It’s NOT Always “Why,” Sinek

In his speech “How great leaders inspire action,” Simon Sinek boils down the reason why people choose to purchase from a brand to one factor. As he puts it, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” Is Simon Sinek right?

Yes….and no. A better question might be “is it always this simple?” As with many other things in life, there is very little black and white….and tons of gray. I argue that he’s right in certain circumstances, yet wrong in others.

When a brand has an opportunity and/or stands in an industry where it is able to make a mark, then yes, of course the “why” can make a major impact in people’s purchasing decisions. Sinek uses Apple as a quintessential example; they aim to always “challenge the status quo,” and in an industry in which many customers are always seeking the latest and best, this works like a charm. However, we must remember that Apple had the opportunity available to them—by entering the “right” industry to promote this philosophy, and even by doing it at the right time in history!

Say my brand is a take-out Chinese food restaurant. Let’s be honest: while my customers may appreciate service with a smile, why do they frequent the joint? Why does anyone? Good taste, good value, good location. Every single one of these has nothing to do with why the owners are running their business. Perhaps they have pride in their product, and that positively influences the quality. But do my customers really care about some deeply-held conviction behind why I make and sell Chinese food? In this case, absolutely not.

The same can be said for many other commodities. To claim that there is one universal driver of success behind a brand is just not realistic, nor is it accurate. While I appreciate Sinek’s ability to inspire, this view coming from such a visionary mind is strangely shortsighted.

Sinek, be sensible.