Leadership expert and bestselling author Simon Sinek is perhaps best known for giving one of the most famous TED talks of all time — “How great leaders inspire action.” During this talk, Sinek outlines a simple concept called the “Golden Circle,” which attempts to explain why the great companies of the world are so good at differentiating their brands and inspiring action, while so many others seem to limp along.
The Golden Circle is comprised of three concentric layers. From the outside-in, these layers are “What”, “How”, and “Why”. Sinek argues that most companies know what they do and how they do it, but only the great ones really understand why.
Your “why” is the purpose that drives your company. It’s the reason that you and your team get out of bed in the morning, and why the world should care. Sinek believes that by anchoring on this underlying passion, companies can speak directly the limbic system of their potential customer’s brain — the part which processes feelings of trust, loyalty, and decision making.
Starting with “What” — Outside In
Because few companies understand their “why,” Sinek argues that most begin their pitch from the outside of the circle, starting with “what”. This reflects their natural inclination to lead with the part they understand best and leave the “fuzziest” concept for last.
To illustrate his point, Sinek uses Apple because, as he puts it, “they are easy to understand and everybody gets it.” He argues that if Apple were like everyone else, its marketing message might sound like this:
- What are you? – We make great computers
- How do you do what you do? – They’re beautifully designed, simple to use, and user friendly.
- … Want to buy one?
From car companies to law firms, Sinek argues that this is the approach most companies take to crafting a marketing message. Although it may allow them to adequately convey information about features and benefits, the failure of this “outside-in” approach to connect on an emotional level means it is far less likely to drive behavioral change.
Starting with “Why” — Inside Out
Sinek goes on to argue that only the most inspired companies craft their message from the inside out, leading with “why” instead of “what.” This fundamental shift allows to anchor on an emotional connection with their prospective customers.
Again using Apple as an example, here is what this approach looks like:
- Why does your company exist? – Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently.
- How do you do what you do? – The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use, and user friendly.
- What do you do? – We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?
Sinek argues that this simple reversal in messaging explains in large part why so many people are perfectly comfortable buying products from Apple. “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it,” he states.
A Simple but Profound Shift
Calling it “the world’s simplest idea,” Sinek himself would tell you that the lessons of the Golden Circle are not difficult to put into practice. And in the highly-dynamic connected home market, there are no shortage of practical applications for this shift in positioning. From making your company stand out against a growing backdrop of competitors, to leveraging the inside-out approach to sell premium service plans, the Golden Circle is a powerful concept you can start using right away to drive sales and brand-loyalty.
Schedule an hour with your leadership team. Find a whiteboard or scrap of paper and dedicate this time to discovering your real “why.” Then learn how to craft a message that anchors on this underlying belief. This new approach may require little more than a small shift in mindset, or it may require that you fundamentally rethink your value proposition. But ultimately, your new message is far more like to resonate with potential customers than the outside-in story your competition is likely telling.
If you want to discuss the application of Sinek’s “Golden Circle” in your company, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you!
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