Start With Why

The Reason That Why Comes Before Who, What, When, Where and How

Not long ago, I downloaded Simon Sinek’s book, “Start With Why.” It’s a quick and interesting read by a visionary, speaker and writer with a unique perspective on leadership that has been the highlight of many TED Talks. Over the past couple months, the idea of “starting with why” has been pervasive in a number of conversations, both internally as well as with clients.

When an agency is in a pitch or with a client, it’s easy to start generating ideas to address the client’s problem. Some agencies believe, incorrectly, that “the best idea wins.”In their enthusiasm they almost always fail to ask the client, “Why are you doing a review?” or, “Why do you think you’re losing market share?” Sometimes it may be obvious, but usually it’s not.

And understanding “why” is the key to success because it reveals the true motivations and needs of the client that should be reflected in the agency’s work.

To be the best agency partner possible, we have to develop a deep understanding of our clients, the category in which they operate, their customers and competition.

Most clients come to us knowing that they need some sort of marketing or communications help, but aren’t quite sure how to address their particular challenge. So to help our team really get our arms around a challenge, we start with why.

We ask questions like, “Why do you think you have an awareness challenge?” or, “What keeps you up at night and why?” We often have such sessions with our client and a multi-disciplinary team of people who view the client’s perspective through different lenses. Such an approach enables us to understand the client’s challenges from a variety of vantage points. Ultimately, the goal of bringing these perspectives together is to better understand the “why.” Once we understand the why, we can determine the who, what, when, where and how, resulting in an integrated plan spanning paid, shared, earned and/or owned channels.

As marketers, we’re inquisitive by nature, so it just seems natural that we’re always questioning and wanting to learn more. When we start with why, we lay the foundation for dialogue that enables better communication, collaboration and, most importantly, results.

Starting with why enables us to make a deeper, more visceral connection with not only our clients, but each other. I was first exposed to the value of asking why early in my career as part of a market research project. A focus group facilitator used an interview technique called, “laddering,” in which interview questions focused on “why” are used to uncover the attributes, consequences, and values people find most important. Asking why helps us hone in on deeper insights that can be critical in the development of not only messaging and positioning, but the rationale for decisions that can impact our work with a client.

As Sinek says, “People don’t buy what you do, but why you do it.” So when we ask why, know that it’s part of our effort to uncover the critical insights we need to do our very best work.


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