Build a world beating brand by sharing a passion

Competition for the attention of your audience has never been stiffer. Consumers are being bombarded by marketing messages every time they glance at a screen. To cut through the chatter you need to tap into your audience’s passions by finding the shared values that motivate them to take action.

Identifying shared values

Unlike economists, who model humans as rational actors robotically carrying out transactions which maximise their utility, marketers have to understand that human beings are much more complicated animals. The values and interests that motivate them are hugely varied, multi-faceted, change over time and are often contradictory.

Which is no bad thing, since it creates lots of opportunities to find areas where the values of our audience overlap with the values of our brand. Identifying these areas of overlap is essential if we want to connect with our audience on a more profound level than ‘buy this thing because features’.

Starting with WHY

In his TED talk ‘Start with Why’, Simon Sinek sought to explain why some companies achieve way more than anybody would’ve thought possible. These companies, which become household names and mega-brands must have some special ingredient which makes them so special. Sinek thinks it’s because they built their brands around ‘why’.


What does that mean? Sinek’s Golden Circle helps explain. It has three layers:

  • WHY – why does the company do what it does?
  • HOW – how does the company do what it does?
  • WHAT – what does the company actually do?

Most companies focus their marketing efforts on the ‘what’. They describe the products or services they deliver, their features and unique selling points. Sinek argues that the most successful companies come at it from the opposite direction – they start by telling their audiences why they do what they do.

In other words, they identify the value that their offering seeks to deliver and then speak directly to their audiences’ needs and passions. They seek to tell their audience why they should be acting before they tell them what to act on and how.

But before we get bogged down in too much theory, let’s look at some real-life examples.

Apple – Think Different

Naturally one of the best examples comes from one of the world’s best brands. In 1997, after being exiled for more than 12 years from the company he founded, Steve Jobs famously returned to an almost bankrupt Apple. The company had lost its way during those years and one of Jobs’ first missions was to bring Apple back to its core values. This manifested in the 1997 brand campaign, ‘Think Different’.


Think Different is a perfect example of starting with ‘why’. Apple believe in challenging the status quo, putting a dent in the universe, with beautifully designed, simple, intuitive products that enable the human race to progress.

Rather than show how cool their products looked, or talk about how great the tech was, they released a campaign extolling the virtues of the ‘crazy ones’ that have changed the world. By identifying with and championing these iconoclasts, they are doing two things: positioning themselves as crazy innovators that challenge the status quo; and also speaking to their target audience – the early adopters who also see themselves as (or who aspire to be) ‘crazy ones’ – in terms of the values that they hold dear.

Nike – Just Do It

This campaign from Nike has been running for over a quarter of a century now, an unparalleled achievement in modern marketing and testament to the powerful ideas that underpin it. In the mid-eighties Nike had lost its status as the world’s leading seller of sports shoes. The Just Do It campaign reversed the decline by associating the brand with sporting legends, starting with 80 year old running icon Walt Stack and moving on to feature Michael Jordan, Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, LeBron James, Serena Williams…


Nike are manufacturers of sports clothing but what they sell in these adverts is not the WHAT but the WHY. The trainers are merely the route to achieving the kind of sporting excellence personified by the stars they associate with. Nike holds up the Olympian ideal venerated by every sports fan, by everyone who wants to run faster, jump higher, be stronger. It sells the idea that the only thing required to pass from mere mortal to sporting superstar is the will to make it happen (that and a pair of Nikes, natch).

Passion helps create the halo effect

Both the Nike and the Apple campaigns are examples of brands starting with the WHY – identifying where their values overlap with the core values of their target audiences and then talking about it passionately. It’s helped both these companies create a halo effect around their brands by building an ethos that people can really buy into and connect with.

After all, people don’t buy products – they buy ideas.

Social media is passion’s playground

Social media presents huge opportunities for sharing content which develops these core brand stories and innumerable ways to tap into the passions of your audience. Of course, all this activity needs to be built on the foundation of a clear content strategy.

In coming posts I’ll be sharing some of the frameworks and techniques we’ve found useful for developing shared passions and building successful brands.


Picture credit: Big Red Duplo Heart by Michele M.F.CC BY-SA 2.0

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