kuno and its clients build their brands. You can connect with her on Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+

photo credit: .sarahwynne.


Good post, Brianne! To try to systematically get where you've described we use a device we call the motivation hierarchy, which borrows heavily from Maslow's needs hierarchy. It looks to identify what's the highest value a product or service can possibly claim credit for, and the conversation usually focuses on what the product can do for a persons' esteem, and how they feel as a result. This process takes us to some incredible discussion about the "why", and often uncovers gems that create wonderful power.  
Thanks for taking your blog to a higher place. Well done!
Posted @ Wednesday, February 06, 2013 1:18 PM by Greg Linnemanstons
Thanks for the kind words Greg! I absolutely agree that inspirational marketing (as I am calling it) absolutely taps into what a product can do for a person's esteem and how they feel as a result. Thank you for wording it so well!  
It's not always easy to determine the "why" behind what your brand or product can do, but it's always important to keep trying. Thanks for reading!
Posted @ Wednesday, February 06, 2013 1:28 PM by Brianne Carlon
What an excellent post. Great points. Great summary. Thanks for introducing Sinek's TED talk. Terrific antidote to the self-marketing BLATHER we writers are deluged with by social media "experts" for artists [the quintessence of that old saying, "Those who can't do tell other people what to do...") who are now making their living charging us, the already resourceless, with scattershot how-to's instead of clear direction on defining and living our oh-so important "why."
Posted @ Thursday, February 07, 2013 11:32 AM by Amanda
Thank you so much for the comment, Amanda! There is certainly a lot of self-promotional marketing out there these days. Here's hoping we can all take a step back and identify the "why" behind our own business as well as that of our customers. It is where the true worth lies for marketing!
Posted @ Thursday, February 07, 2013 1:25 PM by Brianne Carlon
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