The Whole Culture of a Business Should Be Built on Its ‘Why’

How can brands tap into the power of human relevance?

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Business. The word used to conjure up dreary images of briefcases and pressed shirts. 

Illustration: Sam Brewster

But this perception as we know it has shifted radically. Today, the idea of business itself has become aspirational, exciting and magnetic. So what happened?

Undoubtedly, the ongoing explosion of entrepreneurship is technology driven. Anyone can get involved and almost any dream is feasible. Where the barriers to entry are low and the possibilities are high, creativity and innovation flourish. As the best minds and the biggest thinkers converge, the daily rate of change is awe-inspiring. Hundreds of ideas—from the trivial to the transformational—are springing into life nonstop. Many fail but some survive. And in this climate of high-speed Darwinism, change is happening all around us. In fact, it is now an expectation.

The success of Kickstarter is one dramatic example of how business has become democratized. Funding ventures used to be the preserve of merchant bankers and moneymen. Now tens of thousands of us, including people who would never think to buy shares, are taking the chance to be business angels.

But what are all these people responding to? It’s not brands; it’s something far more pure. It’s ideas. People are buying into the timeless human story of a person, a dream and a plan. They see someone creating something really new and they want to be part of that exciting vision. More than that, they are prepared to back their feelings with dollars. The desire to connect with fresh business stories is much more powerful than any notion of brand loyalty.

A recent study by the CEB and Google found business-to–business customers have a far more powerful emotional connection to corporations like Cisco, FedEx and SAP than business-to-consumer customers do with brands including McDonald’s, Nordstrom and Target. Some of this feeling of connection is rooted in the level of risk involved in a business purchase. But what was truly instructive was the way personal values (the human side) far outweighed business values (the rational side) for business customers.

So how can brands tap into the power of human relevance?

For me, it’s all about the “why.” Features and benefits, and all that brand-to-brand fighting, aren’t humanly relevant. Tell me what your business was born to change. Who are the people? What was their dream? How is your business set to change the world? Make me fall for the idea of your business; then I will come to see any brand you make as an expression of that idea—and love it too.

Crucially, the plan must be pure and brave. George Burns used to joke: “The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” Unfortunately, businesses don’t have the option of faking it anymore. In this hyper-connected, social media world, the audience is too smart. Nor can you reverse-engineer your way to a why. People know bullshit when they see it.

There is a pure, humanly relevant essence to every business. Look beyond the individual brands and line extensions and into the soul of the company. This is where the ignition point for business marketing lives. This is what is needed to connect with customers as we move into an exciting and unknown future. And it is all the more vital now that humans and technology have been bonded as one, inseparable.

Once we reveal that true essence, we need to share it and celebrate it with one audience above all others: the people inside the business. Anything is achievable when those who work for a company have an emotional connection with what they do. That’s why the whole culture of a business should be built on its why—and everything a business says to the outside world must start from the inside.

In my role today, I have the pleasure to work with businesses that have pure ideas to sell every day. Their stories have shown me a far more powerful force than mere brand loyalty. We know that the emotional connection between a customer and the humanly relevant idea at the heart of a business drives everything.

For us, that realization was exhilarating; it formed gyro’s why. Human relevance ignites us. We love it.

Christoph Becker is global chief executive officer and chief creative officer of gyro.