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Why Your Business Needs a “Why” in 2021 [+Golden Circle Canvas]

   

Now more than ever, people are looking to spend and associate with brands and organizations that serve a greater purpose. Keeping social responsibility at the center of your business is no longer a bonus– it’s a prerequisite for success. So how can you make your position clear to consumers? Start by defining (or revisiting) your Golden Circle.

People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. 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

More than a decade ago, Simon Sinek introduced The Golden Circle theory in his now viral TED-talk How great leaders inspire action in 2009. He asserts that all successful and remarkable people follow a similar pattern, driving their actions on the WHY, followed by the HOW, and finally the WHAT of their careers— and that all businesses and organizations should do the same to succeed.

What is the Golden Circle?

credit: Simon Sinek

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

Simon Sinek

The idea behind the Golden Circle is fairly simple, and it can be applied to individuals as well as organizations of all kinds. Essentially, every individual or organization has a WHY, HOW and a WHAT.

Everyone knows their WHAT— it’s the concrete product or service they provide. Some people know their HOW— how they deliver this product or service. They might refer to this HOW as their unique value proposition (UVP), or unique selling proposition (USP).

However, fewer companies are truly aware of the WHY behind their business. This WHY cannot be creating profit, since the creation of profit is just a result of business. Instead it lies in the purpose, cause, and beliefs that drive a business forward. This “why” is what motivates people to get out of bed and work in the morning, motivates consumers interest in a product, and overall drives your organization.

Simon Sinek uses Apple as an example, first giving this example of how Apple might communicate if focused on their WHAT instead of their WHY:

“We make great computers [WHAT]. They’re beautifully designed, simple to use and user friendly [HOW]. Want to buy one?”

Everything in this statement is true. Apple does make great, beautifully designed computers. But is that enough to make you want to buy one?

He then gives us an example that leads with the WHY:

“Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently [WHY]. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use, and user-friendly [HOW]. And we happen to make great computers [WHAT]. Wanna buy one?’

Which of these examples sounds more compelling to you? Most likely, the second. This is the magic of starting with the WHY behind your business. Lots of people need computers, and there are lots of high quality, reliable, sleek and stylish options to choose from. With so much competition, the final battleground for attention rests in which computer comes from a company who they as an individual can align with and trust.

The Science Behind the Golden Circle

photo of head bust print artwork

The Golden Circle isn’t just a business concept, it’s grounded in biology. The human brain is broken up into three different parts. Our neocortex is responsible for rational thought and language, aligning with the “what” of our Golden Circle. It can process all of the features that our product or service might offer. On the other hand, our limbic brains (we have two) are together responsible for trust, loyalty, and decision making but have no involvement in language. It is this part of our brain, which cannot access language or necessarily understand technical features, that drives decision making. This limbic brain can only be motivated by a strong “why”— a driving purpose behind a brand.

Why should the Golden Circle matter to you right now?

In 2021, creating a brand or a product is all about the WHY, the purpose that drives what you do. But don’t just take it from us— we’re hearing this from experts all around the world and our office in Japan. Nikkei’s XTrend’s 100 Companies That Create Future Markets 2021 opens by stating:

新型コロナで先を見通すことが難しい状況の中、変化に対応し、新たなビジネスを生み出そうとする企業はどこか。単に新しいだけ、面白いだけではもはや通用しない。

Which companies are responding to change and trying to create new business despite the difficulty and uncertainty caused by COVID? Just new and interesting is no longer valid.

Japan’s largest advertising and market research firm, Dentsu, also released their Third Consumer Survey on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which shows a growing awareness for the sustainable development goals set by the United Nations. These goals include issues like gender equality, eliminating hunger and poverty, slowing global warming, and more.

The Apple example given by Simon Sinek is a bit outdated— so let’s look at one of the leading companies globally in corporate social responsibility (CSR)— outdoor brand, Patagonia.

Patagonia creates a wide variety of products related to outdoor activities, including shoes, camping gear, sportswear, and more. Their products have a reputation for durability and quality. If they were like any other business, they might say:

We’ve done extensive research on outdoor sportswear and create durable, high quality wear for outdoor activities.

Not bad, right? But almost every company could say the same. What sets them apart is their commitment to their “why” and how they share those driving values with the world. Their corporate info is housed on their website under “Business Unusual” and starts leads off with this statement:

Check out this ad by Patagonia, encouraging consumers to buy less and be more thoughtful about purchases in order to help save the environment:

Despite encouraging their audience to buy less, Patagonia has continually seen profits continually increase year over year.* Again, we can see the power of communicating the purpose behind your brand, instead of just communicating what you produce and how you provide it.

*source: ecommerceDB

Use Your Golden Circle

To wrap-up, here are a few ways to keep your Golden Circle a central part of your work:

  • Make it a part of company culture: Your WHY doesn’t mean much if no one at your company understands it and is able to communicate it with others. This is particularly important for sales and marketing, who need to be communicating the purpose behind your organization to build empathy.
  • Put it at the forefront of communications: Especially now, companies need to be sharing about the purpose behind their actions.
  • Keep it in mind with each new business venture: Just like Apple’s “why” stays consistent while creating everything from computers to watches, your why should be consistent in all of your products and services.

Feel free to check out our Miroverse board and try running a quick marketing alignment workshop to set marketing goals aligned with your Golden Circle.

If you’d like to get started creating your own Golden Circle first, we’ve also create a quick and easy to use PDF for you to organize your thoughts and get started.

Golden Circle Canvas PDF Download:

Elena Iwata

Digital Marketer
Originally from Philadelphia, PA, USA, Elena is passionate about storytelling and designing for equity. Her current focus is on content strategy and creation, from research, to writing and photography.

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