People Don’t Buy What You Do, They Buy Why You Do It

Leaders start with the why before explaining the how. Martin Luther King wrote the I Have a Dream Speech, not the I Have a Plan Speech. There is great validity to this concept. Lately, everywhere I turn, I’m seeing a similar message.

Steve Jobs once said, “You’ve got to find what you love. Going to bed at night saying I’ve done something wonderful. That’s what matters.” See the Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs post.

The late Steven Covey says Leadership is an inside out approach that begins with personal trustworthiness, then interpersonal trust, then managerial empowerment.

I enjoyed Simon Sinek’s presentation at the Ted conference concerning How Great Leaders Inspire Action. Simon explores why Apple, Martin Luther King, and the Wright brothers have been successful while others were not. He proposes that all great leaders begin with the “Why”, then “How”, and finally the “What”.

The Why is your purpose. He suggests that marketing communication begin with the “Why”. Apple begins with “Everything we do, we believe in challenging the Status Quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the Status Quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use, and user friendly. We just happen to make computers. Wanta buy one?”

Start with the why, then move to the how, and finally the what.

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

Simon suggests that the reason is rooted in biology. Emotional Intelligence research suggests that we tend to feel before we think. This data seems to be consistent with Simon’s premise.

Simon tells the story of Samuel Pierpont Langley vs. Orville & Wilbur Wright. He suggests that Samuel Langley was driven by the paycheck and fame, while Orville and Wilbur were driven by a noble purpose. See the history of Samuel Langley here.

Simon says that 2.5% are innovators, 13.5% are early adopters, 34% early majority, 34% late majority, then 16% laggards. The only reason laggards buy touch tone phones is because they no longer make rotary phones.

It seems that the tipping point occurs between 15-18% market penetration. The early majority will not try something until someone else has tried it first.

Simon suggests that TiVo could have been much more successful if their marketing message would have started with the why.

For example, if you are the kind of person who likes to have total control over every aspect of your life….Boy do we have a product for you! It pauses live TV, skips commercials, and memorizes your viewing habits.

In the summer of 1963, 250,000 people showed up to hear Martin Luther King speak. No invitations were sent out. There was no website where you could check the date. How do you do that?

Martin Luther King told people what he believed. He delivered the I have a Dream Speech, not the I have a plan speech. People who believed what he believed took on his cause and made it their own and they told people. 250,000 people didn’t show up for Martin Luther King. They showed up for themselves.

“If you hire people just because they can do a job, they’ll work for your money. But if you hire people who believe what you believe, they’ll work for you with blood and sweat and tears.” Simon Sinek

How can you incorporate the “Why” into your marketing message?

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  • Love the links, videos, and concepts in here… I’m going to need to re-read and ponder this for all of this to sink in fully, but plan to start using this come Monday!

    • Jonathan,

      Let me know of the implications that you find. I found the concept intriguing. I also plan to keep it in mind as I craft blog posts and marketing messages. Thanks for stopping by the blog and I always value your input and perspective.

  • ONeil Thomas

    Dale, I am O’Neil and I am a corporate learning and development specialist. I love the information. I was not able to open the links but I believe that what was written is sufficient for the moment. I have actually re written a new value and marketing statement following the why, how and what principle. I would love a posting on the importance of colours and shapes in the marketing process. By the way, I live in beautiful Jamaica,