PMM

How to Create the Perfect Why-How-What Positioning Statement

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Editor’s note: This is the first of many posts introducing the Purposeful Marketing Method. For more on the PMM, click here.

Even if you’ve done so multiple times, give yourself 6 minutes and watch Simon Sinek’s 2009 TED Talk, “The Golden Circle.”

All finished?

Good, let’s get started.

The Golden Circle concept comes from Sinek’s book, Start with Why. In it, Sinek repeats over and over “people don’t care what you do, they care why you do it.” He illustrates the communication pattern that businesses need to inspire their prospects and customers: start with why, then how, then what.

But how do you apply this concept to your business? Is it in your tagline? Where does this message get disseminated? We’ll get there.

But before we do, we need to have a quick chat about positioning statements.

Traditionally, positioning statements are stale, internal documents to help organizations understand what they do and where they sit in the marketplace. Branding agencies can eat up a lot of billable hours helping you with the perfect positioning statement (that will never see the light of day and only exists for internal use).

Here’s a simple rundown from Cult Branding on How to Create a Brand Positioning Statement.

There are four essential elements of a best-in-class positioning statement:

  • Target Customer: What is a concise summary of the attitudinal and demographic description of the target group of customers your brand is attempting to appeal to and attract?
  • Market Definition: What category is your brand competing in and in what context does your brand have relevance to your customers?
  • Brand Promise: What is the most compelling (emotional/rational) benefit to your target customers that your brand can own relative to your competition?
  • Reason to Believe: What is the most compelling evidence that your brand delivers on its brand promise?

Perhaps a simpler translation would be:

  • Target Customer: Who do you do this for?
  • Market Definition: What are you doing?
  • Brand Promise: Why are you doing it?
  • Reason to Believe: How do you do it?

Either approach is seeking the same answer: clarity. So instead of sitting in a half-day meeting discussing “if your brand was a car, what kind would it be?” let’s take these elements and put them into action.

We’ll combine the best parts of the positioning statement (the clarity), with the best part of the Why-How-What process (the inspiration), to create something practical: the paragraph that defines and sells your business.

This “Why-How-What Positioning Statement” will see the light of day and wear many hats. It will be your “elevator pitch.” It will be the first paragraph on your website. It will be the collection of sentences strung together by everyone in your organization each time someone asks “what does your company do?”

And it all starts with Why.

Let’s go back to Sinek’s words on the Why:

“Very, very few people or organizations know why they do what they do. And by why, I don’t mean to make a profit. That’s a result. By why I mean, what’s your purpose, what’s your cause, what’s your belief? Why does your organization exist? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? Why should anyone care?”

The EOS process echoes this approach with their Purpose/Cause/Passion. If your company has adopted EOS, you probably know your why.

For everybody else, it’s time to figure it out.

Step 1: Define Your Why

Perhaps this isn’t as easy as filling in a box for your organization. Perhaps you’re not sure why your team collectively gets out of bed in the morning or maybe you’re starting to ask yourself, “are we an uninspiring business?”

Fear not, there’s purpose, passion, or cause in there somewhere, and we can help you get it out.

Sinek says, “Fulfillment comes when we live our lives with purpose.” This may sound like the first sentence of a self-help book, but it invites a natural follow-up question that can start helping you get on the right path – “what were you put on this earth to do?”

Go around the room and let everyone answer individually. Start thinking through the “why” lens. Now that everyone in the organization has answered, ask the room “what is the company here to do?”

Hopefully, you’re starting to get somewhere. Ideas are flowing, someone in the group just threw out a killer adjective everyone is clinging on to. This is great! Use this energy and fill out the second part of this simple sentence:

We believe _______________________________.

That is your why. It’s the hardest thing to define, but once you articulate what this fuel is that pushes your organization each and every day, everything can fall into place from there.

Step 2: Detail Your How

Remember the end goal of this exercise – the single paragraph that defines what you do in the most persuasive way possible.

Understanding this, balancing your “how” can be tricky. The more detailed you can describe how you operate, the more trust you are going to earn from prospects and customers. Additionally, if you think your demographic is an important addition to your Why-How-What Positioning Statement, this is where you drop a line or two about who your customers are.

Let’s use a Law Firm as an example:

Smith Law Firm, our made-up business for the exercise, is a collection of personal injury attorneys. They have determined their “why” to be:

“We believe every person is entitled to fairness and safety from institutions big and small.”

Which example of “how” would be more persuasive as a follow-up?

  1. We believe every person is entitled to fairness and safety from institutions big and small. That’s why we work hand-in-hand with our clients assisting them in the areas of car accidents, slip and falls, and dog bites. We never take “no” for an answer and take our cases all the way!
  2. We believe every person is entitled to fairness and safety from institutions big and small. That’s why we have worked tirelessly for 10+ years to obtain six-figure settlements for our clients in cases against careless drivers, construction employers, incautious doctors, and others. Our philosophy of “Never Settle” is reflected in our trial history, where we have reached a successful outcome for our clients 92% of the time.

The first example is broad and safe, the second example builds trust through the details of their “how.”

When creating your “how” give yourself a couple of sentences. The “how” is supporting your “why”, and the more descriptive it can be, the more you will earn the trust of your prospects and customers.

Step 3: Bring it All Home with an Authoritative “What” + “CTA” Combo


It’s time to thread everything together. You’ve presented your purpose, supported it with your actions, and now you will concisely explain exactly what you do with pride. But like our friend Simon Sinek, you need to stick the landing with a CTA that persuades.

Not sure how to get everything together to pack a punch?

Let’s go back to our friends at the Smith Law Firm. These guys are starting to really make it clear who they are. A quick review of where we are:

Why:

We believe every person is entitled to fairness and safety from institutions big and small.

How:

That’s why we have worked tirelessly the past ten years to obtain six-figure settlements for our clients in cases against careless drivers, construction employers, incautious doctors, and negligent neighbors. Our philosophy of “Never Settle” is reflected in our trial history, where we have reached a successful outcome for our clients 92% of the time.

Now let’s add that final stamp, the Why + CTA combination:

We believe every person is entitled to fairness and safety from institutions big and small. That’s why we have worked tirelessly the past ten years to obtain six-figure settlements for our clients in cases against careless drivers, construction employers, incautious doctors, and negligent neighbors. Our “Never Settle” philosophy is reflected in our trial history, where we have reached a successful outcome for our clients 92% of the time. We are Smith Law, a Personal Injury Firm located in downtown Denver. Are you ready to get what you deserve?

Nice! That’s a good “Why-How-What Positioning Statement” right there.

In the end, you have copy for your communications, clarity of your purpose, and a unifying group of sentences that everyone in the organization can adopt together. No more wishy-washy explanations and awkward elevator rides. Clear, concise, and powerful.

Are you ready to put your “Why-How-What Positioning Statement” together?

Good luck!

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