By Lynn Shelton
Enterprise Minnesota's Director of Marketing and Legislative Relations
First of all, for those of us who have long commutes—and these days even short distances require long commutes!—I commend the virtues of audiobooks. My current favorite is Start with Why, an innovative but common sense approach to marketing that I think might speak volumes to small and medium size manufacturers who fight for market share in an ever more competitive marketplace.
Author Simon Sinek explains that the essence of all marketing can be described as a function within something: Three components of marketing that consists of three elements that reside within concentric circles, something he calls the Golden Circle.
The outer ring is understanding of what you do, which everybody can describe: “We make widgets.” Next, also fairly (but not always) obvious comes how we do it. These are your product differentiators, how you are better or different from your competitors.
The center of the circle, the most valuable and by far the most difficult to conceive, is why?
The example he uses is Apple. If Apple behaved like its competition, it would say: Buy our computers. They are beautifully designed and easy to use. But Apple doesn’t behave like its competition, Sinek says. Apple answers the why by saying, “We think differently. Everything we do challenges the status quo.” It gives customers a reason to connect emotionally with the Apple cause.
Their sales proposition starts with why: The way we challenge the status quo is that we make computers that are beautifully designed and easy to use. This little tweak created the cult of Mac and explains why Mac users are so slavishly loyal (and who gladly pay a premium for the product).
It also explains why Apple was able to dominate the market for MP3 players and mobile phones when competitors flopped. Gateway failed in its attempt to market flat screen TVs, Dell’s PDA was a market flop. Why, because people perceived them to be nothing more than computer makers. What did they know about flat screens or PDAs? A lot, it turns out, but consumers didn’t connect with their why.
People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it, Sinek says. Consumers do understand features and benefits, but those assets—the how?—don’t drive behavior.
I have a hunch that this kind of innovational attitude might enable small and medium size manufacturers to rethink their marketing approach. This doesn’t mean you don’t think about how you differentiate the features of your product, or how you sell it, where you market it, or how you price it. It just means that you, your employees, and your customers are loyal to why you are in business.I’m also fascinated by how answering the why? might empower a company’s culture, its vendor relationships, its prospective employees, and even its community connections.