If you asked entrepreneurs why customers buy their products or services, many would answer: because of its high quality, its functions, its price or the accompanying customer service. Okay, but what is really unique about what you’re selling that makes people come to you? As we all know, it’s always possible to find similar products and services. What would you say if we asked you?

In his book “Start with Why“, Simon Sinek describes some of the most common marketing techniques, and then develops his idea of “the golden circle” which explains how some companies, like Apple for example, make their sales based purely on inspiration. Indeed, despite the fact that most Apple products are quite expensive, there are always long queues in front of their stores when a new product is being launched.

Manipulation Versus Inspiration

According to Simon Sinek, there are two ways to influence human behavior. You can:

  • Manipulate or
  • Inspire

In all fields, be it in business or politics, manipulation tools are used to convince you to buy, support or vote. For better or for worse, manipulation is an effective tool.

The Marketing Tools of Manipulation

Various marketing tools are used to influence our purchasing decisions.

1 – Price: Reduce your prices low enough so that people will buy. Although effective, this technique can be very expensive, as customers become accustomed to paying less and it is difficult to return to the original prices. Why pay more if you can wait and pay a lot less for an identical product?


2 – Promotions: It’s such a common manipulation we may forget it exists. However, this technique sometimes appears to have been created to complicate your life. For example, some companies will offer coupons, but then it´s your responsibility to send a copy of your receipt, send the packaging barcode, etc. in order to receive the benefits of the promotion; in sum, a real ordeal. Moreover, nearly 40% of consumers never actually get that promotion because they have incorrectly filled out the information, or did not follow the conditions of the promotion. That said, with online shopping, it has become easy to apply a promotional code before completing the purchase.


3 – Fear: Widely used by the media, journalists draw attention to, for example, a disaster somewhere in the world to reach their audience, seek local similarities and imply that this catastrophe could you get to! In sales, we kindly warn you of what could happen if you do not use a particular service or product. We show you the ravages of time on the skin, if you are not using a particular cream, etc. using your fear of a negative consequence to motivate your purchasing decision.


4 – Aspirations: If fear motivates us to move away from something negative, aspiration encourages us to move towards something better. It is effective for people who want to change something in their lives, but lack the will to do so. In this area, fad diets are the best examples. They show you an example of the perfect body and argue that if you do the X system you will get there … just buy the book, DVD, etc.


5 – Peer pressure: This technique influences consumers by showing that experts or celebrities use product Z. So if it’s good for them, then it’s necessarily good for you. We trust these ads not only because we believe that experts are necessarily right, but also because we fear that we may be wrong. For example, on its website, Colgate uses both an expert recommendation (Canadian Dental Association) and an American celebrity. So since everyone seems to agree, then let’s buy the product!


6 – Novelty: Not to be confused with innovation. A novelty is an adaptation of a product achieved by adding features. An innovation is the creation of a product that changes the face of the world, for example, the Internet, microwave, telephone, etc. The addition of a camera on a mobile phone is not an innovation; it is the addition of a function. Thus, we see advertisements that feature a “new and improved” product. But where is the innovation?


Manipulation Works, but at What Cost?

Manipulation can be a good tactic because it leads to a greater volume of transactions, but manipulation does not create loyal customers. So manipulative techniques are ones that must be constantly applied, and can therefore end up being expensive.

“There is a difference between repeat business and loyalty”. A repeat customer will do business with you several times (perhaps initially attracted by manipulation techniques). However, this type of customer may just as easily be lured away by the manipulative techniques of a competitor. When a customer is loyal, he will do business with you even if he has another offer for a better price or a better product. Loyal customers do not waste time researching or listening to offers fromthe competition. According to you, what type of client is the most desirable? A repeat customer or a loyal customer?

The 7th Reason: Inspiration

Sinek has developed the theory of the “golden circle” which shows how some leaders have been able to inspire, rather than manipulate, people to act. For example, why do people have such a connection with Harley-Davidson, that some even have the brand name tattooed on their bodies?

The “golden circle” helps explain why we do what we do. Everything comes from within. Find your “why” and you will be able to inspire your customers and employees to the point that they become loyal.

Companies will typically sell what they do/provide, but forget about the “why.” Yet it is the ability to articulate the “why” that makes us to do business with one company over another. In his book and lectures, Sinek uses Apple as an example, since Apple effectively leverages messages that have more impact than most other brands. For example, a manufacturer provided the following message about an MP3 player: “5GB mp3 player.” For the same product, the Apple message is: “1000 songs in your pocket.” The first says “What”, the second says “Why.”

To learn more, I strongly suggest you read Simon Sinek’s book  or watch his presentation on TED Talks where he speaks of the “golden circle”.

What do you think of the theory of manipulation versus inspiration? Personally, it has inspired me to write this article!