The Golden Circle


I texted my old boss a photo of the above graphic last week and added: “I’m willing to bet my life savings that whichever retailer can plug this into an easy-to-understand e-marketing format can unseat the 100 point system and create the new model for quick evaluation. I don’t have anywhere to try it out, however, so I’m passing it along to you.”

It’s the Golden Circle: start with why, then work your way out to what, rather than the other way around.

During the ten months I spent doing tech marketing in Silicon Valley, I became intimately familiar with the philosophy of Simon Sinek and his motivational “Start With Why” approach to business. In order to be an effective visionary, one must first inspire. People who only motivate by profit are never as successful, which is why great motivational CEOs start by telling you what they believe in. Sinek believes too many companies start by talking about WHAT they sell, rather than why they sell it in the first place. "People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it," he repeats in his famous Ted Talk. Therefore, you should start any presentation with your reason for being—WHY—then move into HOW you do it, and then finally WHAT it is you’ve done.

For many years I unconsciously utilized a similar strategy while working wine and spirits retail, formulating passionate mission statements about our products that more or less followed Sinek’s outlook. They generally started with why we believed in a product’s quality, and how it was that we came upon it. Only at the very end did I touch on what the product actually tasted like. Therefore, I found a kinship with Sinek’s mantra: WHY is the reason to buy, and WHAT is the tangible proof that we believe. WHAT is the result of our belief, not the reason for it.

The problem with that strategy today, however, is that we're all spending far too much time in the booze industry focusing on WHY and HOW, without enough consideration for WHAT. On top of that, it’s often the same WHY and HOW over and over and over again:

We believe in artisanal, small batch, handcrafted blah blah blah that speaks to the terroir of our region and the tradition of our forefathers because we respect the heritage and the time-honored practices of doing things the right way.

Something like that, right? It's everywhere. It's everyone's raison d'être all of a sudden, from the organic restaurant down the street to the latest craft gin distillery to hit the market. It needs a little tweaking, hence my text message to my old boss. Whomever can effectively tweak their WHYs to cut through all the other bullshit WHYs will dominate in 2020. That’s what I believe, at least.

There are two glaring problems with the current craft spirit approach when it comes to the Golden Circle:

1) Everyone is saying the exact same thing, so no one stands out.

2) The quality of the product itself often doesn’t match the expectation.

The wine and spirits industry has become so good at selling WHY at this point that WHAT has become almost irrelevant. It’s a veritable sea of inspirational doctrine and ideology without much payoff in the glass—and that’s where the story falls short (plus, it's been manipulated to no end). A great comedian will suck you into a long, drawn-out routine and have the audience in stitches when he finally gets to the punchline, just like an effective mystery engulfs the reader right up to the big reveal. Marketing is no different. If you build up consumer expectations and fail to deliver on the actual product, that’s called a flop.

I’d like to see someone flip the script for a change and start by putting their WHAT into my glass, allowing me to ask them WHY if I still cared to know. That would be refreshing. Start by wowing consumers your with supreme flavor for a great price. Then talk about HOW it was made. Then, if anyone still cares at that point, the reason for making it. We’ve got more than enough passion to go around at this point. What we don’t have enough of are exciting new products for reasonable prices.

We don’t need more of the same WHYs. We need more WHAT. Now HOW is that going to happen?

-David Driscoll