Why Brands with a “Why” Win

July 14, 2020

Q&A with Wes Phillips, CEO of Orange Label

If you’ve heard of Simon Sinek and his concept of “start with why,” you’re familiar with the idea that brands that start with “why” have an advantage over others and a leg-up on inspiring action. If you have not been exposed to this concept, in a nutshell, it’s when brands share why they exist first, then how they do it, and finally, what they do in that particular order. Apple is a classic example of a brand starting with its why. Referenced by Simon Sinek in his TED Talk, the marketing message that Apple uses is:  “Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we change the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user-friendly. We just happen to make great computers.” Most brands, on the other hand, lead with what they do first, and the messaging is far less compelling.

Over the past few months, many brands shifted their messaging. The ones that stood out the most kept their “why” at the forefront to maintain trust and inspire action, even when their “how” and “what” changed. In the Q&A below with Orange Label CEO Wes Phillips, we discuss everything from the “Why” behind brands to how brands can inspire trust and connection with their audiences internally and externally. 

Q: Do you agree with Simon Sinek’s theory of “Start with Why”? Explain.

WP: I believe Simon’s stance is more than a theory, I believe it is close to a business truth. From my perspective in many ways businesses are like people. From my experience people who are successful, fulfilled and vibrant have a “Personal WHY,” a selfless core belief supported by values that together guide and direct choices and decisions in good and difficult times. For a business to be successful and vibrant over the long-term it too needs a core belief – – a well-articulated “WHY.” In business language the “WHY” is really the “Brand.”

Q: Are there any examples of brands, other than the famous “Apple,” that stand out to you that lead with “Why”?

WP: The real value of having a powerful brand is evident during difficult circumstances, which has certainly been the case since March 2020. In difficult times, without a grounding core belief or brand, fear and uncertainty can lead to poor decisions, confused employees, and declining market share.

An example of a company whose brand has played a very powerful role this year is TARGET. TARGET’s WHY/BRAND is “Future at Heart – Helping families discover the joy of everyday life and build a company that strengthens the communities TARGET serves for generations to come.”

Notice that in the WHY/BRAND declaration it says nothing about “how” this will be accomplished. This is important because whatever anyone projected March 2020 would look like, the reality was completely unexpected. Yet, in the face of distressed customers, panic-buying, economic uncertainty, healthcare worries and looted stores, Target’s brand informed their real-time decision making. As a result their customers have continued to be served, their employees remain safe and motivated, and their communities have been supported.

Q: How have you seen trust built with brands and audiences (internal and/or external) in 2020?

WP: I believe that Target has built trust with all of their constituencies to much higher levels in a very short time period.

Another example of a company with a trusted brand is the outdoor/adventure-oriented firm, Patagonia. Their WHY/BRAND is “In business to save our home planet – – Join us.” It just so happens, that Patagonia uses making clothes to do that. Since March 2020 Patagonia has adjusted to the changed circumstances. The company was one of the first retailers to close its stores in mid-March and its focus has been to do its best to protect its workers and customers, while still continuing to operate its robust online store. Time will tell how Patagonia will adjust to a changed retail landscape, yet their advantage will be customers and employees who trust their judgement, decisions and brand.

Q: What advice would you give brand leaders in building trust and inspiring action with their audiences?

WP: My suggestion is three-fold:

First, examine the essence of your brand – – is it about something bigger than the company owners or leadership team? A bigger “WHY” or “Brand” is inspiring. An inspiring “WHY” taps into emotional energy, creates a motivating team environment, captures the imagination of the marketplace, and it is the cornerstone of trust.

The second component is to build a long-term strategy that incorporates the brand into all facets of the business. In other words just like with people, WHY/BRAND is more than a marketing strategy – it is a core belief that informs everything at all times, especially in tough circumstances.

And third, become the primary advocate and cheerleader for your “Brand.” Vocalize that YOU believe in and trust your brand. Let your actions demonstrate your belief and trust. As a result, over time, you will ignite your team and gain the trust of your customers. You may be pleasantly surprised at the enduring positive difference you and your brand will have made and will continue to make.

Written By: Colleen HabermanAnnie Svitak
Contributors: Michelle Komala

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