Breaking Down Buzzwords: “The Why”

Through overuse in the communications industry, certain words eventually lose their meaning.  But their underlying concepts still hold significant value to communicators.  Our ‘Breaking Down Buzzwords’ series will help you refine and define some of the most overused buzzwords and concepts in the communications and messaging industry.  You’ll learn how to rethink their use or substitute with more effective messaging solutions. 

Ever since Simon Sinek’s 2009 book ‘Start With Why,’ brands have been obsessed with communicating the ‘WHY’ of what they do.  And rightfully so – it’s a great strategy. The goal is to connect with your target audience by describing not WHAT you do… but rather, WHY you do it.

Describing your brand’s ‘WHY’ is not as simple as it sounds.  Many brands wind up missing an opportunity by neglecting necessary components of their ‘WHY’ message.  In fact, there are actually TWO ‘WHY’s that you need to consider – sandwiched around a ‘WHAT.’  So, we thought we’d break down the critical construction of an effective brand ‘WHY’ message.

  1. Start with the contextual setup (WHY an action is prudent or necessary)…
  2. …which leads to the description of your brand’s action or service (WHAT you’re doing to address the context)…
  3. …which leads to the personalized benefits to your target audience that will result from your action. (WHY it matters to them)

Most brands start and stop with the second beat of this message.  And that makes sense – brands instinctively want to highlight the actions they’re taking to serve their customers and constituents well.  It’s the ‘meat’ of their message.

But without taking time to correctly set the context or to link their action to a personalized benefit, messages can be ignored (or worse… misunderstood.)

So how do you craft the necessary parts of your ‘WHY’ statement?

  1. Contextual Setup: Brands often assume that their audience has all the information…they assume their customers think the way that the brand expects.  By taking the deliberate time to set the context, you gain an opportunity to align your worldview with your audiences’.   And that matters.  It puts your audience on YOUR side before you even begin to make an argument or describe what your company does.Use statistics.  Build consensus for your upcoming argument by describing the problem that your ideas hope to solve.  Personalized stories function very well to convey contexts.
  2. Action Description: Now that you and your audience are on the same page, you can describe what action your brand is taking.  This message should directly reference the context you just set.  A good transitional phrase is “That’s why we’re ….”But note: don’t stay on this portion of the message too long.  The most impactful piece of your ‘WHY’ message actually has very little to do with your company or brand.  Instead, move to #3 as quickly as possible.
  3. Personalized Benefit: You’ve described why action is needed.  You’ve described what action you’re taking.  Now, you need to tell your audience why that action matters… to them.  What benefits will customers see from using your product or service?  How will your idea or initiative answer your audiences’ direct needs?    Too many communicators neglect this key portion of the message.  This is where you inspire people to action, consumers to buy, or perceptions to change.

Our message-focused market research programs can help you determine which perceptions and assumptions need to be addressed as you craft a perfect contextual setup.  By understanding what your audience really thinks and feels about the world around them, you can communicate in a more accurate, compelling way.  Our research can also shine a light on the most impactful benefits that will move your audience towards your desired outcome… more sales… landed pitches…public perception gains…increased brand trust.

So, as you begin to rethink how you communicate your brand’s story, consider speaking directly to your target audience to understand their needs, concerns, and goals.  Only then can you align your ‘WHY’ with what your audience needs to hear to shift perceptions in your favor.