12 / 02 / 2016

Why you should be asking why


Simon Allman




I once came across a brilliant poster which was designed for The Economist magazine quite a few years ago, the headline simply asked the question; ’What’s the worst thing we lose when we get older? Our hair? Our teeth? Our curiosity?’. The image was a silhouette of a young boy looking up at a spider whilst stood on the stacked typographic headline and it was crafted in the brutally simple art directional style that most of The Economist campaigns are set in.

The curiosity question this poster is asking has always stuck in my mind. The way a childs brain works is brilliant, so why do we stop asking why when we get older? Why do we become less curious and accept most things that come our way?

At Absolute, when we work with our clients on any new project, we always take the approach of asking ‘why?’. Creative people tend to do that by habit. We have to ask the right questions to unearth the solutions to many problems posed in a brief. At the studio we follow a principle discovered by Simon Sinek, which is a simple idea called ‘The Golden Circle’ and it helps us to understand why a business or brand exists.

A lot of businesses know ‘what’ they do, they always know ‘how’ they do it, but more often than not, they don’t know ‘why’ they do it. The problem is that what and how do not inspire action. Starting with what usually means starting with facts, figures or results, but starting with why inspires belief in a brand or a business. People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do what you do.

One client of ours who is now an advocate of ‘The Golden Circle’ is Ian Williams, the Marketing Manager at Incorez, an industry leading manufacturer of polyurethane and epoxy technology. They supply their products globally, but most importantly they work closely with their customers and ask the right questions to produce the right solutions for them. They call this ‘Custom Chemistry’ and this is their point of differentiation. We collaborated with Ian and his team to help articulate the positioning of Incorez and we also helped to define their ‘why’. Now they can explain what their company does in a few simple sentences.

Ian has recently written an article for Incorez which articulates the ‘Why’ principle nicely. We wanted to share this article to spread the word and get more people understanding ‘why you do what you do’.

Why you should be asking why

I’m sure we all remember as kids endlessly uttering the words “but why?” to our parents. Children have an innocent curiosity about the world around them and understandably want to know more about it. As parents we want our children to have the best start in life and so to try to and satisfy their curiosity we attempt to answer all their “but why?” questions even if it means resorting to “because it is!”. Although, as parents we should embrace their thirst for knowledge, the novelty quickly wears off when your child arrives home with their algebra homework and expects you to help.

Reflecting back on those early days in our lives, perhaps, as kids, we were onto something. Perhaps, as adults, we should take a leaf out of their book and start to ask why a bit more often. As marketers we should be particularly inquisitive and think more about the whys that affect and influence our business. A good start point would be why does this business exist? Why do we have the customers that we have? Why do they not buy from our competitors? Why do our products exist? Why did we develop them? At first glance these may seem like obvious questions and the easy answer is to say “we’re in business to make money”. But revenues and profits are just consequences of the actions you take. Take a step back and really think about the answers to these (and other) why questions about your business and it might not be as straightforward as you think.

Every organisation or individual knows what they do. For organisations it is the products they sell or services they offer. For individuals it is their job function or role. Some organisations and individuals know how they do what they do. They may refer to it as their “differentiating value proposition,” “proprietary process,” or “unique selling proposition (USP).” These hows are the things that set them apart from the competition, the things that make them different. Very few people or organisations can clearly articulate why they do what they do. Why is a purpose, a cause or a belief. It provides a clear answer to questions like “why does my organisation exist?” and “why does that matter to anyone else?” It is the whys that inspire us and the whys that form an emotional connection with your customers. If you don’t know why you do what you do, how can you expect anyone else to know?

Let’s look at products. Communicating the features and benefits or technical specification of a product makes rational sense. But these are the whats and hows and do not inspire action. People do not make decisions based on facts and figures alone. Brand loyalty exists for this very reason. By starting with the why (your cause or belief) you communicate in a way that drives decision making and behaviour.
When organisations clearly understand their why, then align it with the how and what and communicate the message to their customers, they will not only inspire them to buy now but over time build brand loyalty and trust.

Do you know your why?