Contributed Column

Marketing 101

by Christine Miller

Why are you in business?

Most business owners know what they do and how they do it, but do they understand why? In the book Start With Why, Simon Sinek encourages businesses to move beyond the “what” and “how.” Instead he challenges us to focus on the “why.” The “why” is the core belief of the business, the motivation for its existence, and the golden goose of corporate success.

Recently, I not only read this book, but also studied it. I highlighted lines, dog-eared pages, and analyzed my thoughts on giant Post-it notes attached to my office wall. His theory just makes good business sense. I drank the Kool-Aid, and now preach why “the why” is so important.

The most common answer for being in business is to make money, but making money is a result. What’s your purpose, cause, or belief? Why does your business exist? What made you start the company in the first place? Did you want to be known as the best tech innovator or the restaurant with the most locally sourced food?

Sinek notes that Apple is known for “challenging the status quo and for doing things differently.” Southwest offers quality customer service along with a belief that if its employees are happy, its customers will be happy. Harley Davidson sells an image, a feeling. Hit the open road on a bike — be cool.

Now the interesting part is that once you know your “why,” you can better target your audience and manage your information flow through those who are passionate about your products. There is a reason people stand in line for a new iPhone when a few days later they can just walk into the store and buy one. Apple’s most dedicated consumers identify with challenging the status quo and doing things differently. They are loyal and passionate. 

What do your customers believe? Do they shop your brand because your purpose, cause, or belief is in line with theirs? Or is it because you offer a product $50 cheaper than the competition?

From time to time, you may use a hook or special incentive to draw attention to your product or service. Do that and be sure to convey why they should remain your customers.

When marketing your “why,” you launch a sales chain reaction that can increase revenue and product loyalty. Obsessed customers turn into powerful influencers, and sell your product for you.

Conversely, if you frequently drop your price or offer an incentive to buy, the customer becomes loyal to the price, not you. Yes, you may see a bump in sales, but it will be short term. Since the price or giveaway is the motivator, you’ve manipulated the buyer into the sale. These manipulations may lead to transactions, but won’t lead to loyalty. Over time, it will cost more and more to keep those customers returning.

Inspire your customers and let them share your inspiration. In Vermont we have farm-to-table restaurants and establishments that pride themselves on offering a fair living wage. Others have replaced tip jars with donation jars that fund charities, or only sell products that are sustainably produced. These companies understand what they do, how they do it, and why they do it. Most importantly they share their “why.” The customers who patronize these establishments are willing to wait in line to eat and to pay more for the product, and they don’t consider shopping the competition.

Determine your own “why.” Once you have it, let everyone know and let your “why” turn into buy! •

Christine Miller is president of Miller Consulting LLC, which helps small businesses identify, qualify, develop, and close targeted sales leads, and helps organizations find more value in existing relationships. She can be reached at

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