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The Power of “Why” Messaging

I usually don’t have time to read or watch much that is forwarded to me, even if it comes by way of a highly esteemed colleague. So when I saw the e-mail with a link to an 18 minute video clip, I thought “you’ve got to be kidding” and moved on.  But somehow I ended up watching the clip and was thrilled that I did. It’s one of those rare pieces that truly inspired me – it’s something that reminds all of us marketing professionals exactly why some companies succeed and others don’t.

The premise is this. Just about every person or organization needs to motivate others to act for some reason or another. Some want to motivate a purchase decision. Others are looking for support or a vote. Others try to motivate the people around them to work harder or smarter or just follow the rules. While most use fear, money or other external forces to get people to do what they want, great leaders are able to inspire people to act. Those who are able to inspire give people a sense of purpose or belonging that has little to do with any external incentive. Those who truly lead are able to create a following of people who act not because they were swayed, but because they were inspired. For those who are inspired, the motivation to act is deeply personal.

Sinek uses the example of the Wright Brothers. Their passion to fly was so intense that it inspired the enthusiasm and commitment of a dedicated group in their hometown of Dayton, Ohio. Unlike their competition, there was no funding for their venture. No government grants. No high-level connections. Not a single person on the team had an advanced degree or even a college education. But the team banded together in a humble bicycle shop and made their
vision real. On December 17, 1903, a small group witnessed a man take flight for the first time in history. Well-funded, highly educated competitors motivated by monetary gain never got their plane off the ground. And the reason why? Only the Wright brothers started with Why.

Ultimately, people don’t buy what you do – they buy why you do it. Companies that build their messaging platforms around “why” they are doing something (instead of what they are doing or how they are doing it) will be more successful in gaining the loyalty of employers, investors and customers. Those who are able to define their purpose will inspire and create a following of people who act for the good of the whole not because they have to, but because they want to.

So, thanks to my very esteemed colleague and to Simon Sinek for this very enlightening piece. If you have an extra few minutes (an even if you don’t), I encourage you to watch – you’ll be glad you did.


Positioning: Dare to Differentiate



Most of us occasionally suffer from “following the herd” mentality, but effective positioning requires companies to deviate from the norm and establish their own unique position. When formulating a positioning statement, the statement should (1) clearly articulate the company’s understanding of market needs, and (2) present a defendable value proposition that is meaningful to target audiences. At Attain, we find that this second requirements is particularly challenging for young companies.

In a recent client engagement, we did a competitive positioning audit and found that 6 in 7 of the companies in the space claimed a market leading position — and yet our client was hesitant to drop “leader” from their positioning for fear that potential customers would not consider them as a viable market player.

This line of reasoning is prevalent in the technology industry. If ‘Company A’, the true market leader as defined by market share, claims it is the leading provider of widgets, the new market entrant ‘Company B’ claims it is the leading provider of next-generation widgets, and so on until you have the whole sector claiming they are “the leading provider of [insert adjective] widgets”.

How is it possible to create a defendable value proposition by following the herd? The answer is, it isn’t. It doesn’t matter what a company believes or wishes to be true. Positioning is about how companies are perceived in the minds of their target audiences. And I have yet to meet a prospect who cares to split hairs over the semantics of a company’s messaging.

Dare to put the differentiation back into positioning by answering the prospective customer’s question, “Why do people choose your company?” (Hint: it isn’t because you are 1 of 6 “market leaders”) To find the real answer to this question, try talking to customers, prospective customers and competitor customers (if possible).

A defendable and meaningful positioning platform requires that you understand the factors that motivate the buying decision within your space. So ask customers what factors they considered when making their decision (i.e., quality of offering, breadth of offering, depth of offering, pricing, innovation, value, credibility, market expertise, etc.) and then divide those attributes into the following hierarchy:

  • Compelling Attributes: What attributes actually compell them to buy from you instead of the competition?
  • Differentiating Attributes: What attributes begin to differentiate your company from the competition? You may share these attributes with some, but not all of your competitors.
  • Necessary Attributes: What attributes establish you as a viable vendor but do not, however, differentiate you from your competition.

Target Audience Motivators

Target Audience Motivators

When you understand the attributes that compel someone to buy your product/service instead of the competitions’, you can begin to define a position that is both differentiated and defendable.