Louise Kyme, Strategy Director
After 15+ years working in the charity sector I’ve seen a fair few brand trends come and go.
One that particularly seemed to resonate with sector leadership, originated in Simon Sinek’s excellent ‘Start with the why’ presentation, where he used Apple as an example of how most brands lead marketing with their ‘what’ (the functional aspect of what they do) whereas Apple’s ‘why’ (why they exist, their purpose) has been their differentiator and motivator.
And I can understand the appeal of the ‘why’ in the charity sector. Purpose is at the heart of everything we do, so it makes sense to be excited by Sinek’s advice. So much so, I’ve heard the question crop up multiple times after excellent agency presentations. “Yes, but what about the ‘why’?” It’s at that point I hear people get tied up in knots about the importance of the ‘why’ and slowly unravel an inspired presentation.
So, what about the ‘why’?
Well, I beg to differ. For charity sector brands, the ‘why’ isn’t nearly as important or revolutionary as we seem to think it is.
Well, for Apple, having a bigger ‘why’ or ‘purpose’ at the heart of their brand is completely differentiating, and gives the organisation a meaningful soul, deeper than profits. And by purchasing their products, we feel we have gained that soul too. Their idea, that we need to ‘think differently’ is an artistic, rebellious motivation to make life better, and incapsulated the Apple consumer spirit.
Whereas, charities by default, already have that genuine desire deep in our brands. We don’t need to create or sell that to our audiences – the presumption amongst the public is that it’s already there (albeit a little wobbly in times of charity trust issues). Therefore, articulating our ‘why’ becomes a clarification and singularity exercise for charities. Not a creative exercise in differentiation, or to open people’s minds to a deeper meaning.
What I believe is more important for our sector, is the ‘how’ and even, sometimes, the basic ‘what’.
‘How’ – our ethos, our ideology, our philosophy, and why we believe our unique way is the way that’s going to create change is imperative. Apple believed in great, user-friendly design; that’s what they become famous for. What does your charity believe in, that makes its work genuinely unique?
When I see amazing charities like MSF: doctors volunteering their time to help desperate people in need around the world, I am in awe. Greenpeace and their crazily brave stunts that always teach me something new. These are brands driven by a strong ethos. The question of ‘why they exist’ is relatively obvious to me, and it’s what I expect from them. Unlike a computer brand saying we’re all about thinking different.
And for charities the ‘what’ can also be important. Partly because it’s the aspect that as a sector, we seem to find so hard to pin down. In my time at the British Heart Foundation we did something that was obvious, but internally, pretty brave. Through a brand definition project, we made the decision to focus our story on research, rather than spend our time talking about every facet of our work: nurses, heartstart training, information, campaigning etc. This decision later informed our business strategy, where the research focus became more than just communications, but a focus on the core products and services we were delivering. Brand and business became one. And as a consequence, we helped our audience easily understand what we do. Alone, this story is not enough. But get it right, and you’re giving yourself the opportunity to shine in other aspects of your brand.
Now as Strategy Director at Texture, I see even more frequently, the need to create charity brands that are shaped around each charity’s unique challenges. There is no one size fits all approach to branding. The clarity that Sinek’s ‘Start with the why’ presentation gave, that so inspired many in our sector, as a consequence has started to muddy the water along the way.
So, my challenge back to our sector is: don’t overly focus on your ‘why’, just because Simon says.