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Are you clear on why you matter?


If you’ve been watching post-season baseball (or early season hockey) in Canada lately, you’ve likely seen a new advertising campaign by the largest children’s hospital in the country, better known as Sick Kids.

It’s provocative, at times disturbing, a bit uncomfortable.

And also inspiring.

Sick Kids is boldly redefining why it matters.

It’s moving away from what every children’s hospital promises (helping sick kids get better) to carving its own unique territory: “fighting back” so there are no sick kids at all. It’s proof of a brand confident enough to separate itself from the herd, and bravely go its own way.

It’s also evidence that breakthrough thinking doesn’t belong only to hip companies with cutting-edge technologies or radical business strategies. It can be summoned in all categories and all walks of life.

Even yours and mine.

The Sick Kids strategy is a reminder that the most inspiring leaders and entrepreneurs seem to use a keen sense of purpose to draw in everyone around them: their partners, employees, teams, customers, suppliers, and allies. Their purpose acts as a ‘compelling conviction’ in the difference they make in the world.

Famed venture capitalist John Doerr calls them “missionaries,” and he’s right. These leaders and entrepreneurs are on a mission to find not only success, but significance.

How do you identify your own compelling conviction?

Try this simple exercise.

  1. Mentally walk yourself back from the product or service you offer (what you do) and how you do it.
  2. As you work backwards, keep asking yourself, “Why does that matter?”
  3. Peel back the onion. See if you can get to at least five why’s.
  4. You should soon start to discover not what you do… but what you enable.

Steve Jobs called this, “putting a dent in the universe.”

  • Google’s ‘why’ is to immediately satisfy every curiosity.
  • For FedEx, it’s to bring peace of mind to everyday interactions.
  • Southwest Airlines: to give all people the freedom to fly.

Each of these statements focuses boldly on the WHY, not the what or how.

In my own case, I could go on ad nauseum about the services I offer: brand positioning, planning, content, naming, copywriting, creative execution, the customer experience… you get the (boring) picture. Yawn. But if I keep asking the “Why does that matter?” question my purpose is really about one thing: helping brands grow and thrive.

So how does our purpose – our compelling conviction – apply to marketing?

My own view is that our best, most sustainable form of marketing these days is thought leadership – championing an extraordinary set of ideas rooted in what we know best: our core purpose. Too many brands hype their how and what (just look at their marketing messages) and completely overlook the WHY.

The reality? Those who think differently tend to talk differently as well. Too many leaders communicate with “jargon monoxide” – meaningless rhetoric, buzzwords and acronyms.

The most impactful leaders are as precise with their words as they are creative with their ideas. They understand that they have to explain, in language that is compelling to the outside world, why they matter and how they make a dramatic difference.

They focus on helping, informing and enabling instead of promoting and hyping.

So stop focusing on what your business does. Step away from the herd…. and explain WHY you do it.

But be forewarned: carving your own path will feel lonely at times.

As it should.

Ask yourself:

  1. What do you enable?
  2. What’s your compelling conviction?
  3. Why do you matter?