As I write this post, I’m looking at a diagram on a whiteboard in our conference room. I got an idea and threw it up on the board and explained to everyone at the company about this new thing.
Below is a picture of that diagram; at first it looks pretty standard. But its 3 circles, according to Simon Sinek and masterfully outlined in his book Start With Why, are at the heart of why Apple, the Wright Brothers, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Wal-Mart were able to do what they did.
The Personal Importance of “The Why”
What’s captured my imagination and, increasingly, those of all of our staff here at EverSpark is asking, “How can putting ‘The Why’ principles into effect for our company change how we operate and, in doing so, improve our results and expand our client base?”I’ve read the book twice now and am sure to go for a third run very soon. In fact, we’re so impressed with this book that we’re giving it to all of our clients in their soon-to-arrive Christmas baskets. All of them will have a handwritten note from their Account Manager that explains the importance of this book in the work we have to do together in 2016.
However, an even more intriguing question is what effect it can have on our clients’ campaigns moving into 2016 and beyond.
When I started EverSpark back in 2009, our work was pretty simple: We had the ability to give companies top rankings on Google. No one would ask any questions; our work was straight forward. If you asked the “Why Do You Do What You Do” question back then, I would have answered, “Because ‘You Are What You Rank’”… or something along those lines.
Over the years, ranking has gotten harder and harder, and with good reason. Google has clamped down on shady link building and shallow content strategies. Now you have to earn your way to the top, which is really a better internet for everyone.
So what does this have to do with ‘The Why?’
The answer: everything.
How Our Company Embraced “The Why”
“People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it!” -Simon Sinek
When I really think about why we started EverSpark in the first place, it’s that we genuinely wanted to help businesses become more successful. If you remove all the marketing, proclamations, video training, educational content and even results, at our core, who we are as a business are a bunch of people who care about the results we get — and we are obsessed with making sure those results make a difference. A top ranking doesn’t matter if it doesn’t translate into more business for our clients.
If you take another look at the diagram above, you might start to see what I did. I think this is why businesses are skeptical about SEO and Digital Marketing. For the last 10 years, virtually all of us have led with “what we do.” “We are the leading SEO Agency in Atlanta,” or “Our Experts Discovered a New Process for Link Building”… and now I think, blah blah blah.
As Sinek says, people don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it!
Who cares if you’ve won awards or have a social media division? What’s important is why you wake up in the morning, why you love what you do and reminding yourself why you started the business in the first place.
Alright, so that’s us. I’m committed to going down “The Why” path for all of our marketing and processes here, internally. The bigger question is what does this have to do with how agencies approach SEO and Digital Marketing for their clients.
Let me start by framing our industry a little.
The Evolution of SEO and Its Role in Digital Marketing
2009 was the Wild West, with virtually no rules and a lot of bad habits formed that, to this day, are still present in many SEO agencies. You see, one of the appeals of SEO, as a career, is that two hours on a computer could translate into months of a client being happy. I’m generalizing, but many very smart — but very lazy — people were attracted to SEO, back when it was easy. Through all the updates they’ve tried to hang on, but their Achilles heel is their laziness. They long for the days when code changes, shallow content and spammy link building still worked.
In our business we call this “scaling,” and to understand the changes in SEO you have to wrap your arms around this concept.
Scaling is when you can find one thing that works — for instance, guest blog posting — and outsource it to be done over and over. Back in the day, link building was scalable because you could hire a team of 20 link builders in the Philippines to build forum post links, and it would work. You simply had to choose your keywords, send a Skype message to your team with the page you wanted them to build links to and, like a family of ferrets, they would go off and propagate the web with shallow links, and Google didn’t seem to care. It was a lazy man’s paradise.
Why that’s important isn’t so much that it doesn’t work anymore; what’s important is that it explains why “The Why” has now taken its place.
Where Marketing Went Wrong
Another layer of confusion in our industry is that “Content Is King.” The problem with this mantra is that it tends to lead to clients and agencies writing hundreds of pages of content about what they do, not why they do it. Will hundreds of pages on what you do get you top ranking for what you do? Quite possibly yes. However, I bet it won’t convert into many clients, much less garner any links from other websites that love your content so much they want to link to it, which is still the currency of the search engines.
Finally, the last corner of distraction is “Persona” development. Agencies, ourselves included, have traditionally spent weeks and months understanding the personalities our clients are trying to impress. Once we lock it down, we go off and conduct keyword research, building site plans, use the keywords and put in place a content calendar so we can write “What” or “How” content — but rarely “Why” content.
Digital Marketing and “The Why”
So this sets the stage for a new era of Digital Marketing. Make no mistake, SEO is alive and well, it just has a tarnished name for the reasons previously mentioned. Google and Bing still have to top rank websites, but who they top rank and why they top rank them will go to the companies that have meaningful, educational content and inspire their target markets, not preach to them.
Lawyers, stop talking about your badges and case results, and start talking about the difference you made in a family’s life. Interview your paralegal and ask her, “Why have you worked with me for 10 years?”
Brands, stop writing about the benefits of your product or service and start writing about why you invented it in the first place.
I’m not saying it’s easy, I’m finding it much harder than I originally thought it would be. Try to allow it to become a guiding question, even an obsession and I guarantee that your campaigns will have a new life that is built around who your really are, not simply what you do.
I firmly believe that the new and improved agencies that understand and embrace The Why will begin to transform SEO/digital marketing campaigns — and the ones that don’t will die on the vine, along with their clients’ results.
Oh, and while you’re at it, go ahead and buy a copy of the book on Amazon. Merry Christmas!