The Golden Circle

I thought this TED talk by Simon Sinek gives an interesting perspective into why certain brands or figureheads are able to sell more products or lead from the front, even though their competitors may be equally proficient in their respective fields. He introduces the simple concept of the Golden Circle:

  • Outer circle: WHAT do they do? e.g. products, features, benefits, policies etc
  • Middle circle: HOW do they do it? e.g. via technology, functionality, organisational structure, distribution channels, pricing, differentiating proposition, USP etc
  • Inner circle: WHY do they do it? e.g. belief systems, sense of purpose, raison d’etre, core driving principles, motivational factors etc)

The key to success in his view is that brands like Apple or oratory leaders like Martin Luther King all start from the inner circle and work outwards.  They all have a firm belief in why they do things. Apple for example, fundamentally believes in making things simple, easy to use and beautiful to look at. It’s this inner belief which drives the whole organisation and defines everything it does. So it doesn’t matter whether they produce computers, mp3 players, phones or tablets, you know the same core principles or values which you share or appreciate will always be applied.

Interestingly, it’s this belief which appeals to the reasoning cortex of the brain and ultimately connects consumers to brands or individuals on a more emotion level. The rational aspects such as features and benefits are simply the proof in the pudding and help to substantiate these beliefs.  He agues that this is a far more effective approach to leadership, compared to what the majority do which is work from the outside-in – ie focus on communicating what they produce and how they do it to address a particular need or insight.

As with all models it’s an over-simplification which inevitably isn’t perfect.  After all, from a marketing perspective we all know that insight-driven communications are far more effective than a product centric approach and he doesn’t really acknowledge this explicitly.  Also the concept of brand essence has been around for a some time.  I guess this is just a slightly different take on broadly the same idea.  He’s not saying the ‘hows’ and the ‘whats’ are not important but rather that brands need to start from a central belief which consumers can readily identify and connect with, and  then build everything up from that.

Implications for the agency pitch process

Whilst I think planners should familiarise themselves with the principles of the Golden Circle I also think new business professionals and agency heads could learn a thing or two from this too, especially when it comes to pitching.  Let’s face it, how many times have you been in a pitch where you felt you answered the tender or brief perfectly and yet still failed to win the pitch?  There are countless books which try to answer this question but it’s quite feasible that it wasn’t the quality of your work which knocked you off the top perch but rather another agency or supplier had a  stronger belief system than you and actually stood for something which clearly resonated with the client.


Whether you’re a brand, an agency or canvassing to be the next Prime Minister, I think we all need to take a step back sometimes and do a bit of soul searching to figure out exactly what it is we stand for, to define what we believe in and to ask ourselves whether there’s a market out there which genuinely appreciates the same values.  At the end of the day we need to get to that point where our prospective clients or customers intuitively believe in the same things we believe in.  Get that right and you could be the next Steve Jobs!

(If you believe that, you’ll believe anything!!)


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