In Branding, Don’t Ask WHY, Ask WHERE

Simon Sinek popularized a contemporary branding theory that says customers connect to an organization’s reason for being – their purpose – not their products or services. He calls it the “why.”

If you’re a VP or Director of Marketing, and you’ve been tasked with refreshing your company’s brand, Sinek’s tool is a great place to start. But I find it helpful to go one step further and create a story. Instead of asking “Why are we doing this,” ask, “Where will our journey take us?”

People can’t help but connect with a good story. I had the privilege of attending Robert McKee’s Storynomics workshop in New York a few years ago. He said something that still gives me goosebumps:

All humans have natural storytelling talent. All humans use stories to make sense out of the world around the them. Stories are the equipment for living. – Robert McKee

McKee also said a well-told story creates an emotional experience. As the old adage goes, “People buy on emotion and rationalize with logic.” You can probably list of all the rational reasons to choose your brand: best service, best price, more product features, quality guarantee, long history, invests in the community. Set those aside for a moment. Let’s create a story that brings emotion to the equation.

1. Think of your brand story like a mission

I’m not talking about a boring mission statement on the wall of your corporate headquarters. I’m talking about a journey or quest. Every quest has a starting event – something that happened that your brand couldn’t tolerate. For one of my favourite brands, Patagonia, it was the permanent damage their products were inflicting on the environment.

Yvon Chouinard climbing

Source:, 2012

Try answering these questions to uncover the starting event that inspired your brand to take action:

  1. What did it get fed up with and couldn’t tolerate any more?

  2. What did it want to change in the world or the lives of others?

  3. What broke that it needed to fix?

  4. What changed and opened the door to a new opportunity?

2. Articulate your brand’s end goal

Every story has a resolution, where the protagonist accomplishes the mission in some form or another. Look to your company vision statement for inspiration. Many vision statements go something like this: “To be the best service provider in our industry.” Brainstorm what achieving that vision would mean for your employees, customers, industry, community or the world. Patagonia’s end goal is to have a net positive impact on society and the environment.

Patagonia footprint chronicles

Source:, 2012

Here are a few questions to consider as you brainstorm your brand’s end goal:

  1. What is the ultimate good we can do?

  2. How will we permanently change the lives of our customers?

  3. What does the world look like in 5 or 10 years time?

  4. When could we close the company because we’ve achieved everything we set out to do?

3. What must your brand overcome to achieve the end goal?

Every good story also has conflict, and that conflict will likely come from the thing that stands between your brand and the end goal. Conflict is important because it reveals what your brand is willing to overcome in order to achieve something important. Struggle will humanize your brand and justify its actions. Patagonia operates in an economy that permits and even encourages the destruction of our planet, so in order to have a net positive impact, they discourage customers from buying new clothing.

Patagonia Worn Wear Tour Poster

Source:, 2015

Answer these questions to define the challenge your brand must overcome in its journey:

  1. What rules will we have to bend or break in order to achieve our goal?

  2. What force of antagonism is opposing us?

  3. What will naysayers accuse us of?

  4. Where will we suffer on the journey?

4. Assemble your story

Use your answers to the questions to complete the following story:

We started because…

Our ultimate goal is to…

And in order to get there, we must…

We’d love to hear the story you created. Get in touch and let us know how it went.