Communication strategies. The importance of WHY.
Organisations that survive beyond their founders have built WHY into their culture
With this resounding statement I’d like to present the most interesting model that I’ve found to date for communicating a company’s strategy.
When companies want to tell us who they are, they speak directly about their mission, vision and values, etc. You’ve seen it on countless corporate websites. These three elements, the mission, vision and values, represent the central core of a company’s strategy. It’s the stable part, which doesn’t change with each decision but rather makes day-to-day decisions much easier (because if you know who you are and where you want to go as a company, it’s easier to choose each day between the different forks in the road you’ll come across along the way…)
Now, to explain and communicate the mission, vision and values, there are different ways of doing so. The one I like best is the Golden Circle. In this circle we have “WHAT we do”, “HOW we do it” and “WHY we do it”.
The WHAT for this type of communication, which is completely focused on the rational part of our brain, the neocortex. This is the newest part of our brain, and is responsible for analytic and rational thought, as well as for language.
The other parts of communication, HOW we do what we do and WHY we do it, involve the limbic brain. This part is responsible for our feelings, such as trust and loyalty. It’s also responsible for human behaviour and our decision making process, but doesn’t have language ability.
Several years ago, when mp3s started being used, there were two companies that launched their products in different ways, one focused on What and the other on Why.
Creative Technology Ltd., a tech company from Singapore, advertised its product as a “5GB mp3 player”.
On the other hand, Apple launched its product with the message “1000 songs in your pocket”.
The reactions and results the companies got were extremely different. People identified with Apple’s message and only when they had decided that they wanted that, the 1,000 songs in their pocket, did they wonder about if they should buy the 5 or 10 GB version.
That’s where the difference lies, in the Apple example, the message got through to the limbic part, where feelings and decision making occurs, and in the second phase, the customer used the rational part of their brain to decide what produce format was best for them.
According to the creator of this model, Simon Sinek, most companies communicate from outside-in: from WHAT to WHY
They first say WHAT they do: they show their products or services.
After that, sometimes they say HOW they do it: giving the benefits, characteristics, etc.
Yet they hardly ever tell us WHY they do it. Occasionally, companies don’t even have a reason for doing what they’re doing (beyond making money with their work…)
We’ll see some examples of corporate strategies communicated starting with What they do:
TED: “Ideas worth spreading”
Google: “To organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”
Amazon: “Our vision is to be the most user-centred company, to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.”
To make these types of messages more powerful, the correct order should be starting with WHY. People don’t buy what companies do, they buy WHY they do it.
Companies should communicate from the inside-out, starting with WHY, followed by HOW, and then getting to WHAT
The first thing we should do is define sensations “We make you feel important”, “We break the mould”, “We’re going to make you achieve your goal”, etc.
After that we explain how we’re going to do it, differential value propositions, exclusive work procedures, unique market conditions.
Finally, we show our product as the solution.
Getting back to the parts of the brain related with each level of the circle, it’s important to keep in mind that when we communicate something from inside-out, we’re speaking firstly, directly to the part of the brain that makes decisions, and later to the part of the brain dedicated to language that lets us rationalise those decisions.
Some examples of messages conveyed by companies that I especially like starting from why they do what they do:
Twitter: “To give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly and without barriers”.
Wallmart: “We save people money, so they can live better”
Nike: “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world (*If you have a body, you are an athlete)
Facebook: “To give people the power to share and to make the world more open and connected.”
Coca-Cola: “To refresh the world in mind, body and spirit. To inspire moments of optimism and happiness through our brands and actions.”
When defining this message there is something else that, in my opinion, we should keep in mind, that it moves and inspires the people it’s aimed at, not only your customers but also your team. It’s what Greg Mckeown, in his book “Essentialism”, has called “Essential Purpose“. In the next image the different elements of corporate strategy and its characteristics can be seen.
“We want to change the world” would be an inspiring mission/vision for a company but it would be too general and would go unnoticed. “Innovation, leadership and teamwork” as a list of corporate values, is often too vague and general to inspire any passion. The trimestre-based/yearly/etc. goals, “increase profitability by 5% compared to the previous year”, are specific enough to get our attention but lack inspirational power.
An essential purpose is at the same time inspiring and specific, meaningful and measurable. It’s a statement that determines thousands of future decisions. “Get the entire British population engaged online by the end of 2012” was the mission statement written by Martha Lane Fox when she launched Go On UK, a project focused on making the UK the most digitally capable country in the world. This type of statement on intent is what we need for our companies, teams and professional careers.
A short time ago at Flat 101 we started with this same reflective exercise and analysed if we were truly stating who we are on our website and in our messages and communication. Initially, the main message for our site was the following:
We listen, think, make and put together transaction, e-commerce and conversion solutions that are best suited to your digital business. We work based on 4 pillars: traffic, UX, development and digital analytics.
As you can see, the focus was completely focused on WHAT WE DO (the 4 pillars we listed as a synthesis of the services we offer: traffic, UX, development and analytics) and HOW WE DO IT (the first part of the sentence).
However, we realised that we needed to convey WHY at Flat 101 we do what we do. We had it clear internally, but we needed to let the world know, to communicate it properly.
So here is our why, the reason and hope we work with each day on everyone’s projects and for each of our clients, and what keeps us hungry for knowledge and self-development:
At Flat 101 we want our clients to successfully achieve their business’s move to the digital environment, optimising their results.
This WHY is what is with us day-to-day, what lets us have a clear understanding of where we’re headed and detect if we’re doing it well or not. On the other hand, we know that the WHAT, as the sector changes, the technology, the methodology, etc. can change or simply evolve, and this keeps us alert and continuously in evolution.
You want to rethink the main message of your company as well?