I’m a huge fan of management theorist Simon Sinek, in particular his Ted Talks. One that I find myself watching again and again is from way back in 2009: “How Great Leaders Inspire Action”.
His concept is quite simple: people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. Sinek looks at great innovators like Apple and Orville and Wilbur Wright and examines why they succeeded when their competitors had the same or even better opportunities – the right funding, market conditions, publicity and marketing.
So, how did these icons win and make history where others failed? Sinek puts this down to the order of thinking that companies use: 1. What – the product and service is 2. How – it meets a need 3. Why – there is a need.
Traditionally, we communicate our products, services and companies in this order. But Sinek argues we are missing the point, that the true innovators reverse the process and start with why the need exists and what the need feels like, to evoke a powerful feeling in the potential user.
So, how exactly do the innovators do it so differently? They start by thinking from the outside in. They begin by explaining the need to induce feeling in the user. Only after this do they explain how they will meet that need, and then, subsequently, after the steps have been followed, they get to the “what” – the USP, features and benefits, etc.
Sinek argues that the process isn’t clever marketing, but merely biological. Our neocortex brain responds to the “what” – this is our rational, analytical thought process – but the limbic brain responds to the “how”, and this drives our behaviour.
This is where feelings and gut decisions come from; when we find ourselves saying, “it doesn’t feel right” but we can’t explain why (because the limbic brain doesn’t govern our language).
Focus on why
I love this concept and agree with Sinek that great companies and products that have spectacular leadership and success always start with the “why”, not the “how” or “what”. The companies that merely pursue the result won’t win against a company that starts with evoking feeling first. Sinek also shares the tipping point into success, looking at market penetration: 2.5% innovators; 13.5% early adopters; 25% early majority; 34% laggers.
He says that once we hit 15–18% market penetration, we reach the tipping point into success and greater market share. This then becomes the early majority, then the laggers only get dragged into the market force because the alternatives to their resistance disappear. But to get there, and to get the critical win, we need to focus on explaining why people need what we do, and thus, evoke the need awareness.
Lead with the heart
Sinek uses the example of Dr Martin Luther King and how he made history in the American Civil Rights movement – not because he was the best orator or the most publicised or that he suffered more than anyone else in a pre-civil rights culture, but because he sold a belief.
His followers were inspired and motivated by what he had to say because they followed him not for him, but for themselves, because his words inspired them to realise their belief and he echoed it. He stirred emotions in their limbic brains, and this compounded their resulting feelings. He said, “I have a dream”. He didn’t say, “I have a plan”. Plans don’t inspire anyone, Sinek says.
There are leaders – and they hold a position of authority. We follow them because we have to. But leaders are not the same as those who lead, who we follow because we want to. Those who lead start with the “why”, and they are the people we want to follow.
Applying this to our salons, brands, marketing, social media and key messaging, as well as our company ethos, challenges our thinking. But this process can ensure we surround ourselves with staff who are on-message, all to the greater good of our salons. If we understand our “why” then they will too, and will not only deliver it but agree with it. We get blood, sweat and tears from the team that believes in our belief.
But to monetise and commercialise this, communicating the “why” to our customers is key. Evoking the need and the emotion can produce powerful results, and we need those more than ever. Inspire the emotion and you inspire the devotion.
People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.
Hellen Ward is managing director of Richard Ward Hair & Metrospa in London and a beauty ambassador for the National Hair & Beauty Federation (NHBF).