Simon Sinek: “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it”

Props to Dustin Steeve at Evangelical Outpost for the imbedded TED video clip of Simon Sinek talking about the radical difference between

  • marketing based on what and
  • marketing based on why.

It’s passing strange  for me to sit still long enough to watch an entire 18-minute video. But this one is worth ceasing all external brain function for and actually paying honest to goodness attention.

Good stuff, this.

In fact, I watched the whole thing a second time in the midst of writing this post. 36 minutes on this video, and it’s still worth it.

Here’s why:

  • “Every organization on the planet knows what they do,” contends Sinek.
  • Many know how they do it, he continues.
  • But almost no organizations know why they do what they do.

Average leaders market from the outside in, notes Sinek. They highlight what they do.

But inspiring leaders market from the inside out. They highlight why they do what they do. As a result, they attract people who believe what they believe.

Sinek delves into anatomy to discuss how the “homo sapien brain”–the neocortex–governs rational thought and language. It is, says Sinek, the what part of the brain.

In contrast, the limbic brains–much deeper and more raw than the neocortex–are responsible for feelings, like trust. Fascinatingly, they have no language. Thus, when we say, “It doesn’t feel right”, we are living out of the limbic, so to speak. We are knowing something that can’t be put into language because the limbic brain has no language.

What’s the payoff here?

In truly transformative marketing, contends Sinek, what you do just serves as proof of what you believe. Marketing, then, is the process of attracting people who believe what you believe.

Sinek’s best observation: Martin Luther King became the leader of the civil rights movement because he gave speeches like the “I have a dream” speech…not the “I have a plan” speech.

There’s an awful lot to like and ponder in Sinek’s presentation, not the least of which is this:

  • Measuring impact is all the rage in fundraising and philanthropy. But impact is only just a what.
  • What would happen if we nonprofits marketed based not even on whats like impact…but on the basis of whys?
  • What if people give not because of what we do…but because of why we do it?

Is the key issue, in other words, that our homeless shelter feeds 3,000 people a week? Or is it that we serve our guests on fine china and linen tablecloths, and our volunteers and guests prepare and eat dinner together…all because we believe that homelessness is ultimately a contagious disease of disconnection, the cure for which is radical reconnection?

When was the last time you did a marketing piece that highlighted not what you did…but why you do it?

About Pastor Foley

The Reverend Dr. Eric Foley is CEO and Co-Founder, with his wife Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, of Voice of the Martyrs Korea, supporting the work of persecuted Christians in North Korea and around the world and spreading their discipleship practices worldwide. He is the former International Ambassador for the International Christian Association, the global fellowship of Voice of the Martyrs sister ministries. Pastor Foley is a much sought after speaker, analyst, and project consultant on the North Korean underground church, North Korean defectors, and underground church discipleship. He and Dr. Foley oversee a far-flung staff across Asia that is working to help North Koreans and Christians everywhere grow to fullness in Christ. He earned the Doctor of Management at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland, Ohio.
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3 Responses to Simon Sinek: “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it”

  1. Don Riker says:


    Great stuff! Thanks for continuing to stimulate thought and growth!

    Have you considered collecting your posts and publishing them in a book? It would be another great resource for champion growth.

    • EFoley says:

      Your kind encouragement is a real honor, Don. Interestingly, someone just the other day asked me about turning the posts into a book. At the moment, I’m actually gearing up to write a different book–one that applies Transformational Giving to the local church. I hope to have that one done by the turn of the year, Lord permitting. As for the blog, I’ll definitely take your counsel under advisement. In the mean time, what I definitely need to do is to get the posts categorized for much easier lookup. I hope to tackle that one before I finish the book, anyway!

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