Most businesses know what they do and how they do it. Very few know why they exist. Defining that Why is the pivotal question leaders must answer for their organization.

Your Why is at the heart of your brand. It gives individuals a reason to believe in your organization, buy your products, and dedicate their careers to fulfilling your mission. Your best customers will share the same belief system and champion your brand.

Finding your Why is the subject of Simon Sinek’s TED Talk on "How Great Leaders Inspire Action.” Sinek’s presentation is the third most popular TED Talk of all-time. The talk introduced his golden circle principle and Start With Why concept.

So what’s all this mean? Let’s break it down into the What, How, and Why.

What

Every organization on the planet knows What they do. These are products they sell or the services they offer.

How

Some organizations know How they do it. These are the things that make them special or set them apart from their competition.

Why

Very few organizations know Why they do what they do. Why is not about making money. That’s a result. Why is a purpose, cause, or belief. It’s the very reason your organization exists. How about a real-world example? Let’s take Nike.

Their What

Nike sells high-quality athletic shoes and other equipment.

Their How

They do this by connecting through sports, showing how top athletes excel by thinking this way.

Their Why

Nike wants to inspire the world to push beyond barriers, to do things that seem impossible, to realize their dreams when they want to give up. Their Why is more about Michael Jordan dunking from the free throw line than it is about his Air Jordans.

Sinek is famous for saying, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.”

Although a Why is not about making money, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a financial benefit. Michael Jordan has helped Nike sell millions of Air Jordans since the 80s. Jordan earned $100 million in 2015, 15 years after his retirement. Today, Air Jordans account for one in every three dollars spent on sneakers on eBay.

Starting with Why teaches organizations to define themselves by a more values-driven belief or purpose, hence The Why.

Use Why to look at your organization. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Why do you do what you do?
  2. Why does it matter?
  3. Why should your customers/donors/community care?

Once you have your Why, make it a living part of your brand: work it into your marketing copy, mission, vision, etc. Understanding your Why is critical to communicating your How and What effectively to your audience.

After all, Nike’s Why inspired millions of kids to Be Like Mike – and sold a whole lotta sneakers.

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