(Dear Simon, If you’re reading this, please don’t take offence! Most of my articles are born out of frustrations that come up working with clients.
In order to not sound like a moron I research them, and get a better understanding of their inner workings, and why certain things are the way they are. This usually results in appreciation or respect of the very thing I found frustrating to start with.)
A while back I had a discussion with a client that wanted me to take a look at the header text on their homepage.
She was obsessed with it answering the question — “Why are we doing what we do?”.
After examining text that clearly stated “what’s in it for the user”, I went back to her and asked her; “Why are you so adamant on telling the world why you are doing what you do?
Her reply was; “Users don’t buy what you do they buy why you do it”.
The Golden Circle
The golden circle in its simplest form states:
“Users don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”
The concept of “why vs what” is amazingly simple and sticks to the minds of CEO’s everywhere. The simplicity that makes it easy to remember also makes users jump to wrong conclusions.
Insinuating False Rules
Learning new skills or ideas can be empowering. We often flirt with our new found ideas in order to test the rules and see how well they hold up.
The downside of this like in the case of The Golden Circle, is that there are often multiple people that have misinterpreted the rules, creating a “shared false-truth” (Confirmation bias).
This “shared false-truth” also leads to false confidence (Dunning Kruger effect).
The 3 false-rules I find people often make from The Golden Circle are:
- Language: If I can create a question with the world “why” in it, I am safe.
- Timing: When we communicate to the user, do it through the “why”.
- Product: Users don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.
These rules may seem innocent and simple enough, but in the long run they have collectively added way too much time to meetings, as well as wasting the time of many copywriters and marketers, potentially ruining businesses.
If I can create a question with the word “Why” in it, I am safe!
This seems to be the most common of the false-rules, because the name “why” logically implies that if you can use “why” in a sentence, you are probably safe.
Unfortunately this is not the case, as you can see from Simon’s transcript, many of the “Why” questions start with “What”.
“ By “why,” I mean:
What’s your purpose?
What’s your cause?
What’s your belief?
Why does your organization exist?
Why do you get out of bed in the morning?
And why should anyone care?”
– Simon Sinek
There is an easy way to fix this, and that is to change the words to what they really mean.
In the Vision, Method, Product Circle it is harder to mix and match meanings. It’s not as catchy as the golden circle, but at least it is slightly less ambiguous. now all you need to answer is “what is our vision and why should anyone care”.
When we communicate to the user, do it through the “why”.
The second most common mistake is that users try to make ALL communication communicate their vision.
“ As it turns out, all the great inspiring leaders and organizations in the world, whether it’s Apple or Martin Luther King or the Wright brothers, they all think, act and communicate the exact same way… But the inspired leaders and the inspired organizations — regardless of their size, regardless of their industry — all think, act and communicate from the inside out.” — Simon Sinek
Simon goes on to say:
“Let me give you an example… If Apple were like everyone else,a marketing message from them might sound like this: “We make great computers. They’re beautifully designed, simple to use and user friendly. Want to buy one?” “Meh.” That’s how most of us communicate.
Here’s how Apple actually communicates. “Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user friendly. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?” Totally different, right? You’re ready to buy a computer from me. I just reversed the order of the information. What it proves to us is that people don’t buy what you do; people buy why you do it.” — Simon Sinek
The problem with these statement is that Apple doesn’t always communicate like that. Apple only communicates like that at certain times and at certain places. Here are some random examples of how apple communicates on their homepage.
“Say hello to the future”
doesn’t communicate that they are challenging the status quo if anything I think it says more about the product and that it is for the people that are looking for newest, latest best.
“You know what a computer is? Its like that but different.”
Different because they are challenging the status quo? Or different because they are aiming it at a target audience that need a computer, but want to distance themselves from the bulky Microsoft world?
This example is definitely selling the product;
“You know the previous model? Well, we don’t have any new features, so it’s just more of what you already know and love!”
I’ve also heard clients say that Tesla is very focused on communicating their vision which is:
“To accelerate the advent of sustainable transport by bringing compelling mass market electric cars to market as soon as possible.”
So let’s take a look at their landings page.
“ Model S is the safest, quickest car on the road — with industry-leading performance, range, and storage.” this is clearly focused on the what sets this car apart from the competition.
“ Model X is the safest, quickest, most capable sport utility vehicle ever — with standard all-wheel drive, best in class storage and seating for up to seven adults.” like the previous example, it sells what sets it apart from the competition.
“Model 3 is the car of the future — with our most refined design and engineering ever.” This car would go well with the iphoneX both aiming for future people.
After showing people these examples, they often reply with “Apple used to sell the vision, they must have changed”.
Nope, still not selling the “vision”.
They are selling you what it is you are going to buy, in a voice that resonates with the audience. Which, at the time was an amazing feat of copywriting, but it’s still selling not selling the “vision”.
And guess what? There is absolutely nothing wrong with selling your product instead of your vision.
So when should you communicate your vision vs your product?
Product: Short Messaging channels, Website, Podcasts, Ads, Posters.
Vision: Extensive branding opportunities, Interviews, Seminars, Talks, blogs.
When you should sell your Vision instead of product has to do with time and place.
When you have a short time span it’s important to deliver value to the user so you can gain a foothold in their “mindspace”, and maybe make a sale which will give you more opportunities to have a longer dialogue with them later.
When you have a longer time span, it is more important to plant a seed in the “mindspace” of the user. This can grow, and users will relate to your vision, resulting in a mature relationship with your brand/vision.
“Whenever I give workshops, I explain the basics so the users have tools to get the job done.
When I’m coaching at a company I explain the vision so they start to live and breath agile”
— Rene de Leijer (Agile Coach)
If you’d like to know more about when and where to sell your product vs vision, check out this article by William Mougayar: communicating your product vs your vision.
Users don’t buy “what” you do, they buy “why” you do it.
The idea that people don’t buy what you do sounds counterintuitive, and it is.
You don’t buy an Apple iPhone because you want to challenge the status quo, you buy a phone because you need or want a phone, AND THEN SOMETIMES you consider which brand has the best value proposition.
Harvard Business School marketing professor Theodore Levitt puts it nicely, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole.”
People are not looking for visions, they are looking for solutions.
One of the most important goals of product marketing is being able to answer the question; “What’s in it for me?”.
The Golden Circle has been an inspiring tool for many people. When used correctly it can help a lot of users find their voice and focus on communicating a powerful message.
The golden circle has had a good 10 years. I think it’s nice time to reassess it’s pro’s and cons and see if it still holds up. Do we need to revise The Golden Circle or just change the way it is perceived?
Even adding these minor steps might help make The Golden Circle slightly more user friendly.
- Figure out the time span that we have to speak to our audience
- Long time span? Try to answer, “What is our vision and why should anyone care?”
- Short time span? Try to answer, “What is in it for the user?”