An Inside-out Marketing View

Any discussion about inside-out marketing is best begun by discussing its opposite. This is largely because we are far more familiar with marketing from the outside-in. In fact, outside-in marketing is a fundamental that business schools have been teaching for decades. Except there they call it “The Marketing Concept.” The implication is that there is no other concept worth considering. Otherwise they’d call it “A Marketing Concept.”

Whatever it’s called, the generally agreed upon notion is that value starts with the customer and works itself back into the company. In effect, the customer becomes the gatekeeper for the products that are sold and how they are sold. Companies that subscribe to this point of view do so in an effort to minimize financial risk. They believe that putting the customer first is a more certain way to achieve sales success. It follows that since the products a company sells are inextricably linked to its brand identity, its brand is ultimately controlled by the customer as well.

The Inside-out Marketing Approach

But wait! More and more brands like Nike, Apple, Disney, Patagonia, Zappos, Virgin, and others are proving that the outside-in approach to marketing is best turned inside-out. They have been proving that there is a voice even more qualified than the consumer’s to direct their company’s marketing efforts. It’s their own.

Inside-out marketing often starts with the ideals of the company. It is the company’s belief in something meaningful that is at the root cause for its existence. And it is the demonstration of this ideal that is responsible for every decision on what to do and how to do it.

This idea is anathema to hard line outside-inners. They would argue that no matter how much a company believes that the world will be a better place if everyone owned buggy whips, there aren’t going to be many takers. “Our economy is based on capitalism, not idealism,” they would argue. And if you were to ask them to explain why certain companies have been successful working from the inside-out, they might tell you that even a blind squirrel can occasionally find a nut.

Why Inside-out Marketing Works

But herein lays the fallacy in these arguments: It is not as if inside-outers kick their customer needs to the curb. Nor are they totally oblivious to the importance of making a profit. It’s just that inside-out marketing makes a conscious decision to take control of what the company stands for instead of relinquishing that control to the voice of their consumers. That’s because inside-outers have a different purpose for being in business. Outside-inners start with the need to make money. Inside-outers start with the need to make meaning. And the latter is willing to bet the farm on their ability to do so.

Inside-out marketing doesn’t turn to focus groups and surveys for ideas on what the brand should stand for. That would be like asking for permission to breathe. Inside-outers are self-determined. And they are fueled by the strength of their convictions. For them, being true to their own convictions is primal.

Certainly inside-out marketing is not for everyone. It takes a great deal of courage. And it takes an undying faith in the notion that making a difference is more important than making money. Ironically however, they do make money. Lots of it.

In his book Grow, Jim Stengel, the former worldwide marketing officer for P&G, shows how 50 of the highest performing companies in the world harnessed the power of brand ideals to tower over their competitors. Those same companies outperformed the S&P by over 400% during the 10 year period they were being studied. In sum, Stengel shows that achieving growth driven by ideals is not as rare as outside-inners might think.

Much of the reason for this is the fact that these brands often empower like-minded customers. They do this by supporting deep seated values and ideals to which their customers subscribe.

Whether you’re selling wing nuts or war planes, there is something to be considered here. In any business, there is the risk of failure. But the inside-outers have two additional weapons to guard against failure. The first is authenticity. For what they stand for isn’t manufactured. It’s endemic to why they are in business. The second is passion. And that’s demonstrated in a consistent alignment between their talk and their walk.

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