Start with why. Finish with how.

Start with why. Finish with how.

Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why” created a gravitational pull to a branding ideal. It generated rich banter across our industry and beyond.

For those unfamiliar, the author’s premise is simple: rather than position your product or service around what you do, such as…
We provide an on-demand, cloud-based sales, multi-channel marketing and customer service platform that helps small businesses nurture quality customer relationships.

…start your messaging with why you exist…
We believe free time rocks. We offer an on-demand, cloud-based sales, marketing and customer service platform that creates more of it.

It’s a basic textbook construct. On paper it reads great. But in practice…

No one cares about your why

A brand’s why (i.e., its mission or purpose) is an internal device that gives the brand meaning and direction.

However, as an outward-facing message, a brand’s why is not enough of an idea to create the meaningful or personal connection needed to invite people into a brand experience and get them to take action.

Consider these examples of “why” statements of a few big brands:

Why does Tesla exist? To reduce our carbon footprint and save humanity.
Why does Disney exist? To make people happy.
Why does Lululemon exist? To elevate the world from mediocrity to greatness.

Powerful stuff. And a great place to start a messaging strategy. It’s easy to trace these brands’ behavior back to their statements of purpose. You can even find aspects of these beliefs designed into their identity systems and woven into their taglines.

But if Tesla, Disney and Lululemon used these statements alone as their entire brand messaging, they would sound like everyone else in their respective categories who share similar missions.

Starting with your why and using it as the foundation of your messaging and marketing is critical. But to create true differentiation and meaning, you first need to consider…


We get deeply exploratory in discovery sessions with clients, digging and prodding with questions and exercises that help us get the raw materials to construct the best messaging and campaigns possible. Naturally, we also start with asking why a company exists.

Vendors we work with often answer with some variation of:

To help agents or brokers work smarter, not harder.
To help agents thrive and grow their business.

Brokers typically answer the question of why with some variation of:
To protect and preserve the dream of homeownership.

MLSs typically answer with:
To provide cooperation and compensation between brokers.

These are each noble missions and great places to start. But, like a singular bone jutting up through the clay of an archeological dig, they don’t tell us everything. To build a complete, differentiated and meaningful story, we need to understand what these companies do that fulfills their purpose.

So we dig deeper.

For example, if a broker’s why is to preserve and protect the dream of homeownership we might look for proof in places where it matters, such as their recruiting process, policies around transactions or lead generation practices – places where their why instructs their actions.

The things we discover by going to this depth will not only help isolate what it is the brand possesses that makes it unique, they become foundation and substance of messaging.

It’s the same for every brand we work with.

This proof is the way a brand makes their why real. Getting to this point takes soul searching. But stress testing the reality and believability of a brand’s why helps us focus on the most critical component in a brand’s relationship with its audience and sets the stage for what a brand needs to communicate across its messaging platform.

Finish with how

Good branding starts with why. Sinek got that right. But marketing the brand and getting people vested in it requires a brand to make believers out of people.

This requires leveraging the unique ways in which you bring value.

If you’re a vendor with a mission to help agents work smarter, define what smarter is in your world. Surface stories that illustrate what working smart looks, sounds and feels like.

Lead your messaging with that.

If you’re a brokerage with a mission – create campaigns that highlight how you ascend to that mission. Highlight people within your organization who possess specialized skills that keep you on mission. Tell stories around them and what they do that support why you exist.

These stories, the proof of how you are what you say you are is far more compelling than an internal why statement.

Weave your how into your positioning statement. Make it a part of your About Us. Create a section on your home titled ‘What We do Better than everyone else’ or ‘Our Difference, or Why our Customers love us’ – and fill these sections with proof.

Don’t stop there. Create ad copy and imagery around it. Build content around it. Use it to inspire brand activations wherever and whenever you can. This is the cornerstone of our work ethos and where we invest so much energy for our clients – finding unique and compelling ways to share their how to draw people in.

In a world where whys can easily blur together, what sets a brand apart are the ways in which it brings that purpose to life.