One of the most popular TED talks of all time is Simon Sinek’s “How Great Leaders Inspire Action.” By recognizing the pattern that successful companies (and individuals) use to drive behavior, Sinek devised The Golden Circle to classify three elements of communication: Why, How, and What. The outermost ring of The Golden Circle signifies “What” your company does, and the middle ring represents “How” your company is different from others. At the circle’s core is “Why” your company does what it does and is the focus of this post.
Most brands have no trouble with the first two elements. They know What they do and How they are different. But the third element, Why the brand exists, is often more challenging to ascertain and communicate.
According to Sinek, people don’t buy what you do, but why you do it.
That’s an interesting thought, but does it actually matter? Well, one way to evaluate this is to consider brands in the marketplace and compare those with and without obvious purpose. In the area of personal computers, HP and Dell are two big brands. Do they have a well-known purpose? Most people would say no. Contrast that with the Apple brand of computers. Apple has a stated purpose of “enriching people’s lives and being different”. Apple computers command a higher premium in the marketplace than HP and Dell, even before their “ecosystem” of offerings became as broad and deep as it is today. What about Porsche in automobiles? Bombas in socks? Nike in athletic gear?
Indeed, it appears that people are wired to be drawn to brands with purpose. An implicit association study conducted by Porter Novelli found that 78% of correspondents were more likely to remember a brand they perceived to have a strong purpose. Furthermore, they found that peoples’ first descriptors or “fast associations” were words associated with purpose (responsible, compassionate, inclusive, etc.) instead of function (high-quality, affordable, convenient).
If your brand does have a strong purpose, it allows consumers to connect with your brand instantaneously, since it’s the first thing your subconscious mind is evaluating anyway. It makes your brand more sticky, increasing the chances that it will be remembered in the future.
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What’s more, it appears that purpose matters even more to younger generations; think Millennials and Gen Z. Multiple studies have demonstrated that younger generations more heavily favor brands that stand for more than the product or service they offer—serving social, environmental, or humanitarian goals.
I can personally attest to this with a couple of different brands. My first introduction to a brand with purpose was about 15 years ago with TOMS shoes. They used to sell primarily lightweight slip-on shoes, and if you asked someone who had a pair, they would tell you two things: that they’re super comfortable and that TOMS gives a pair of shoes to someone in need for every pair sold. This was known as the “One for One” business model, which resulted in them giving away over 100 million pairs of shoes since their inception. I’m pretty sure they weren’t the first, but I feel like they pioneered having a strong purpose and using it as an engine to drive success. They recently underwent a rebrand ending the One for One model. The new slogan, “1/3 of Profits for Grassroots Good,” suggests their Why they are in business: to improve lives.
TOMS footprint (pun intended) on branding can still be seen today. In fact, one of my favorite brands is likely a product of the success of TOMS. It’s a brand called tentree. I first found out about them when I asked my college roommate where he got his hoodie. I viewed their website but didn’t buy anything at the time. About five years later, when I was looking to get new clothes, I remembered the brand and ended up buying some hats from them. Clearly, their Why still resonated with me.
Advocates for using sustainable, recyclable materials, tentree plants ten trees for every item sold. Their Why is “to regenerate ecosystems, capture carbon and provide planting jobs in communities around the world.” Like TOMS they’ve found a way to intertwine the purpose and brand image so that they’re one and the same.
- Brands with purpose turn consumers into ambassadors.
- When a brand has a strong purpose, consumers are 4.5 times more likely to recommend them to someone.
- Purpose-filled brands experience more organic growth and don’t have to work as hard to achieve it.
- Purpose drives the underlying emotional connection to, and preference for, a brand.
In a world where attention spans are dwindling and budgets are tight, purpose could make all the difference. So, what is your Why?