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Want to succeed as a brand? Start with what you believe

Written by Andrew Tipp on 27 November 2012

“I build social media apps. My new one is free, it allows you to network with your friends, and is original, entertaining and intuitive. Want to download it?”

Not inspiring, is it?

What if I’d said, “I believe in connecting people. I believe in sharing content with friends. So I create original, entertaining and intuitive apps that allow you to network with people you care about – and I’ve built a new, free app. Want to download it?”

Different story, isn’t it? Suddenly downloading my app seems like a better idea. Suddenly it feels right. But these two sales pitches aren’t completely different; so what’s changed?

The difference is that in the second statement I’ve started with what I believe. I’ve explained why I do what I do. Then I’ve described how my process works and ended by telling you what the final product is. In the original statement I’ve merely explained what I’ve got to sell and how I make it.

So what’s this all about, and why does it relate to branding and success?

Introducing the ‘Golden Circle’

Well, the principles of the superior approach above are taken from author and presenter Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle theory. It’s a behaviour model that describes how we’re inspired by innovative companies, great leaders and visionary ideas.

Sinek’s theory explains that great brands all think, act and communicate the same way – they start with the ‘why’, then talk about the ‘how’ and ‘what’. Less successful brands tell you what they’re selling and how it works, but they leave out one crucial part: why they did it.

The point is that most people don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it – what you do merely serves as the proof of what you believe. So by communicating your brand’s purpose, your cause, your reason to exist, people don’t just buy what you produce, they buy into you as a brand.

And that emotional investment is good for business. Suddenly you don’t just have customers, you have followers. You have fans. You have believers that think the way you think. You have an audience base that’s loyal. Just look at Apple; they don’t just have consumers, they have fanboys, devotees – people who support them like you’d support a football team or rock band. It might not be healthy, but it’s the ultimate in brand advocacy.    

The biology of brand attachment

So it sounds great, but isn’t this just a load of cognitive flimflam? Psychological mumbo jumbo? Well, no actually. The theory behind Sinek’s Golden Circle is grounded in fundamental physiology.

Basically, the ‘what’ part of the theory is mapped against the neo-cortex area of our brains. The neo-cortex is responsible for rational, analytical thought, and language. The ‘what’ and crucial ‘why’ parts of the theory are mapped against the limbic area of the brain. This is the region of our brain that regulates feelings like trust, loyalty and governs decision-making. The limbic brain has no capacity for language.

What does this mean? It means that you can bombard people with features and benefits and facts and figures until the end of time. And people will listen and understand it. But they won’t buy into it.  They won’t buy into you.

However, convince your customers that you think the same way as them, that you exist to provide the products and services that you offer because you believe in certain core values and principles, and your customers will trust you. They’ll emotionally invest in you and feel safe with you. Because the limbic brain wants something to believe in, and the neo-cortex can then rationalise that decision with supporting analytical thought.

The Golden Circle explains why engaging an audience, gaining their trust and convincing them that you are driven by what you believe just works. It also explains why just trying to hook people with unique selling points doesn’t always work.

Sinek didn’t invent this technique, of course. Leaders, groups and vast organisations have been perfecting the approach for centuries. Sinek just deconstructed it and applied a very simple model to it.

So why do you do what you do?

The extrapolation of Sinek’s argument is that the goal should not be to look like you want to do business with everybody that needs what you have; it’s to look like you want to do business with people that believe what you believe.

But isn’t that a bit high-minded? That stuff’s okay for Apple and Facebook, but what about web developers or online marketers? What about people who run supermarkets or work in pet shops? Surely they can’t have the lofty, inspiring ‘why’ factor?

Actually they can. It’s not all about re-inventing the wheel with pioneering technology. You just need to explain that you exist because you believe something. You believe in clean, intuitive and beautiful web design. You believe in delivering brilliant service and return on investment for your clients. You believe in providing the best shopping experience possible. You care about animals, and want to make sure they’re looked after.

Once you know why you do what you do, you need to communicate it. You need to demonstrate it through your site blog, your email marketing, your social media profiles and your media releases. Be consistent no matter who you’re talking to. Your brand voice needs to say, ‘hey guys, we believe in this, so we do that, and make this amazing thing here.

Great branding isn’t about typefaces and logos and what your corporate colours mean. It’s about identity and values. It’s about creating a clear message explaining who you are, what you believe and why you do what you do. It’s about having a voice and something to say. It’s about telling a story. The awesome thing you make or service you offer is simply the end result of what drives you.

Remember, people don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it. 

Author bio: Andrew Tipp is a writer, blogger and editor. He's been published on a range of sites, including The Huffington Post. He mainly writes about technology, business, marketing and branding, as well as social media, web trends and pop culture.

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