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Why are you in business? The first question brands should answer

When thinking about defining a company's story, brands too often get stuck on the what they do and how they do it.

But, as Simon Sinek discusses in his book, Start with Why, and in his highly popular TED lecture, brands would be wise to start by asking, and answering, the question of why they are in business in the first place.

According to Mr. Sinek, by focusing on the "what" and "how," companies miss an important opportunity to connect with customers by explaining the "why" behind the brand. When you address the why, you get to the true essence of a company and have an excellent platform for customers to relate to it.

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Even better, when you start with why, the marketing campaigns and tactics that you use to promote your company become more targeted and authentic to your brand.

Take, for example, Inc., a Toronto-based architecture and building firm focused on environmentally sensitive practices.

Founded by Paul Dowsett and David Daniels, has been in business since 2009. From day one, Mr. Dowsett says that has focused on why the company was created.

"For us, what we do is provide sensible, sensitive and sustainable design solutions. How we do it is through green strategies with resource and energy-efficient design/build solutions that meet the budget requirements," said Mr. Dowsett, principal architect at the firm.

"But the most important element is the why. has always been about a greener, more sustainable tomorrow. That is why we started the business in the first place."

A clear definition of the why has helped to shape the marketing and communications efforts for

It has also made the decision to focus its marketing and communications investments on community relations that connect to the organization's raison d'etre.

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The company has made a significant commitment to OCAD University in Toronto, including ongoing sponsorship of the Sustainable Design Awards, a student-conceived and led design competition that challenges young designers to approach their projects through the lens of ecological sustainability and social consciousness.

"We are a small company so we aren't in a position to donate millions to open a new wing at a university," Mr. Dowsett said. "But our support for OCADU is authentic and supports our vision for why we opened the doors to We want to do our part to develop local young minds and talents that will contribute to a more sustainable tomorrow," Mr. Dowsett says. also recently contributed to a crowd-sourced design competition for a "passive house" design in New Orleans. The company's competition-winning "low cost, low energy house" was selected from entries around the world as ideal for hot and humid climates.

The company is also involved in the East Scarborough Storefront project, working with dedicated, local, at-risk young minds and talent to make their community greener and more accessible.

"Rather than buying advertising or traditional marketing vehicles, we invest in initiatives that authentically align with our brand," Mr. Dowsett said. "When we are able to contribute to the greater good and help communities like the devastated areas of New Orleans and the priority neighbourhood of east Scarborough, it is our way of giving back and helping tell our brand story of why we exist."

Why is an important question that all brands should answer. A clear view and articulation of a company's vision can help differentiate it from other companies that may offer similar products and services.

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Special to The Globe and Mail

Mia Pearson is the co-founder of North Strategic . She has more than two decades of experience in creating and growing communications agencies, and her experience spans many sectors, including financial, technology, consumer and lifestyle.

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