I was recently reintroduced to a Ted Talk by Simon Sinek called “How Great Leaders Inspire Action.” In this talk, Sinek discusses why businesses like Apple and leaders like Martin Luther King were so influential compared to other well-qualified leaders in their field at the time. The main gist of what Sinek states is that innovative leaders “start with the why.” Continue reading to find out what he means by leading with the why and why companies including CrossFit have become popular using this strategy.
Sinek discusses the three pieces of a typical businesses marketing model and how most companies start with what their product is, then describe how the consumer can get the product, then why the consumer needs the product. This strategy is boring and has proven to be ineffective in capturing the large majority of the market. But for those companies that start with the why and work out to the how, then the what, their products seem to become significantly more popular and successful.
Without going into too much detail about Sineks theories, he states that companies connect to the marketplace far more effectively when they communicate the why of their product first, versus simply stating what it is and how you can get it. CrossFit was no different than Apple when you examine their basic marketing strategies. Let’s take a look at both companies.
Apple is a computer company, right? Then why do we feel so comfortable buying phones from them? Mp3 players? TV devices? And if they can be so effective at selling things other than just computers, why don’t we see Dell selling millions of DellPods, or some other media device just like Apple. Well, it comes back to the way Apple put itself out to consumers from the get go.
Unlike a basic car commercial that says “Here’s our new car: It gets great gas mileage, it has leather seats, buy our car. But it’s uninspiring.” Sinek states that Apple communicates by saying, “‘Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user friendly. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?'” This method of advertising sounds much sexier than the above strategy and has proven to be far more effective at capturing the market.
Here’s an example of an Apple commercial that is far from the traditional “buy our product” advertisement:
The reason why Apple has been successful in using this promotional method since its inception is, according to Sinek, because “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” To Sinek, the difference between a successful company and an unsuccessful company could be as simple as the order in which they promote their goods. All he did when he switch the order in which he states the Why, How, and What. Seems easy enough; let’s compare that to how CrossFit promotes itself in the media.
The CrossFit YouTube Channel’s third most popular video has 1,946,419 views and counting. The video, called “Let Me Tell You About CrossFit,” is a perfect example of what CrossFit worked so hard to do as a company as more and more “boxes” (gyms) starting popping up around the world beginning in 2009. The entire video features relatively “normal” people who give their own take on what CrossFit is and what it means to them. What the video is not, is a person standing in front of the camera listing off all the scientific reasons why CrossFit works and how you can lose 20lbs in 4 weeks if you use this product!!
So right off the bat, CrossFit is described as a program in which “you are prioritizing your health.” So already, this program is not just about strength or stamina or speed, but your overall wellness. A woman then states that “It’s this team atmosphere that ends up making you better as an individual.” So we are already starting to see how CrossFit is using Sinek’s “Start with the Why” strategy.
The why in this video is the community; the message in this video and in many of CrossFit’s marketing materials comes off as if you are someone who is looking for a community of like-minded individuals who prioritize their health and fitness and seek to get stronger using functionally based movements, CrossFit is your kind of program. That type of statement leads with the why and connects with individuals on a far deeper level than just saying well its high intensity interval training where you lift heavy weights and could lose weight and meet friends along the way.
If you look at the majority of major gyms across the US, their advertising consists of some good looking guy or girl that’s a bit sweaty and has a little speech bubble saying something along the lines of “I’ve lost 120 pounds and 10% body fat since joining _____ Gym one year ago and you can too!” And that marketing works in the short term. People see the signs and thing hmm… if I join this gym, I can look like that. But in the long term, well . . . this model starts to fall apart.
From my experiences speaking with trainers and managers at major national gyms and fitness centers, the most popular time for people to join is right after New Years. And then a large majority of those people quit their membership by mid-February. Why? Because their motivation for wanting to look like the man or woman on the poster can only keep them on the treadmill reading US Weekly for so long.
What CrossFit does is keeps you inspired from the beginning because from the second you walk into a box, you are supported no matter how strong you are, how much experience you have, what your athletic background is, or if you are the first person or last person done with the workout. Every workout of the day (WOD) is an emotional experience, a struggle for some more than others. As mentioned in the video, CrossFit is one of the only places where the last person done with the WOD is actually cheered on more than the first. That fact encompasses the totality of what CrossFit is when examined in its most basic form– a community.
So what do you think? What other companies can you think of that “Start with the Why” and how does it affect their success? Leave your thoughts below.
You can watch the entire Ted Talk below: