What is the difference between a brand that leads, and one that follows? A company that creates inspiration, defines the current culture (and makes serious sales along the way) and one that always seems to be following, just behind the curve? You may say ‘innovation’, but although that is a part of it, being first to market with a new product category doesn’t mean that you will lead there. Take the well-known example of Apple. Innovative? Sure. Inspiring? Definitely. Iconic? Without a doubt? But were they the first to market — was the iPod the first MP3 player? It wasn’t — and in fact, Apple is well known for not being the first to coin new technology. But they are a disruptive, defining market force; a brand that people buy into wholeheartedly and that can command a premium price for its products.

Start With Why

Business analysts will give you many reasons why this titan of a company is so hugely successful. But professor of psychology Simon Sinek thinks it runs deeper than designing desirable, functional items. He believes it all starts with one simple question that can help to define the essence of  a brand, their very DNA — and the question is, simply: ‘Why?’

‘Why?’ is what separates leaders, companies, and products that are game-changers from those that are also-rans, and you can apply this thinking to your own start-up business. Sinek boils it down to one, bite-sized concept: ‘People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it’.

Values Are The Driver for Generation Z

This has never been truer than when it comes to Generation Z — those born after 1995 who will make up 40 per cent of all consumers by 2020. It is vital for successful businesses to understand this market, and Sinek’s theory fits well with their values-driven ethical approach to consumerism, where only brands who truly seem to understand their mission in the world and as part of a global community will thrive.

In order to create powerful marketing messages that resonate with this demographic, you will need to be able to succinctly communicate your authentic values. This diverse group have grown up with the internet and fact-checking at their fingertips, and can smell an untrue statement a mile off. Working with specialists such as Rogue Media can put you ahead of the game here. Social good is no longer a distant facet of Corporate Social Responsibility, hived off as an afterthought to the HR department — it needs to be something that companies live and breathe, by embedding it into the heart of their company.

Making Your Mission Part of the Brand DNA

Every company can tell you what they do — it’s what they spend all day creating and putting out into the world. Fewer know exactly how they do it — this would be their value proposition, or Unique Selling Point (USP). But very few are able to clearly articulate the why — a cause, purpose or belief that motivates them. This leads to an ‘outside in’ approach that becomes inward looking, rather than focusing on the connections the company needs to make with the wider world. This approach also allows a company to become less boxed in, because they are no longer defined by what they make or sell, but rather by their mission, and so it becomes more acceptable to the consumer to see them diversify into other areas that present a ‘fit’ with the company’s ideology.

How did consumers react when Dyson started moving into the beauty tools sector? Instead of thinking that a company known for vacuum cleaners could never produce a good hairdryer because the guiding principle of Dyson is clear, it was a huge success. Consumers accepted that their brand DNA of reverse engineering items to eliminate unnecessaries and create a superlative user experience would stretch across any category it applied to.  That is the power of a strongly-defined, believable brand that customers implicitly trust.

Weaving Sinek’s intuitive approach into the foundations of your brand gives your followers and customers a ‘way in’ to engage with what you do. If your ‘why’ matches their ‘why’ then it creates a loyalty that goes beyond a sale price or a temporary buzz about a specific product. Without a ‘why’, companies must necessarily focus on the ‘what’, endlessly trying to differentiate their offer with either new features, or on price. Get ‘why’ right and you have a way to break out of that unfulfilling model that only leads to a race to the bottom. ‘Why’ can give your company freedom creatively and allow you to then produce that innovation that isn’t dependent on a price tag.