The Problem in Starting With Why

WHY?

This has been a topic of many lectures, books and conversations in 2016. Simon Sinek’s book spread like wildfire in the dental industry. It’s difficult to admit this to some of my colleagues, but I didn’t love the book.

Now, before you judge me too quickly, hear me out please.

In my opinion, the premise of Start With Why encourages entrepreneurs to keep focused on their “Why” in order to be wildly successful.

Throughout the book, Sinek regularly mentions that he is not referring to branding. However, he is. He talks about the core of a product or service. He references Macintosh and how the “Why” is apparent to the employees of this company.

Sinek is a genius in my mind, not because any of his teachings are revolutionary, but because he rebranded branding! He simplified it, but left out VERY important elements in the process.

He took the topic of branding, which most people don’t fully grasp, and called it “Why”. He argues that everything should point back to your purpose. He argues that in everything you do, you should start with your “Why”.

Yes, the above is true, but it’s a half truth.

Now, this might sting a bit, but… it’s not about you. Simon played you by making you feel important and special. He’s so smart that he realized if he can promise you a simple way to success, that you’d eat it up. He was right and his message was wrong.

Truth: Success does not come by simply focusing on your purpose.

I disagree when he implies that the reason Macintosh has delivered such impressive results is because Apple employees buy in to the company’s mission or “why”. This simplified notion likely has Steve Jobs rolling in his grave. I promise you, the level of success achieved by Macintosh was because of the entirety, evolution and emotion of its brand.

Apple is successful because of powerful marketing strategy. Period. Apple does NOT sell computers and phone and tablets. Apple sells individuality and innovation. I’m typing this on my new MacBook Air, while sipping my Starbucks White Chocolate Mocha with 2 pumps, while my iPhone plays my Pandora mix.  I bought these  because of what they offer me. They fill my emotional needs. They make me feel important. They speed up my work flow. They offer me energy, individuality and contribute in some way to my self-esteem. I buy things for how they make me feel.

Your product, solution or service must serve a large enough need of others. You may have the strongest WHY in the world, but if you are the only person with that need or passion, it won’t matter. Have you ever had a friend approach you with a business idea that he or she was very excited about, but you thought was a terrible idea? You thought to yourself, “No one is going to need or buy that.” Effective marketing includes research which evaluates demands, trends, demographics. There’s so much more than your why.

You buy things that make up your IDENTITY. Whether you buy name brands or refuse, you are branding yourself with the things you buy and the people with which you do business.

I’ve spent my life obsessively studying branding, influence and marketing. Starting with why is a great concept because it’s simple. The more important lesson from the success of this book is to keep your marketing message simple and focused on one topic and it will become more memorable and thus more effective. Sinek knows that a complicated book with many facets wouldn’t break through clutter, just like complicated marketing messages don’t work.

I believe the book has opened up a discussion about marketing, but it oversimplifies success. It’s fluffy. It’s a false promise that you can be wildly successful, if you can get others to buy in to your why. The book itself proves my point. The book does not sell information. It sells something deeper. It sells a false promise that if you just focus on your why, you’ll be successful. I respectfully disagree.

Instead, start with you.

Yes, you have a great product, great service, a great team. You are in dentistry or consulting or coaching or accounting to help people. We should all be here to help people. Start with YOU. You is your customer. Instead of focusing on WHY, unveil the true needs of your customer. Provide a real solution to a real problem. Do it better or differently than you competition. Connect emotionally with your target market through effective marketing – like that thoughtfully produced by Macintosh. What is your customer’s why?

Perhaps Sinek is right. Perhaps you should start with why. I just plead that you don’t end there.