Why to ‘start with why’ in digital marketing

This article explores how the Golden Circle concept by Simon Sinek where businesses are taught to ‘start with why’ can apply to digital marketing, and how I used it to create my ‘Digital Marketing Philosophy’.

For those of you who haven’t read it, Simon Sinek’s ‘Start with why’ is an inspiring book dedicated to transforming the way business sells, recruits and generally creates long-term success. It explores a concept known as the Golden Circle which is comprised of three rings – What, How and Why. The order in which these basic but thought-provoking business questions are answered has incredible power on marketing success.

This article explores how the Golden Circle concept can apply to digital marketing, and how I used it to create my ‘Digital Marketing Philosophy’. But first, here’s my summary of Simon’s book…


Part 1: Manipulation vs inspiration

Simon explains early on that there’s two types of selling (read: marketing) in business. These are manipulation and inspiration techniques. Here’s a quick overview of each.


Manipulations include discounts, promotions and value-added deals. An extreme example of this type of trading can be seen on the Sports Direct website, however most e-commerce websites include some form of manipulation.


Inspiration on the other hand connects the customer with the core belief of your business. This is the why part of the Golden Circle, and believe it or not most businesses don’t have one. AirB&B is a great example of a site which clearly shares its why on the homepage.

Ask yourself: Why do we have a business? (Making money isn’t an answer). What’s the problem I’m solving for the customer?

Why digital inspiration rocks

To answer this, let’s first start with why online manipulations suck. Say you have a great discount on the homepage of your website. You’ll probably see a good conversion rate and decent revenue. The problem is that, over time, your online traffic will become used to these mechanics. Whilst possible, the long-term success of running constant manipulations is unlikely. What’s more likely is that it’ll lead to increasingly margin-dilutive deals which eat into your online profitability.

Inspiration is different. The internet is arguably the single-most engaging platform available to marketers today with interactive websites, video and a whole host of ways to communicate with your audience. Conveying the why of your business online gives the best possible chance of a customer adopting the same belief.

It’s the shared belief between customer and business that leads to long-term customer loyalty (note this isn’t the same as simply repeat purchase). Customer loyalty should be measured by their willingness to pay for products or services in the absence of manipulations, and their willingness to undergo inconvenience in order to make a purchase (though obviously you should try, where possible, to remove these inconveniences!).

Comparing manipulative and inspirational websites

When comparing two companies, Simon Sinek used the examples of Dell and Apple. The difference is clear – Whilst Dell sells products and services (often with manipulations thrown in to sweeten the deal) Apple sells a lifestyle, centered around a belief. It’s this belief that leads customers to pay a premium and queue for hours outside their local store on launch day – These are loyal customers, and correct me if I’m wrong but I don’t think you get that at many Dell outlets?

Comparing the Dell and Apple websites does give a good example of how this translates online, however Apple’s website does seem to have gone much more product-focused since Tim Cook took the helm, so I’m going to use another example instead.

The Lush website sells with a purpose. “Fix up, look sharp” is pronounced in its carousel. The reason (why) they sell is clear (although I personally think it could be even clearer). They want to help you “look sharp”. Comparatively, The Body Shop are selling products. “Shop mens gifts” is the call to action on a Father’s Day carousel. There’s a manipulation (30% off) just below, and no sense of why anywhere on their homepage.

Ask yourself: If given the choice between being given something to solve a problem that you have or given something because it’s cheaper, which one would you choose. All the data points towards choosing the item that solves a customer’s problem.

Finally, the products themselves differ quite significantly on the comparable websites. Whilst The Body Shop’s products are quite functionally focused, Lush focus their products around a story, each relating back to the core value and belief of the company.

Part 2: Inspiring digital marketing teams

Simon Sinek applies his theory to more than just business and marketing. He also talks about recruiting and leadership.

Ask yourself: Would you rather have a team of people who have great credentials but are disengaged with your purpose, or a team who are passionately dedicated to succeeding?

The Wright Brothers chose the second option – A team of passionately dedicated engineers who wanted to make man-powered flight possible. The opposition, headed by Samuel Pierpont Langley, had far-superior engineers (on paper, at least)… But no-one has ever heard of Samuel Pierpont Langley. Mr. Langley wanted, above all else, to be rich and famous, and his team didn’t share his vision.

Applying this to digital leadership is simple. Know why you want to create digital experiences, what problem you’re solving for the customer and make sure that your team share that motivation. Aim towards the same goals and inspire your team to excel themselves.

A happy digital team who share the same core values as the business will create more engaging and useful digital campaigns, treat the customers more favourably and pass on the belief and passion to shoppers – In turn creating more loyal customers and increasing digital success.

There’s another benefit to starting with why, rather than what. By starting with why you’re able to re-address whether the digital campaign, content or strategy is correct to answer the why. By starting with what you manufacture a why to fit the strategy, but by starting with why you can really assess the realistic application of your digital efforts.

For example, say you want to make a long-form article on types of renewable energy. Your why may therefore be ‘to inform customers of types of energy’. Seems legit. But is this really your why? If your purpose is more likely ‘To inspire people to be more environmentally friendly’, then what content would you create? Would it still be the types of renewable energy long-form article?

Part 3: Applying ‘Why’ to my digital philosophy

When coming up with my digital philosophy, I adopted Simon Sinek’s strategy. I started with why. But I found a problem. I didn’t know why, because I didn’t know what problem I was solving. This took some time to think about, but I eventually figured out the problem I wanted to solve.

For me, the problem was accessibility. Many businesses don’t know how to achieve the best return on investment when it comes to digital marketing. For individuals, knowing where to start can be a real challenge. This problem led me to answering my why. I realised that I believe every business and individual should be able to access and successfully use digital marketing. It should be accessible.

Here’s the Golden Circle that I ended up with, the answers I thought about and the problem that I wanted to solve. It took ages to get to what now seems like such a simple concept, but it’s a much more difficult question to answer than it first seems. Start with Why and work outwards from there.

Digital marketing philosophy based on Simon Sinek's Golden Circle

My digital marketing philosophy based on Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle

You can read my full digital marketing philosophy on the homepage, or read the business or individual versions on the relevant pages. I really recommend giving this process a go – If you can answer all of these straight away then you’re onto a winner, but if you struggle then it’s worth giving some time and thought to.

John Alexander Rowley

An enthusiastic digital marketing professional passionately dedicated to increasing the online presence of businesses and individuals in order to improve engagement and ROI.

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