Building a Startup? Prioritize Your Why.

By Kimmie Greene

In my two-plus decades working with startup founders, I’ve heard numerous origin stories about the moment each arrived at their most magnificent breakthrough. The mobility, the automation, the intelligence were always impressive, and – in some cases – first of their kind. The market also responded positively, with impressive customer acquisition, growth rates and funding rounds. However, I was regularly struck by how often founders were challenged by articulating why a particular market or industry would benefit from what they had to offer.

Prioritizing “why” is as important today as when Simon Sinek first encouraged us to do so in his 2009 book. Building a strong brand narrative means keeping the story simple and clear: who are you, what do you do and why do you do it? While the “who” and “what” are significant, they really only outline what the product or solution is and how it works. The “why” is far more integral – it conveys an understanding of the problem and provides context within industries and for prospective customers living with pain points every day.

As a seasoned marketing and communications expert, I’ve developed some tips to help your brand uncover your “why” and use it effectively.

How to Find Your “Why”

Perhaps the most important, and rewarding, step in creating brand messaging is discovering your “why.” It brings authenticity to your messaging and a reason to believe for customers and other key stakeholders. It’s what makes your story powerful, meaningful and important.

To find your “why,” go back to the very beginning and remember why you started your venture. Some prompts include:

  • What problem inspired the creation of your product or solution?
  • Was there a moment when you or someone in your family (everyone loves a mom story) addressed this issue head on?
  • How does your product or solution address the issue?

The next step is to walk along the same path as the end user. A customer-first mindset will go a long way in helping to make your product or service immediately relevant and help to break through the noise of other competitive offerings. Think about:

  • What do you want to achieve with this solution or product?
  • How do you see this product or solution benefitting people in 10 or 20 years?
  • What potential impact will this product have in the future? In mission-driven industries, such as cleantech and greentech, it is important to consider how this product will help change the state of the world.

Additionally, it’s critical to think about how your brand fits into the overall industry landscape. Between all the buzzwords, smart devices [RN1] and everything “as a service,” industry innovation is crowded and ever-changing. By sharing your “why,” you’ll bring consistency and uniqueness to the space:

  • Has your industry changed since you started and, if so, is your “why” still relevant?
  • What is different about your brand compared to some of the more established options in the space? What about the new players?
  • How is your company tackling global issues that others aren’t?

Lastly, ensure your messaging is consistent across the board. When it shifts, consumers and stakeholders will likely take notice and question the changes — often risking your brand’s authenticity. Mixed messaging dilutes customer trust, which is not easily or quickly regained.  Ultimately, brand consistency matters, and talking about your “why” is no different.

How to Use Your “Why” Effectively

There are three keyways brands can use their “why” effectively, regardless of size, lifespan or industry.

First, use your “why” to clearly differentiate yourself in crowded competitor spaces. Particularly in industries like cleantech, healthtech, fintech and edtech, a persuasive “why” can help your solution rise above others.

Second, use your “why” to help guide and build your brand voice. Your “why” is the most compelling part of your story, so use it to shape any additional messaging, marketing or PR efforts. In a similar vein, your “why” represents the core of your company and should align with everything else the company is doing, especially vision, mission and values.

Ultimately, your “why” can be used to gain meaningful media traction. Research has shown brands that highlight their “why” achieve greater media success, as they come across as more relevant and in touch with market demand. I often think of how Intuit’s Scott Cook set out to simplify the painstaking task of balancing his family’s checkbook. Fast forward 40 years, and the ethos of solving everyday problems remains true to the Intuit family of brands. A review of the company’s history as one of the oldest tech brands in Silicon Valley will reveal its ethos of customer obsession is never eclipsed by the latest product feature, functionality or leadership profile. The “why” sets the standard.

The Power of Why

At the end of the day, a company’s growth story, founder journey or product innovation is not enough to win hearts and minds — it’s how the product helps them solve an issue that makes the difference.

During my time at Matter, our clients – from venture startups to multinational corporations – have used these tips and tricks to find their “why” and create meaningful connections with their target audiences.

I hope to see more people following their entrepreneurial dreams while also placing a spotlight on their core messaging and the “why” behind it all.