Simon Sinek, in his book, Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, highlights successful companies and people who started with “why” they do what they do, rather than “what” they do. He spends a good portion of the book focused on Apple Inc., and how they have been so successful, for so long, because they follow this mold of starting with why. Sinek argues that when a company can inspire people to be loyal to their underlying cause, they are willing to “suffer inconveniences and pay a premium” for that company’s goods and services.
Apple’s success at starting with why is undeniable. They have been consistent leaders in the electronics business since they released Macintosh computers back in 1984. So why haven’t more companies adopted their strategy of starting with why? My philosophy on this was that it was because “why” is tough to measure. Sinek echoed this sentiment, noting that this concept is difficult for people to define, much like the term love. But if companies are constantly trying to measure how to build brand loyalty, why haven’t more of them been able to take advantage of Sinek’s philosophy?
A Test on Simon Sinek’s Concept of “Why” in Electronics Companies
Well, I had a hypothesis. Companies are constantly gathering data on what their customers want through surveys and focus groups. I participate in many of them and notice that many are multiple choice, with simple, easily quantifiable options on them like “price,” “selection,” or “usability.” Maybe, I thought, they were going about it all wrong. Maybe companies should attempt to use more open-ended questions, which begged the consumer to talk about the real reasons behind their loyalty to a certain company. Even when the option of “other, please specify” is there, more people will simply opt for the choices in front of them. By not having any premeditated options to default to, I figured there would be much more opportunity for consumers to communicate why they are loyal to a company.
I decided to put my idea to the test. I created two almost identical surveys asking people about their favorite electronics company. Both asked what the respondent’s favorite electronics company was. Then, the surveys branched off. One asked why, having the basic options like “price” and “selection.” I even had “company mission” to see if anyone would choose it. Then, it followed up with more multiple choice questions: different time spans for how long it had been the respondent’s favorite company and how likely they were to switch to a new company. It finished by asking what the likely reason would be for the person switching companies and had the same options as the first multiple choice question.
The second survey had exactly the same questions, the only difference was, there were no options, only a box for the respondent to type in their reasoning for each answer.
From here all I had to do was disperse the survey. I used Twitter and Facebook to gather participants, shooting for a goal of 50. Groups were decided based on the person’s birthday. People born on even numbered days were grouped into the multiple-choice group. People born on odd-numbered days were grouped into the open-ended responses.
My hypotheses were that 1) Apple would get the most responses for favorite electronics company. 2) People who responded that Apple was their favorite company would be more likely to cite “company mission” as the reason why it is their favorite. 3) Open-ended questions would get more overall responses citing company mission as the reason why it is their favorite.
Coincidentally, I was able to gather 50 respondents, with 25 in each group. Results showed an overwhelming preference for Apple (16). Sony had the second-most responses with eight, and then Samsung with seven. The rest were mostly miscellaneous companies.
Surprisingly, not one person in the entire study said anything about the company’s mission or why they do what they do. Still, the results for Apple were eerily consistent. In fact, in the multiple-choice group, all respondents chose “usability” as the reason why it is their favorite company. Even more astounding, all but two respondents said something in the vein of “usability” for their reason why Apple was their favorite company, most of them using that exact word.
Apple also boasts the only respondent to chose “company mission” as a reason why they would change. Most in the multiple-choice section chose “price” as a reason they would change, while a few in the open-ended group said, “only if Apple went under.”
In terms of the other companies, there were no real patterns in terms of why the company was their favorite, except in the open-ended part. A few wrote something to the degree of “quality” but most basically said, “just because.” There were no real patterns between brands of how long the person had been with them, or how likely they were to switch. The main reason people would be willing to switch would be price. This was especially true in the multiple-choice section for Apple.
Breaking it All Down
What these results show is that it actually might not be the company failing to properly construct and measure why a person is loyal to a company. Instead, it is actually the consumers themselves who don’t really know how to communicate why they like the company in the first place. But still, some of these results are striking.
First, there is some conformity in why people think they like Apple so much. Usability. But are their products really any “easier to use” than other company’s products? Their phones have basically the same features that other phones have, and they are usually more expensive. Why then would people cite “price” as a reason they would change companies? This does, however, come back to Sinek’s idea that the company’s “why” makes its customers more willing to pay a premium for their products.
The other side of the results is that many in the open-ended questions simply could not put into words why the company was their favorite. Again, this aligns with Sinek’s idea that why we like a company is just hard to put into words. Still, at least all of Apple’s respondents were at least able to say something!
Finding Evidence of Why
The easiest place to find a company’s why is on their website, so that’s just what I did. Starting with Apple, I scrolled down to the bottom of their official website and found the tab labeled “Apple Values,” the first of which was “Accessibility.” On that page there was a somewhat vague, but powerful quote, “the true value of a device isn’t measured by how powerful it is, but by how much it empowers you.” Then Apple told the reader exactly how their products are accessible by listing features.
The company started with why – empowerment. Then they listed how – usability. It looks like Apple is actually very successful in communicating why, their consumers just aren’t as a good, instead defaulting to how.
Samsung, who had the second-most responses for favorite electronics company, makes a solid effort at communicating why. Widely known as the closest Android equivalent to the iPhone, the company takes a lot from Apple’s marketing philosophy.
Samsung’s “Vision” page starts off by saying “Inspire the World, Create the Future,” following up with, “The Vision 2020 is at the core of our commitment to create a better world full of richer digital experiences, through innovative technology and products.” Again, a vague, philosophical vision, then followed up by how they do it.
Those Who Don’t Know Why
So what about some of the company’s who don’t have a clear sense of why? Dell was one of the companies that got only one response for favorite company.
Dell does not have a clear sense of why at all. In fact, going to the “About Dell” section of their webpage takes the user straight to a copyright notice. Not exactly inspiring their customers. When I looked further on their site, I finally found more tabs for “About Dell” at the bottom of the page. Of course, the first option is “Investors.” This tells the reader “what” the company is, rather than why it does what it does. “Dell Technologies is the world’s largest privately-controlled technology company,” it boasts.
Perhaps they are the largest now, with a lot of investors due to them making quality, cheap products, but as the one respondent who cited Dell as their favorite electronics company, they lack loyalty. Even though it was the respondent’s favorite company for over five years, they were one of the few to admit to being very likely to change companies if they found a cheaper product that did the same thing. Dell’s inability, and perhaps even disinterest in communicating their why is one reason for their lack of a dedicated following.
Last Word on the Apple Test of Why
Sinek is an idealist who makes a living off inspiring people to find purpose in their lives. In his book, he ends by giving evidence of how finding his why helped take his business to the next level. Obviously, this doesn’t work for everyone as any businesses who do have a clear sense of why still fail. At the same time, there are many successful businesses, like Dell, who do not. The argument though, is that for a business to be truly successful long-term, it needs a loyal following, and loyalty cannot be bought, but only earned through championing a cause, rather than just selling a good.
The results of my pseudo-survey indicate that companies who communicate their why do in fact have a better following, but it doesn’t mean the consumer really knows exactly why they like the company. That said, gauging a customer’s interest in why, and being able to prove that it is valuable in driving sales might not be possible. But that is the entire thing: if a company tries to use why as a manipulation tactic, it will never work. Companies should simply start with why, and everything else will come secondary.
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