Why Most 4-Year Olds Are Better at Branding Than We Are
Updated: Jun 22
3 Ways to Answer the Question of “Why?”
Anyone who has ever had or even been around small children is familiar with this line of questioning...asking “why?” to unpack the fundamental truth about the thing in question, either until the answer becomes painfully obvious or it is obvious that you don’t know it. Unable to bear my own ignorance any longer, I can now, in fact, explain to my kids why the sky is blue.
We've all been there... “Why? why? WHY?”
For a credible, compelling and market-relevant organization, answering the fundamental “so what?” or “why?” for buyers and other stakeholders is the launch point for good marketing. As consumers, all of us are treated as targets throughout the day by various purveyors of stuff, whether we like it or not...it can wear. The WHY is what gives people permission and provides access, it's what forges bonds, commercial or otherwise.
Even in the world of B2B products and services, we often remind ourselves and our clients that in the machinery of marketing and business our reptilian brain still reigns supreme when it comes to making purchase decisions. So, when organizations are marketing and selling, that means everyone wants to know “why?” before they care to hear anything else.
Landing new deals, getting (and keeping) new clients and building new markets requires skill, timing, luck and likely a host of other enablers. The skill to ‘do the job’ is very often table stakes in higher-echelon fields of work, and the edge comes in being able to engage a buyer's front and back brain, their intellect and their emotion.
And yet so often we see very smart people and companies missing this very critical and foundational element when they go to market, whether it’s an investor-backed start up or a global technology provider: they forget to explain WHY.
Over 25+ years of helping to build brands and differentiated, meaningful messaging and positioning among some of the world’s leading B2B tech companies, we often see that among hard-charging, innovative and often highly technically skilled business leaders they get it backwards. They are all about what THEY do, who THEY are and how THEIR solution is “the thing.” This is a very inside-out approach.
And thus they make websites, marketing collateral, videos and all manner of go-to-market wares without devoting the right time, focus and yardstick to “why it matters” in the eyes of the prospective buyers, partners or employees. A common and simple word for what all this represents is “brand”, defined as the unifying idea that drives why a business matters (or should) and how it relates to others, whether new prospect or new hire.
The selling point of the brand sword is all about aligning an organization’s strengths with buyers wants and needs and against competitors’ weaknesses or perhaps just gaps in supply. Building the right brand makes the right people aware of you in the right ways, for the right things...and makes you much more essential, and less replace-able, as one of the chosen relationships in their lives.
Thus, the story of why is one of the more important ones to uncover, discover and get right for any organization trying to make its place in the world. It is also where people make the most assumptions, skip steps and move past critical sign posts, usually to their detriment in lost time and lost growth.
Take 30 seconds to complete this SIMPLE BRAND EXAM with a "Yes" or "No".
Are you ‘out ahead’ in the market but having trouble getting people’s attention?
Do you favor WHAT over WHY in our fundamental positioning and value?
Do you fail to distinguish between internal values and what matters to buyers?
Are you caught ‘in the middle’ on services vs. products for your offerings?
Are fellow team members mis-aligned in what “it” is and why it matters?
Do team members articulate buyer value in markedly different ways?
Now, back to our approach...getting your story straight is a matter of aligning and triangulating 3 overlapping considerations:
Buyer Needs (seen or not)
Everyone loves to talk about how no one knew they needed an iPhone until Apple showed us, but that is the exception vs. the rule, even in terms of innovation. Most buyers are aware of their real or potential “pains” and “gains” and are actively seeking to address them. If there is a new way to do that, and they are just becoming aware of it, all the better. What are the key, strategic market, industry and business challenges and opportunities your target clients seek to solve?
An oldie but a goodie, “What do we do best?”, and don’t just go by your own admissions but also through the voice of our customers, partners and employees. What are the combinations of insight, experience, process, people and technology that make your secret sauce? It must matter in the marketplace and it must be prove-able. Companies may be built on one set of “so what’s?” but evolve over time (or get pushed) to another raison d'être over time.
Many companies, especially innovators, love to say that "we don't have competition," but we know that’s not true, especially when you measure that broadly as to what a buyer will spend money on instead of your products and services (internal resources or inertia are competitors too). So, where do other providers fall short in their own capabilities, talent and positioning - the same questions you ask of yourself, you must ask of them.
These are the three-legs of the brand positioning and messaging stool that will ground your own story, differentiation and go-to-market planning and success. Figure these how out independently and then see where they overlap and you will have triangulated your go-to-market sweet spot.
Pull out this chart and pass it around your company, get people to fill it out with how they see the metrics and measures of value in each of the three buckets. Organizations will offer that there are lots of ways to highlight their market position, value, and differentiation. This can all come out over time BUT you should have only one positioning, which typically revolves around just a few core messages, the most salient themes or statements that articulate what makes your organization unique.
Taking the time and effort to triangulate the above 3 things will pay huge dividends in the long run. It’s taking one significant strategic step backwards to run ten forward.
If you’ve read this and got more YES’s than NO’s on the above self-exam, or if you have questions or ideas to share, then let’s talk!
You may also enjoy reading and using our Go-to-Market Playbook, built around this same approach.
...or you can just go ask any 4-year old.