A case for the ‘who,’ what’ and ‘how’

marketing communications

“Start with why.”

Simon Sinek’s simple yet profound message yielded one of the most watched TED Talks in history, a New York Times Best Seller and a fresh take on communications that reshaped the way organizations present themselves to customers.

There is no denying the introspection and timelessness of quotes such as, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it,” and “Working hard for something we do not care about is called stress; working hard for something we love is called passion.”

Yet it’s important to remember that Sinek’s philosophy focused on leadership rather than marketing. Yes, there is a great deal of carry-over from one to the next. An organization’s purpose is its heart and soul. But don’t be that marketer who stretches “the why” too far and relies solely on it in every meeting, strategy and campaign. You need to convey a few other things. Read on to learn more.

The who: A chance to be more relatable

In many industries, competitors offer the same products and services at similar price points. A beautifully written company story and mission statement can be a fantastic differentiator, but at the end of the day, humans connect with humans. They want to know who you are, professionally and – on a surface level – personally. What makes you more qualified than the next person? How did you get into your line of work? What are your hobbies and interests? These are the makings of an engaging and concise biography for anyone in your company. From there, you can continue to put faces to names through video snippets, employee spotlights and other fun feature stories.

The what: Crux of all marketing

I wish I had a dime for every website that left me wondering, “What exactly does this company do?” You cannot replace your product- or service-based messaging with storytelling. You can separate, commingle or amalgamate the two however you please, but they both need to be present. Even Apple, a pillar of Sinek’s reasoning, is known for surprisingly simple billboards like, “Shot on iPhone,” or often just the name of a given product.

On the complete opposite end of the “why” meter, many brands are boiling down their messaging to state exactly what they do, with no flair whatsoever. Personally, I think there’s a happy medium. You can be artful and articulate at the same time. Within the context of a website, you’ll want to be direct in certain areas and conceptual in others. Typically, your home page and product or service pages require nuts-and-bolts messaging that doesn’t lend itself as well to “the why.”

The how: A peek into your expertise

The “who” and “what” are no-brainers. Now, I’ve got a wild card to send you off with: the “how.” There is no better way to achieve the sentiment in Sinek’s “why” than through a narrative of your process for creating a great product, service, experience or culture. The cool thing about this idea is that it is exceedingly powerful in unexpected arenas, such as manufacturing or construction. How do you make that tiny part and what does it do in the world? What did it take to build that new residential property? We have a natural curiosity in what’s going on “behind the scenes.” Timely, singular stories are more effective over the long haul than endlessly drilling the same company story.

The not-so-ironic part of this post is that the “who,” “what” and “how” require you to ask, “why?” in some form or another. In fact, “what” and “how” are actually part of the Golden Circle that visually conveys Sinek’s entire premise. Come on, did you really think I was “throwing shade” at one of the most influential thought leaders of our time?

What do you think is the most overlooked aspect of marketing communications? Let us know in the comments below.

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