“People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it.”
Emotion before rationalization. Benefits before features. Why before what.
“The goal is not to do business with everybody who needs what you have. The goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe.”
Simon Sinek gave a very popular TED Talk (18 million plus views) reminding us that our human biology means our limbic brains (our reptilian or lizard brains) connect with an idea before we follow our decisions with reason, with rationalization of what we have already decided.
As business owners, we have to understand this. If we try to convince our potential customers by telling them all of the features of our products without making that emotional or limbic connection first, we will sell less.
This doesn’t mean you trick your customers. Not at all. You just need to understand how they (we) work before you can communicate effectively.
Soon after his TED Talk, Simon Sinek published his book based on these ideas as Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action (Portfolio Trade, 2009).
I have asked friends and clients to read this book because I need them to understand the core message: it’s not about you. Your marketing isn’t about your product or your company. Your product isn’t about a list of features. The people you want to reach don’t care about you. Sad, but true.
It isn’t really sad, though, unless you misunderstood communications. If you are communicating to your customers to fill your own needs without understanding their needs, you won’t connect. We all respond based on our needs. Your customer will respond based on her own needs and her own beliefs. That’s not sad. That’s just how we function as humans.
The point in Simon Sinek’s talk and book was too simple for many. I’ve read and heard a lot of dismissive reviews saying that this isn’t a guidebook (it isn’t), that Simon Sinek confuses WHY and HOW (he doesn’t), and that his point is repetitive (it is but for a reason).
Simon Sinek doesn’t give you an outline that reaches out to your reason first. He touches on his point and spirals back to it as he builds his examples. Apparently, some find this narrative style irritating.
One of my clients listened to the audio book narrated by Simon Sinek. She couldn’t get past his accent—the British English of his childhood with his U.S. adulthood on top. She couldn’t hear what he was saying for how he said it. “He should just choose an accent and stick with it,” she told me. Except that this isn’t how accents work. Me? I love it. My husband has spent most of his adult life in the U.S. after growing up in England, and I find the softened British accent comforting. See how even our own expectations make his point?
Some think this WHY is more of a “What makes you different?” but I see the deeper idea we are meant to understand as leading with beliefs. Maybe the problem these reviewers have is less about the message of connecting belief to belief and more about the simplicity of the title. Sure, START with WHY, but don’t stop there. The book doesn’t stop there.
You can get the main point of the book from the TED Talk, but you won’t get the richness of the message from the talk alone. If you already understand the point, you might not be receptive to this telling of the tale. If, however, you need a reminder that people connect through their beliefs so you have to lead with yours, you may get that reminder from Start with Why.
Manipulations and Commodification
I first read this book as I was working on my section, the business section, of the Real Diaper Association Cloth Diaper Co-op Report. I was looking for a way to help cloth diaper businesses understand the consequences of their constantly feeding the gimme culture with giveaways and discounts. I was looking for a way to help them understand that it was their own actions that lead the way toward the commodification of cloth diapers that has happened with imports and illegal co-ops.
Simon Sinek helped me to see how to explain commodification to those in my industry in his section on commodities. This does connect back to the WHY, to the connection through beliefs.
We make the true connection when we inspire action rather than manipulating action.
“There are only two ways to influence human behavior: you can manipulate it or you can inspire it.”
Inspiration vs. Manipulation.
Sure, it’s obvious when you think it through, but are you really too good to be reminded of what you already know by a business book? I appreciate the reminder. The reminder helped me to get to a deeper issue.
“Typical manipulations include things like dropping the price, running a promotion, using fear, peer pressure, or aspirational messages. And promising innovation to influence behavior, be it a purchase, a vote, or support. When companies or organizations do not have a clear sense of why their customers are their customers, they tend to rely on a disproportionate number of manipulations to get what they need. And for good reason: manipulations work.”
Manipulations work, but they don’t work for long. Manipulations work for one-time transactions. They create an addiction to giveaways, free shipping, free gift with purchase, and the lowest prices.
Manipulations don’t inspire lasting, loyal relationships. Manipulations don’t inspire the connections between you and your customers that keep them your customers.
I work with inspiring people, owners of independent retail stores and manufacturers of products that grew from a desire to help parents. The WHY of each of these businesses inspires me, but it isn’t always easy to get to their WHY. I’m not sure that customers stick around long enough to find their WHY, to find out if they believe what the store owners believe.
Whose fault is that? Not the customers. It isn’t their obligation to reach out to you. It’s your responsibility to reach your potential customers.
“When you start with WHY, those who believe what you believe are drawn to you for very personal reasons. It is those who share your values and beliefs, not the quality of your products, that will cause the system to tip. Your role in the process is to be crystal clear about what purpose, cause or belief you exist to champion, and to show how your products and services help advance that cause. Absent a WHY, new ideas and technologies quickly find themselves playing the price-and-feature game—a sure sign of an absence of WHY and a slide into commodity status. It is not the technology that failed; it was how the companies tried to sell it.”
I recommend that my clients and colleagues read Simon Sinek’s Start with Why because I’m not sure they know how to lead with their values and beliefs—or maybe they need a reminder. I’m not sure they realize their role in communicating with their potential customers. Most of us don’t have a background in business communications, so we can stand to learn how best to connect with the people who believe what we believe, the people who need what we offer.
Buy Start with Why at your local independent bookseller by starting at IndieBound.org.