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Golden Circle model: Simon Sinek’s theory of value proposition ‘start with why’

Author's avatar By Dave Chaffey 21 Jan, 2024
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Simon Sinek explains how to use the Golden Circle model to truly differentiate your brand's value proposition when most fail

Leadership expert Simon Sinek is perhaps best known for giving one of the most popular TED talks of all time, which you can view at the end of this post. The Golden Circle theory explains how leaders can inspire cooperation, trust and change in a business based on his research into how the most successful organizations think, act and communicate if they start with why.

I think that marketers will find the most value in his Golden Circle model, which helps give focus to how a business can stand out from similar competitors by communicating its differences.

I was prompted to check it out after a workshop when discussing the importance of developing a strong digital value proposition as part of a digital marketing strategy a few years ago. One of the attendees working in B2B healthcare explained how they had used it with their agency to develop a more distinctive proposition for their brand amongst similar service providers.


The theory of Golden Circle model

Simon Sinek explains using the golden circle theory to truly differentiate your value proposition

Sinek is the author of several books on the topic of leadership. These include 'Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action', which first popularized his now-famous Golden Circle concept. You can read more about this model and his background on Start With Why.

Sinek's Golden Circle model is an attempt to explain why some people and organizations are particularly able to inspire others and differentiate themselves successfully. The neuroscience behind the Golden Circle theory is that humans respond best when messages communicate with those parts of their brain that control emotions, behavior, and decision-making.

Start with why to truly align your strategy with your goals

Clearly, without a strong customer-centric digital marketing strategy, you will struggle to attract the right customers and increase leads and sales.

That's why we recommend using our Opportunity > Strategy > Action approach to structure your marketing strategy. By starting with identifying the opportunities for your business you can set strategies that directly support your goals.

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Communicate your 'why' to your customers

Sinek explains that 'Why' is probably the most important message that an organization or individual can communicate as this is what inspires others to action. 'Start With Why' is how you explain your purpose and the reason you exist and behave as you do. Sinek's theory is that successfully communicating the passion behind the 'Why' is a way to communicate with the listener's limbic brain. This is the part of our anatomy that processes feelings such as trust and loyalty - as well as decision-making.

Successfully articulating your 'Why' is a very impactful way to communicate with other humans, define your particular value proposition and inspire them to act. Sinek's theory is that communicating 'Why' taps into the part of the listener's brain that influences behavior. This is why the Golden Circle model is considered such an influential theory of leadership. At an organizational level, communicating you're 'Why' is the basis of a strong value proposition that will differentiate your brand from others.

Anthony Villis has a useful visual on the First Wealth blog relating the aims of the Golden Circle to the psychological response.



The organization's 'How' factors might include their strengths or values that they feel differentiate themselves from the competition. Sinek's view is that 'How' messaging is also able to communicate with the limbic brain - the important part that governs behavior and emotion. But his opinion is that organizations would do better to improve how they articulate their 'Why', in addition to 'How'.


It's fairly easy for any leader or organization to articulate 'What' they do. This can be expressed as the products a company sells or the services it offers. For an individual, it would be their job title. Sinek argues that 'What' messaging only engages with the neocortex - the part of our brain that's rational. His argument is that this part of the brain is less of a driver of decision making than the limbic brain: the part that 'Why' and 'How' reaches better. Successful people and organizations express why they do what they do rather than focusing on what they do.

Some critics argue that Sinek's Golden Circle model is actually just reflecting passion. Passionate leaders and passionate organizations express their commitment and enthusiasm authentically, and this is what inspires others rather than the manner in which they express themselves. Other critics argue that Sinek's theory implies humans don't use their reason at all when making decisions, which is debatable.

Either way, our Content Marketing Matrix is structured to help you think through two key dimensions of which types of content will best support the path to purchase for your target audience. The two dimensions are:

  • 1. Awareness through to purchase conversion funnel shown on the horizontal axis
  • 2. Emotional to rational content engagement formats available shown on the vertical axis

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If you're feeling inspired to start targeting your customers and better articulate your 'why', we have the tools and templates to help you plan optimize your marketing strategy. From annual and 90-day planning templates, to granular tactics to stand out against competitors on your key channels.

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Author's avatar

By Dave Chaffey

Digital strategist Dr Dave Chaffey is co-founder and Content Director of online marketing training platform and publisher Smart Insights. 'Dr Dave' is known for his strategic, but practical, data-driven advice. He has trained and consulted with many business of all sizes in most sectors. These include large international B2B and B2C brands including 3M, BP, Barclaycard, Dell, Confused.com, HSBC, Mercedes-Benz, Microsoft, M&G Investment, Rentokil Initial, O2, Royal Canin (Mars Group) plus many smaller businesses. Dave is editor of the templates, guides and courses in our digital marketing resource library used by our Business members to plan, manage and optimize their marketing. Free members can access our free sample templates here. Dave is also keynote speaker, trainer and consultant who is author of 5 bestselling books on digital marketing including Digital Marketing Excellence and Digital Marketing: Strategy, Implementation and Practice. In 2004 he was recognised by the Chartered Institute of Marketing as one of 50 marketing ‘gurus’ worldwide who have helped shape the future of marketing. My personal site, DaveChaffey.com, lists my latest Digital marketing and E-commerce books and support materials including a digital marketing glossary. Please connect on LinkedIn to receive updates or ask me a question.

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