Why Oh Why?

I’m doing some work on leadership at the moment – as a marketer I work on the principle that you don’t need to be good at something to be able to express a view – and I came across a TED talk from Simon Sinek

It was posted in 2009 so I would imagine many of you (maybe even both of you) have already seen the video but I am quite taken with it. It offers an important message not just to leaders but to brands – people buy why you do what you do, not just what you do or how you do it. Or put another way, it is your beliefs and motivations that inspire a following.

Making a profit is a result but it cannot be your prime motivation if you are looking for loyalty and commitment. He has a very simple model based on what, how, why. People or companies know what they do and most know how they do it but only leaders are clear about why and unlike the rest of us that is where they start. “This is what I believe – what I do and how I do it are the proof”.

He explains that this is based not just on insight but science, how the big bit of the brain works – the Behavioral Economists will understand all this. But even without the science it just makes sense. I have also been doing a lot of work on the Craft Movement in drinks. People know what the big drinks brands do and often how they do it, but they don’t know why (other than making a profit). With Craft beers you know exactly why and that explains their growing following.

And on the subject of craft – you’re going to love this link – I spotted in the press the speculation about Kraft being bought up by Brazilian Private Equity firm 3G. It was Kraft who bought Cadbury and then span it off into a separate company, Mondelez, together with Toblerone and Oreo cookies. 3G together with Warren Buffet bought Heinz and are rumoured to be sniffing around Campbell’s.

I would imagine all these well known brands can articulate what they do and how they do it, whoever owns them. But it must be awfully hard to offer any reason why they do it other than to make money. In fact I would imagine that if you went to the board of any of these companies and suggested that in order to inspire more followers (sell more stuff) it would be a good idea to identify the motivation, the beliefs, the ideals behind the brands and to put these ahead of this year’s profit objective you might find yourself out of a job.

The main guy behind 3G is Jorge Paulo Lemann. He is the same guy behind the creation of ABI, the people who brew Stella Artois and Budweiser. He is clearly a very smart businessman and as a result is wealthier than many medium size nations. I can’t imagine he would care what I think but Jorge, if you get to hear about this, I’d pose you one question.

You are getting your butt kicked by Craft beers (15% of the USA market by volume, 25% by value and still growing). What are you going to do about it?

What ABI, and indeed SABMiller, are actually doing is buying up the more successful Craft Brewers. I wonder whether this strategy will work? You buy the ‘how and what’ but lose the ‘why’. Perhaps I’m wrong – Ben and Jerry’s and then Innocent both sold out and the brands still do well I’m told.

But can you be a leader of a big business that in large measure is publically owned and put your faith in idealism – ideals and beliefs that trump pure profit? Simon Sinek uses Apple as one of his examples in the video but back in 2009 Steve Jobs was still in charge. Now there was an inspiring leader who knew why he did it, not just how and what.

Can you be a politician and win power with your ideology in tact? Well some might say Thatcher did. You may not have agreed with her – I didn’t at the time – but she was clearly motivated by beliefs and succeeded in inspiring first the grey suits of the Tory party and then the electorate. So did Churchill for that matter.

But can you be a brand manager working in a big multinational and put the “why” at the heart of your marketing? Depends what kind of leader you are.

And that is what I have always believed – to be a great brand manager you have to be a great leader, so it’s worth paying attention to this leadership stuff.

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