Is your brand’s ‘what’ overshadowing your ‘WHY’?

Redefine and communicate your purpose with these 2 simple branding exercises

This article was originally published in BizWest here.

Tony Hsieh, founder of shoe ecommerce giant Zappos, isn’t passionate about shoes. He says his passion is “delivering happiness.”

You might not be passionate about your products or services. I suspect that most business owners occasionally tire of them. We get bogged down in the nuts and bolts of running a business (our whats) and forget our whys.

The truth is, I’m not passionate about marketing per se. I’m not passionate about my what.

But I have defined what I am passionate about. I’m passionate about seeing underdogs and unconventional ideas succeed. I’m passionate about the ideal of the contrarian entrepreneur—the person who sees a problem people are resigned to, identifies a simple solution, gets tons of pushback, and charges ahead anyway.

creative mind

Branding and marketing are integral to the success of purpose-driven businesses. I feel passionate about branding and marketing when they bear a clear relationship to something inherently worthy and exciting.

Some of the nuts and bolts of any business are tedious. Mine is no exception. The extent to which you enjoy it on any given day has a lot to do with how in touch you are with your WHY. That’s what branding matters. Branding is about communicating purpose, so it’s at least as important internally as externally.

2 established techniques for defining purpose

There are different techniques to rekindle or define your purpose. Bestselling business author Jim Collins uses the “5 whys” approach, which he wrote about in Harvard Business Review:

One powerful method for getting at purpose is the five whys.  Start with the descriptive statement We make X products or We deliver X services, and then ask, Why is that important? five times.  After a few whys, you’ll find that you’re getting down to the fundamental purpose of the organization.

A complementary approach I take is to ask these two very revealing questions:

  1. What inspires you that also inspires your customers?

  2. What pisses you off that also pisses them off?

None of these questions is logic driven. Your prefrontal cortex isn’t going to help you answer them. But they’re the ones that really count.

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“Vibrant” language

Is the coarse language above necessary? Profanity can, in moderation, tap into something “ordinary” language doesn’t. There’s a reason stroke victims who’ve lost their ability to speak are often still able to swear. Profanity is nested in a different part of our brains than the rest of our vocabularies. The implications of this are that swearing evokes something more primal—something more based on emotion and intuition.

Simon Sinek Golden Circle
Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle, from his bestselling book “Start with Why”

“What frustrates you that also frustrates your clients?” sounds like a job interview question. Frustrated people complain on social media. Pissed off people start businesses. Ergo my phrasing.

So don’t be abrasive or profane, but be really clear about the problem you solve and why it pisses you off. Don’t beat people over the head with it—just communicate it in an appropriate, authentic way to yourself and to others.

When good ideas and businesses fail because they either underinvest in marketing, or they overpay for marketing that doesn’t deliver, that pisses me off.

Here’s a less personal example. Kiosk and self-checkout solutions like those Panera introduced to fast casual dining by are springing up all over. I suspect few kiosk company founders love kiosks per se. But if you have a principled belief that people shouldn’t be resigned to standing in lines, developing kiosk-based solutions makes sense. And lines piss almost everybody off.

If what you do day-to-day doesn’t inspire you, don’t kick yourself for it. It doesn’t have to. Look at it through a different lens. Answer the two Big Questions I introduced.

Then sock it to ‘em.

I help purpose-driven entrepreneurs elevate their marketing through storytelling, humor, and clear strategic messaging.

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Posted on: December 7, 2020