The Power of Why

This summer’s London B2B Marketing conference was a packed day of interesting and exciting presentations organised into streams: Social, Engagement, Content Marketing, Multichannel Marketing, and Insight.

Simon Callaghan Photography
Simon Callaghan Photography

One of the most repeated sentiments of the day is that content is king. But the problem is there is an oversupply of content. Doug Kessler of Velocity Partners calls it “the content marketing deluge”. And most of it, he says, is crap.

So almost all of it ends up being ignored. People can’t cope, and simply filter out the noise. Traditionally credible content like white papers, case studies and articles no longer generate the same marketing results.

The conference offered plenty of advice about how to produce great content. But I still came away thinking that no one had got to the bottom of the problem. Even if your content is witty, colourful, compelling and succinct, it’s still likely to be ignored unless people are in tune with you.



Your mission and common ground with customers

And how to get people to tune in? I believe you need to clearly express the WHY of your business.

  • What are your values and mission?
  • How do you share common ground with your customers?

Being clear about this is really important, but it can make your brain hurt, and sometimes it’s not fun.



Not one, but five WHYs

Asking WHY in the right way is crucial if you want meaningful answers. A single WHY is powerful. A squad of five consecutive WHY questions creates engineering and business folklore. Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of Toyota, is credited with using the 5 WHYs to get to the root, and solution of knotty problems. Seems to have worked, as Toyotas have a reputation for being pretty reliable.

The 5 WHYS are also used by Six Sigma and Eric Ries of Lean Startup fame as a simple but infuriating business tool to solve thorny problems.

And most kids have cottoned on. Ever dealt with a child’s string of “but why?” questions? If, like me, you try to answer truthfully, before you know it you’re in a metaphysical trap. A stern look and a final “because it is” is the only way to make the indignity stop.



The WHY in marketing

So how does the WHY apply to marketing? Because if you’re clear about the WHY of your business, you’re more likely to connect with your market. Simon Sinek explains this brilliantly in his TED talk:

..all the great inspiring leaders and organizations in the world, whether it’s Apple or Martin Luther King or the Wright brothers, they all think, act and communicate the exact same way. And it’s the complete opposite to everyone else…

Why? How? What? This … explains why some organizations and some leaders are able to inspire where others aren’t.

Let me define the terms really quickly. Every single person, every single organization on the planet knows what they do, 100 percent. Some know how they do it, whether you call it your differentiated value proposition or your proprietary process or your USP.

But very, very few people or organizations know why they do what they do. And by “why” I don’t mean “to make a profit.” That’s a result. It’s always a result.

By “why,” I mean: What’s your purpose? What’s your cause? What’s your belief? Why does your organization exist? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? And why should anyone care?

Simon Sinek – How Great Leaders Inspire Action


Sinek says that people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. And that, he claims, is the difference between companies like Apple and the rest. Apple starts with “why”. He’s developed the golden circle to explain.

golden circle

Why – The core belief of the organisation – why it exists

How – How the organisation fulfils that core belief

What – What the organisation does to fulfil that core belief.

Sinek claims that most companies do their marketing wrong – they do it backwards. They start with What, then move on to How to do it, and often neglect to mention WHY they do it. Some don’t even know why. Our brains, he believes, are hardwired so that emotion and feeling (the WHY) influence our decisions much more that we admit.



Examples of WHY

Which companies have applied this? A random browse through a few global companies and personalities throws up some examples of pretty well-expressed WHYs.


BP – the FTSE 100 behemoth’s home page focuses on diversity, inclusiveness, work–life balance, pride. Not much about filling your tank.

BP Global 2015-06-30 14-33-54


Vodafone – another FTSE giant whose home page is concerned with education, tackling poverty, sustainability, communication. Not much about the best monthly deals.

Vodafone Group Plc - Vodafone 2015-06-30 14-34-59


Patagonia. The $600m company’s home page is dominated by sentiments such as passion, accomplishment, vision, culture, environment, protection. “Take action – donate.”

You are led to a 28-minute documentary about the environment. Why don’t they focus on selling their products instead?



Richard Branson’s personal description on Virgin’s site: “Tie-loathing adventurer, philanthropist & troublemaker, who believes in turning ideas into reality.”

The front page of his blog deals with breaking taboos, the environment, collaboration and treating others well.

Hang on! Last time I looked, he was a businessman! Why isn’t he flogging airline tickets or mobile phones?

Richard Branson


James Brown – The Godfather of Soul – Soul Brother Number One.” His album “Hell” shows huge compassion for the harsh conditions many black people endured at the time (mid-70s). He presented himself as strong and family. But no reference to his music. This album contributed to his reported career earnings of $100m.

James Brown Hell


GSK’s front page mission is to “want to help people do more, feel better, live longer.”


Compass’ home page, in contrast, simply tells us about their revenues and number of staff.

Compass Group 2015-06-30 14-37-01


You can guess, perhaps, which companies are being sincere and which are less so. Personally, Patagonia gets my vote. Makes me wanna buy their stuff. And save the world.





The bottom line is that if you’re clear and sincere about your organisation’s values, mission and what you care about, you’ll win the attention of people that share your values. Be consistent in your activities over time and you’ll gain their trust.

If you feel that the WHY of your business could do with being more clearly expressed, get some colleagues together for a couple of structured sessions to untangle points 1 and 2 below. It’s advisable to have these sessions mediated by a non-employee to make sure that every participant has a share of the conversation.

  1. Think about your own organisation through the lens of WHY
  2. Understand your audience – what is their WHY and how can they identify with your WHY
  3. Incorporate WHY into your communication
  4. Review your WHY periodically.

I hope you enjoyed reading this. Has this helped you? Has it provoked any thoughts? Is there a topic that you would like me to write about?


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About Paul Radziwill

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