In Business are you manipulating or inspiring?


Waiting for the new Apple product – Photo by Ed Yourdon via Flickr

I’ve been re-reading through Start With Why by Simon Sinek as preparation for the next Business Book Review and I was struck by a couple of different things.

The first one was re-affirming that it’s an important book and a critical idea for long term business success.  If you haven’t read the book, you should – it will change how you look at your business and challenge you in some new and different ways.

The second thing that jumped out at me was the importance of recognizing manipulations versus inspiration and understanding why that’s important.  Both can help you grow your business and you need both – especially early on in a growth phase, but only inspiration can lead to long term loyalty…a key ingredient of long term business success!

There are only two ways to influence human behavior:  you can manipulate it or you can inspire it.”  – Simon Sinek  from Start With Why

What’s the difference between manipulation and inspiration (and what are you currently doing in your business)?


The word manipulation has a negative connotation to it that isn’t always fair in this context.  In the sense of Sales and Marketing, manipulation includes things like dropping prices, running promotions, using fear, peer pressure, aspirational messaging or innovation to drive actions.  In other words, almost all marketing tactics can be described as a manipulation – basically a way to motivate someone in the short term to take an action that you desire.

From a transactional perspective all of the above (and lots of other marketing and sales techniques) can and do work very well.  But they’re transactional – they don’t have influence on the long term and they aren’t likely to make anyone a repeat customer.   However manipulations can work so well in the short run that you can’t give them up.  A big risk and downfall of this approach is getting addicted to the manipulation, constantly having to repeat your promotion or ad in order to keep people buying.  Think about examples where companies have successfully trained people to wait for the next big sale or coupon before they’ll buy…it happens a lot.


  • Can be very effective (for a transaction)
  • Are expensive – especially over time
  • Don’t drive long term loyalty

Every business is going to do some level of promotions / manipulations but if that’s all you’ve got, then it’s going to be a tough uphill battle to stay successful.


Inspiration on the other hand is all about creating loyalty.  A loyal customer relates to you authentically – above and beyond the product or the service that you sell.

After 9/11 people donated money to Southwest Airlines because they wanted to help out a company they admired, trusted and loved.  They had a genuine connection that went well beyond just an inexpensive flight with the family.

Apple fans will wait in line and gladly pay a significant premium for Apple products, even though from a strictly technical perspective those products are very similar to the competition.

Inspiration occurs because some people share your passion for the big picture – when they can, people will buy WHY you do something rather than what you do.  People who love Southwest Airlines actually love the idea that everyone should be able to travel easily (You’re Now Free To Move About the Country).  People who love Apple actually love the idea of challenging the status quo and thinking differently.

And loyalty and inspiration done right goes beyond the products and services.  A company like Harley Davidson generates over 12% of their revenue from logo merchandise…and inspires countless numbers to permanently mark up their skin and get a tattoo.  Not because people love the corporation of Harley Davidson, but because they love the idea of independence, freedom and the American Dream that Harley Davidson is all about.


  • Are based on WHY you exist, not what you sell
  • Are all about long term loyalty – and long term success and profits
  • Require you to stand for something and communicate that message consistently

You’re likely doing some manipulations right now – which is great…but are you working on inspiration as well?  Why are you in business?  (And it’s not to make money – that’s an outcome not a reason).  Why do you get up in the morning and do what you do?  What do you stand for?  It’s a bit much to hope that your customers will start getting a tattoo of your logo, but it’s not a stretch to put yourself out there and tell them your WHY.

Do you have any great examples of inspiring companies?  What are your thoughts on this?  I’d love to hear from you – leave us a comment below.

Shawn Kinkade   Kansas City Business Coach

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