Start With Why

I have had success accelerating growth of businesses by focusing on their greater why.   I have seen start-up and mature businesses get focused solely on their functional benefits (cheaper, faster, better) to drive growth.  In my experience companies can be infused with greater energy, seek new horizons, enter new markets and add tremendous value when they understand their why.

Here are a few examples of multifold growth that followed re-defining a company’s why:

1) Ecolab Healthcare Ecolab is the worlds-‘s largest B2B (business to business) cleaning company, selling $14B of cleaning products to restaurants, hotels, food manufacturing plants and acute care hospitals.  The Healthcare division sells soap, hand sanitizers and pre-operative surgical scrubs to hospitals. Our sales team focused on classic functional benefits like product efficacy (killing 99% of germs) and skin health, and sold these benefits to the decision makers within a hospital – the purchasing department – whose goals were low cost and assurance of supply.

The transformation came when the team and I studied the top 5 things most important to hospitals.  We learned that patent safety was highly important to hospital CEO’s and physicians and that acute care facilities struggled with reducing the 2 million healthcare associated infections (HAIs) they faced each year. These infections were caused in the hospital and killed over 90,000 patents each year! We learned that the top ‘vector’ of pathogen transfer was germs transmitting from person to person via hands and hard services (as we all learned in COVID).

We had it! Our new why was a solution to preventing HAIs and saving lives.  We established the tagline ‘Cleaner, Safer. Healthier.’  Instead of selling to purchasing agents in the basement of hospitals, we began selling to hospital infection preventionists and C-suite executives, helping solve their issues.  Our team were now able to tell their friends and family that their job was saving lives, not just selling soap.  This business grew significant faster after we made this change, and the entire company adopted our tagline.

2) HoneyBaked Ham.  I was the first non-family CEO at this 60-year old iconic American company.  We taste ham several times per week, and focused on things like slice thickness (6 slices per inch), price per pound, glaze coverage, and mostly sold on the functional benefits of a pre-cut ham and ‘theatre’ of allowing people to select their own ham. 

The business transformed when the team got to our true why.  People didn’t purchase a HoneyBaked Ham for the slices per inch, or glaze coverage – they did it to ‘Make Occasions more Special’. Whether a holiday or funeral, the gift of a HoneyBaked Ham showed loved ones that the purchaser cared deeply for the recipient.

3) Pure Barre.  I was CEO of this boutique fitness company with 450 (now 600) studios in the US. When I joined we were in the midst of 2 1/2 years of declining sales.  One of the things we fixed, prior to reversing this trend and selling the company, was better defining our why.  We were, again, focused on the physical benefits of the workout.  Developing long lean muscle (like a ballerina), having a cute butt (really) and balancing fun and difficulty of our programming.  These were valuable benefits but created a ‘club’ feel and an imposing ‘moat’ for somene out of shape to to walk into our studios.

Things changed when we understood the ‘why of the brand was more than making butts look better.  It was creating a community of women, empowering them to change their lives, and feel a part of something.  We changed the tag line from’ Lift. Tone. Burn.’ to ‘Small Movements, Big Change’ and made our images more inclusive – adding women of different ages, shapes and skin tones.   While getting in shape remained aspirational, it became more invitational and focused on what women could gain (confidence), not lose (weight).  Our sales started growing soon after this change was made. 

4) Lash Lounge.  I became CEO at this boutique beauty franchise business when this 19-unit chain had sold more than 400 new units, on the cusp of expanding across the USThe founder knew the lash extension industry and company better than anyone, but had not yet captured its mission, vision, values and value proposition in writing.  The founder and I knew that we had to document these important elements prior to opening the 100 units we had planned for the following year. 

In this case, we also moved from functional benefits of lash length, curl and diameter to documenting ‘why’ the founder had such passion for making a woman’s eye look beautiful.  At its core, the value proposition of The Lash Lounge is centered on the confidence it gives to a woman as she faces her day.  In a full-day session we defined the essence of this brand, and created its manifesto – which now is printed in the wall of every store, now in 40 states.

A clearly defined why allows every stakeholder – from investors and owners to staff and clients – to understand the unique value a brand provides, and unlock growth by adding clarity to communication and motivation to the team charged with leading the business.