More why ‘why’ — Brand Ethos
13 February 2017

More why ‘why’

Getting to your brand purpose
Peter Mills is quite the evangelical devotee of Simon Sinek's Golden Circle. He explains why you should be, too

You will, I am sure, have seen Simon Sinek’s TEDTalk, How great leaders inspire action, and if you haven’t, I urge you to. If you have the time, read his book, Start with why, as well. All brand purpose statements should start with why.

What I thought was a bunch of original thoughts about brand developed over about 15 years, turned out to have been thought through by someone else, although not described as brand, and almost certainly written up a lot better than I might have done. So, Mr Sinek, I am now quite the evangelical devotee.

In his book he talks about what he calls the Golden Circle. At the centre is ‘why’, on the next ring is ‘how’ and on an outer ring ‘what’. It is a devilishly simple diagram for the success of every organisational brand. It’s one that perhaps politicians could do to remember, also.

The ‘why’ of an organisation is its purpose. Why you get up in the morning. Why you exist. Why people should care. Why what you do matters. Why people connect with you. It is the most difficult of the three elements to understand because we often describe it euphemistically: I follow my heart, it’s in my guts, it’s part of my soul.

‘Why’ is what great leaders talk about and drives how and what they do. If you believe that brands are a bunch of ideas born of values and beliefs, which I do, then great brands are brands have a clear purpose, a reason for being. You attract people to your ‘cause’, because people—prospective customers, employees, donors, volunteers, voters, whoever—have similarly values and beliefs, or are at least attracted to them. That will build trust, make them loyal, and ensure they are your advocate, even if you slip up.

‘Why’ is very often the direct opposite of what everyone else does. The idea that there is best practice is the reason we have a world of bland, which may be all very well for medicine and what makes the Highway Code.

What makes you distinctive is because you believe in better, because you have a set of values and beliefs that solve problems in the world that are the result of everyone else doing the same.

So, here’s a simple guide to defining your brand purpose, which people can understand and helps answer the question, ‘why?’

A brand diagnostic for getting to your brand purpose

Start with (forgive a little jargon) a brand diagnostic. Three circles, each overlapping.

A good place to begin is with people. Who are you trying to engage? What are they looking for? What are you asking them to do? How do you engage them? What are their points of pain? Can you prioritise them? When thinking about audiences think about people, not organisations.

Next turn to your market. Who is the competition? What do they do well, or you admire, and what is done poorly? How is the market changing? What issues need to be addressed? What trends do you see in the world?

Finally, look at your organisation. Start with your personal motivation and those of your colleagues? What would you like to see different in the future? How do you have to change to help make that happen? What are your assets? People, places, products, access.

Now look between the gaps. Start with the overlapping gap between organisation and market. Let’s call this the points of parity. What are the things you need to be a genuine player in your market. I know from doing this with organisations that this is often the greatest mining field for potential improvement, but also to ask, ‘should we be in this market?’

Next look in the overlapping gap between market and people. Let’s call this the vulnerabilities. Why would people turn to your competition over you? What weaknesses do you have? Some of these things you may want to address, others you won’t be able to.

Finally, look at the overlapping gap between people and organisation. Let’s call this points of differentiation. Why would people turn to you over the competition? What makes you special?

Now work on your purpose statement: why you do what you do.

Make a short list, a really short list, of the top problems you are trying to address and an equally short list of what makes you special. You can find all of this in the diagnostic you carried out beforehand. Develop a number of purpose statements based on how you will tackle these problems and ask whether people which they think ‘feels’ best and is the most true.

Brand purpose statements should be relatively short, 20 to 40 words or so. They don’t have to be beautifully crafted (although beautifully crafted is ideal), but they should be well thought through. They can contain a little aspiration, but ultimately need to be true, have credibility, be relatable and be achievable.

They should contain the following elements:

  • A core belief, defined by your ethos, that drives what you do, the problem you have set out to resolve, why you do what you do
  • How you are going to set about doing that, and the benefit you’re going to bring to the world
  • What’s amazing about you, what’s the thing you’re great at.

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