It's all Simon Sinek's fault.

Calvin and Hobbes

Calvin and Hobbes

With the increasing momentum around business leaders wishing to capitalize on the concept of being a “Purpose Driven” brand, Simon Sinek's blockbuster Start With Why TED Talk and book has morphed over time from inspiration into a false summit of hope. For companies looking to establish a foothold of relevance upon which to scale, they need to take heed. There’s more to leveraging the idea of being purpose driven than simply unearthing one’s “Why.”

What Sinek’s “Golden Circle” expertly makes seem so logical and obvious belies something more complex: one can’t simply devise a brand position based on the penning of one’s purpose and then prop it up with superficial taglines, mission statements, jingles, and vast investments in paid media support. In presenting the Utopian state of a brand operating from its Why, Sinek has generated megawatts of boardroom browbeating and handwringing because one’s Purpose is only made into tangible value if the idea permeates every nook and cranny of the business, operationalized as a fully wrought consumer experience.

Mr. Sinek is right, of course. Differentiated, dynamic brands are clear and consistent because their principles and purpose are well defined. However, what Sinek does not explain is how then does this fundamental belief get woven into every aspect of the consumer’s experience, nay into every aspect of the organization itself.

As companies mature—and add layers of specialization, process, and complexity—they risk losing touch with the simple, independent spirit of passion and performance that gave life to the business in the first place. The spark initially worthy of a loyal following was and is their molecular identity, the reason the brand exists, the “why.” Because the corporate veils of the past are vastly more porous than ever, being authentic to one’s purpose is more important than ever. As one size fits all marketing has waned, branding as we’ve known it historically has all but died. Customers expect authentic, curated relationship with brands they use to facilitate their lives. Without understanding that intimately, the stuff that actually constitutes a relationship, finding your “why” is not the Holy Grail it may seem, but just the tip of the iceberg of realizing the value of being driven by purpose.

Board members everywhere will continue to be bewildered at the gap between the concept that Sinek espouses and the actual, operational quality of the businesses they manage until they uniquely understand their customers' intrinsic motivations for engaging with them and purchasing their products. The brand’s “raison d’etre” being the basis for the relationship. Only when your “why” connects with your customer at literally every touch point by permeating everything you do does your “why” matter.