The power of the ‘Why’ factor

May 22, 2014

As a parent, I’m asked one question more than any other – “Why?”

“Put your coat on.” ‘Why?”

“Finish your dinner.” “Why?”

“No, there isn’t any WiFi coverage in this holiday house.” “Why?”

So even the most innocent(?) of minds recognise its importance in the decision-making process.

In the world of branding and communications, though, it’s invariably the most ignored. Too often, we inhabit the realm of ‘what’, rather than ‘why’.

Companies are always eager to tell people what they sell, what their product does, what their service entails, even what they’ve achieved for the past century. All important stuff, of course. But, as any salesperson worth their salt will tell you, it’s not ‘what’ that engages the customer’s mind. It’s ‘why’.

A great demonstration of the power of ‘why’ is Panasonic. One of the world’s largest manufacturers of consumer and business technology, it was founded by Konosuke Matsushita in 1918 (under the snappy moniker of the Matsushita Electric Housewares Manufacturing Works).

Mr Matsushita’s vision wasn’t, however, to create and sell electronics. It was to devote himself to ‘the progress and development of society and the well-being of all people around the globe’. It just so happened that developing innovative technology was his way of doing that. The technology was the ‘what’. The vision was the ‘why’.

This vision has permeated Panasonic’s management philosophy ever since – and remains fundamental to its success today. ‘A better life, a better world’ is its current strapline, reminding customers of its underpinnings, but more importantly, compelling them to engage with the brand and giving them an emotional reason to buy.

There are countless examples of world-leading companies that have built their glory on ‘why’, rather than ‘what’. Apple, Nike, BMW… they all defined a purpose (a ‘why’), stayed true to it and allowed it to be the invaluable bond between brand and customer.

I have to confess, this isn’t a new concept. It’s been discussed, debated and digested in sales and marketing circles for decades now. And explained far more eloquently by people such as Roy Spence or, more recently, Simon Sinek when he said, “People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it.”

Even so, it’s a concept that’s all-too-often forgotten when companies are starting out on branding and marketing campaigns.

And that should beg the fundamental question – “Why?”


Phil Robinson - Assistant Creative Director