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Building a Startup? Prioritize Why.

During more than two decades working with startup founders, I’ve heard numerous origin stories about the moment each created their most magnificent thing. 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 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 it 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 particular industries and with prospective customers living with pain points everyday.


As a seasoned marketing and communications expert, here are 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 of creating brand messaging is discovering your “why”. Your “why” brings authenticity to your messaging and a reason to believe for customers and other key stakeholders. It’s what makes it powerful, meaningful and important.


To find your “why”, go back to the very beginning. Think about why you created this product or solution. Some prompts include:


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

The next step is to walk a mile 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?
  • In mission-driven industries such as cleantech and greentech, it’s also important to consider, how will this product help change the state of the world? What potential impact will this product have in the future?

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


  • Has your industry changed since you started and, if so, why does your “why” remain today?
  • What is different about your brand compared to some of the more established options in the space? What about the new players?
  • With cleantech and greentech, how is your company tackling issues or causes that others aren’t?

Lastly, ensure your messaging is consistent across the board. When messaging shifts, consumers and stakeholders will likely take notice and question the changes, often risking your brand's authenticity. Ultimately, brand consistency matters, and talking about your “why” is no different.


How to Use Your “Why” Effectively


There are three key ways 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 that are growing increasingly crowded, your “why” can help uplift your solution 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 should shape any additional messaging you communicate, or even marketing and 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 that brands that highlight their “why'' achieve greater media success as they come across as more relevant and in touch with market demand. I am constantly reminded about how Scott Cook at Intuit set out to ease 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. Review the company’s history as one of the oldest tech brands in Silicon Valley 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 and solves an issue they’re currently facing.


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


Obsessed with technology that solves everyday challenges, Kimmie Greene is a vice president at Matter Communications, recently named to Forbes List of America’s Best PR Agencies for 2021 (https://www.forbes.com/lists/best-pr-agencies/#36202273476dP). With more than 250 professionals across seven offices, Matter is one of the fastest-growing PR, creative services, digital marketing and strategy firms in the country. For more information, go to www.matternow.com. 

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