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Unlocking the ‘Why’ in branding for marketers and business owners 

By Jake Welsh, Dept’s Principal Creative Consultant and Director 

When you woke up this morning and took a hot shower, brushed your teeth, poured a fresh coffee, checked the news on your mobile, and drove to work, did you, at any point, pause to think about the brands behind these daily interactions?

The answer for many of you is probably ‘no’ – or ‘hardly ever at all’. Yet, how astonishing is it that the brands supporting our everyday lives are chosen for our own individual and personal reasons. Not by chance, not by force, but by choice.

There are hundreds of highly-rated brands of coffee, so why did you pick the one you drank this morning and, importantly, why do you continue to buy it? The motivational reasons behind consumer choice may seem like a paradox with theories and facts colliding, but it all boils down to one thing. Trust. Trust in its quality. Trust that it will deliver. Trust that it is right for you, personally.  In a 2019 consumer research study, surveying 16,000 consumers across 8 global markets, 81% of respondents said that trusting a brand to “do what is right” is a deciding factor in a purchase decision. And, if consumers trust a brand, they also exhibit behaviours that demonstrate loyalty; three-quarters of the respondents said: “they will continue to buy a brand they trust, even if another brand suddenly becomes hot and trendy.” They’ll also advocate on the brand’s behalf, with 76% saying they always recommend the brand if someone asks.

Jake Welsh
Jake Welsh

Research into the field of decision-making is expansive; tapping into the chemistry of the human brain and uncovering strategies to release endorphins when shopping. The book ‘Start With Why’ by Simon Sinek explores the concept of the ‘Golden Circle’; an ability to focus on the ‘why’ of the business rather than the ‘what’, with the ‘how’ being the gel that brings it together. In short, communicating ‘why’ you are in business, not directly ‘what’ you are offering or ‘how’ you do it.

Some of the world’s most inspiring brands (think Nike and Apple), have adopted this concept to build followers and establish themselves as a brand. It’s never been easier to start a company, but because of this, it’s also never been harder to build a brand. A brand won’t wash away easily when the tide comes in because it’s anchored by meaning. How does your business approach rank on the trust barometer? If you’re not sure if you’re leading with a brand or a transactional message, answer these 5 questions to help evaluate your positioning.

1. How does your business communicate with customers?

a. Using a direct, product-centric tone of voice
b. By focusing on our core values and creating conversation

2. What sales tactics does your business use the most?

a. Flash sales, 2-4-1 offers and lowest- price guarantees; utilising the fast release of products with marketing strategies to encourage a high volume of sales
b. Building a relationship with customers and creating rapport with target markets. Inviting people to browse products with no pressure to buy.

3. Which of the following businesses have a similar marketing strategy to yours?

a. Boohoo, Love Holiday, PC World
b. Huel, Nespresso, Rapha

4. How loyal are your customers?

a. Shoppers will jump around trying to find the best bargain before making a purchase
b. Customers follow our updates through the news and our social channels, they’re part of our community and await new releases.

5. Why is data important?

a. It helps us boost transactions; showcasing product specs and incentivising customers during the purchasing journey with add-ons and
facilitating dynamic price reductions.
b. Data helps us better connect with our customers by understanding their feelings, habits, values and desires.

If you’ve answered B to the majority of the questions, you’re clearly focused on establishing your business as a brand. You’ve defined your mission statement in a way that resonates with consumers by focusing on the ‘why’ behind what your brand is aiming to achieve, which may stem from why your business was set up in the first place, or why it is different from the market you go up against.

If you have a mixed scorecard or found your business didn’t exactly fall into one answer or the other, you’re most likely operating as a brand but haven’t fully fine-tuned your value proposition. Most businesses will fall into this middle-layer and feel most comfortable triggering the ‘how’, explaining how they do what they do. This may relate to manufacturing, your culture, or your teams. In many ways, the how combines what you do with why you do it.

If A was your primary choice throughout, you’re focused on positioning yourself as a ‘transactional’ company rather than a brand. You take a sales-heavy approach to marketing by linking all of your announcements to your product, its specifications and price. There is no right or wrong approach; companies that only have transactional relationships can still be highly successful, but they often have to work much harder to secure consumer loyalty in a crowded marketplace. They will also find it harder to weather storms, such as the recent disruption caused by the Covid-19 crisis.

To demonstrate the above concepts, here’s an example of how a bed retailer could take three different approaches to advertising a new range of mattresses:

  • WHY – the focus is on wellbeing and achieving a good night’s sleep, with visuals of people feeling rested and energised, ready to conquer the day ahead.
  • HOW – specifying the mechanics of the mattress with product images detailing what makes this range top-of-the-line quality or unique in the marketplace.
  • WHAT – offering next day delivery, combo deals or a percentage off the purchase price for trading in your existing mattress. Images will showcase stockpiles of mattresses in the showroom ready to be rehomed.

A similar approach can be adapted to all businesses, ranging from B2B to B2C across all sectors, products or services. If you ask people what their favourite businesses are, they’ll always choose a brand. Often, they won’t know why; they just feel empowered by these brands and associate with their values in a personal way that can’t be explained. The following brands accelerate the ‘why’ exceptionally well with a crisp mission statement:

Bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world” – Nike

Bring the best user experience to its customers through innovative hardware” – Apple

Accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy”- Tesla

These brands are amongst the most revolutionary to launch within the last two decades. Tesla makes for an excellent case. Not only has Tesla managed to penetrate the automotive market, which many have tried to do, but it has managed to captivate drivers in an unprecedented way. Tesla has taken drivers on its journey; and because of this, there is a remarkable sense of loyalty and patience. Despite their vehicles carrying a high price tag and facing major issues with the quality of manufacturing from parts falling off to self-driving mishaps, Tesla drivers don’t mind. They’re still proud to own a Tesla. This example signifies the value of building a connection with your customers and how it enables brands to focus on the product a little less. One may speculate the backlash competitors Range Rover or Audi would face in the same circumstances.

Although ‘start with why’ is a great concept, companies like Tesla are not born very often and can be difficult to relate to. Businesses should be realistic with their goals and leverage data to shape their proposition. Start with a database of customers or a CRM if you have one, and then dig deeper to reveal what makes your target audiences tick. With this insight, seek opportunities for your business to empathise with them.