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Understanding Outside-In Marketing

Veterans of marketing at IBM introduce the concept of outside-in marketing. The overall message of this book is that your customers have information needs—and it is in your best interest to discover those needs. If you use the data available to you to identify the needs that your offerings are best suited to satisfy, you’ll be able to create content that attracts the right customers to you.

This chapter is from the book

This client meeting was not going to be run-of-the-mill.

You see, this client was one of the largest banks in the world, with a traditional approach to marketing honed over many years of using ads on top of offers that weren’t too far away from free toasters when you open your Christmas Club account. Nowadays, no banks offer Christmas Club accounts, and they don’t give away toasters, but their approach to marketing is very much the same. All banks seem to run the same two kinds of ads all the time.

The first kind is very practical: “FREE CHECKING!” (For some reason, capitalizing the words makes the offer better.) We’ve all seen these kinds of ads, whether they are hawking refinancing with no closing costs or some other money-saving idea. They all sound the same after a while, and you’d be hard-pressed to remember one bank over another based on their offers.

Then there’s the second kind of ad. You’ve seen them. Friendly tellers smiling as they take your deposit. The bank manager reaching out to shake the hand of the nervous loan applicant. “We’re the [insert one: family, neighborhood, friendly, local] bank.” (This slogan needs to be in mixed case because small letters are warmer.) Once again, every bank is friendlier than your Aunt Minnie, but you can’t tell any of them apart.

Anyway, all the important people were at this presentation—the bank’s Chief Marketing Officer along with a dozen minions—and they were waiting for this brand-new idea—our new campaign for their FREE CHECKING account. (Sorry about the caps; force of habit.) What they were expecting was a brand-new idea for doing the same old thing, but that wasn’t what they were going to get.

The presentation began strangely, the bankers thought, because the first few slides talked about how customers spoke about the bank and about each of the bank’s competitors. The slides showed data summarizing when customers talked about the bank in social media and what they said. This was puzzling to the bankers because what they wanted to see was how we were going to persuade more customers to choose their bank for their checking accounts. It was unclear to the bankers why they should care about exactly when customers talked about checking accounts in social media.

But it all came into focus when the presentation started to show data about exactly what kind of information was most persuasive to customers who were considering switching their checking accounts to a new bank. The most compelling information included reviews and other experiences related by other customers about how they were being treated by their bank.

More than any other kind of information, the data showed that the best predictor of whether a customer would switch to a particular bank was how many positive experiences they read about from that bank’s existing customers. So the data suggested that the bank find an answer to the question “What is the most effective marketing strategy to get people to switch their checking accounts to our bank?” The data reveals the answer: Get happy existing customers to post their experiences.

As the presentation was about to turn to the wondrous array of ideas that would persuade customers to share their experiences, the CMO interrupted with his assessment of the presentation: “Okay, so we need to get happy customers to post their experiences. But how is that marketing? That’s customer service!”

And so it is. In part. But it is also reinforcing through marketing that customers have made the right choice. It involves explaining the additional services that let customers bank online, such as text messages when their balance gets too low, crediting their paycheck deposits immediately, and five other things that they might not know about. There were dozens of ideas in that presentation about how the right kind of marketing content, delivered to the right customer, at the right time, could persuade them to share their experiences.

Those ideas weren’t ads. They were content marketing campaigns. They were emails that explained how to avoid identity theft. They were microsites that help balance a checkbook. They were videos that explained how to tie your checking account to Quicken. They weren’t ads. They were crafted pieces of content that were helpful to customers. In many ways, these ideas weren’t very different from the blizzards of pamphlets every bank surrounds its tellers with—but in this case, the content was being found before anyone went to the bank.

The CMO wasn’t entirely convinced at first, but he was open-minded enough to give it a try. Most of the ideas didn’t work, but a few of them did. We knew which ones worked because we measured the results. You see, we had a lot of good ideas, but we had a lot of bad ones, too. We didn’t really know which content ideas were the good ones until we let the data tell us.

And that’s what this book is about.

It’s about a different kind of marketing—content marketing. People can define content marketing in many ways, but it is certainly not your father’s advertising. Content marketing is informative, entertaining, and helpful. But great ideas for content aren’t enough. Who decides they are “great”? The customer decides. How do we know the decision of the customer? Data—the more the better.

Content marketing and big data go together like FREE and CHECKING. Content marketing provides value to the customer even if the product is never purchased. Big data provides the feedback loop that determines which content is really working.

We call this outside-in marketing because it begins with listening to clients and prospects and understanding what language resonates with them. It then uses this data (okay, big data) to help craft compelling, useful content for those audiences. Only after the content is published do you know if it really worked. But it will never work if you don’t listen for the needs of your clients and prospects and then develop what they need.

It rarely works to push inside-out FREE CHECKING!–style messages on an audience. We have found through hundreds of client engagements that outside-in marketing is just more effective. This book will show you how to transform your marketing organization from an inside-out model to an outside-in model.

What Is Outside-In Marketing?

Outside-in marketing is the practice of learning the language of your clients and prospects and building messages for them on (and in) their terms. This might seem like an obvious thing to do, but until recently, it was rarely practiced in industry. Typically, marketers have sought to differentiate their products by branding them with clever names and marketing them with novel messages. Let’s call this inside-out marketing, to distinguish it from what we are attempting to promote in this book.

If you’ve ever suffered through a radio commercial at three times the normal volume for a local car dealership where the announcer races through three minutes of script in 30 seconds, you’ve experienced inside-out marketing. One of the biggest goals of inside-out marketing is to get attention—to get the audience to wake from its reverie to actually listen, watch, or read the message in front of them.

Inside-out marketing worked in the days of captive audiences, who passively watched TV or read periodicals. Perhaps it worked when events were the center of marketing campaigns and those who attended events were captivated by pomp and circumstance. But inside-out marketing does not work in digital media. Digital audiences are not captive. They are in control. They reject attempts to spam them with information they don’t want. Any attempt to do this can do more harm than good.

If you want to be effective in digital marketing, you need to engage with clients and prospects on their terms. You need to build trust with them by providing the information they need when they need it. And you need to continuously prove to them that you will not violate this trust by trying to force them to do business on your terms.

The good news is that clients and prospects actually tell you what they want by searching for things in Google, Bing, and other search engines. Throughout this book, we refer to anything the searcher types into the search box as a keyword. The second piece of good news is that they tell you what they think about what they want in social media. All you need to do is gather the data and mine it to better address what clients and prospects need from your marketing activities.

Gathering the data might be the easy part. Everybody has access to search keyword tools, such as Google Keyword Planner. Most of us can find more conversations through social listening tools, such as Salesforce’s Social Studio (formerly Radian6). The challenge lies in analyzing the data we find. When customers enter a keyword, what exactly are they looking for? We assume that they’re looking for something related to the topic expressed by the keyword. But exactly what do they want? And what do they need to do with the information once they get it?

It is not helpful to merely offer encyclopedic amounts of information. You must help prospects take action to actually solve their problem with the information you help them find. But what actions do they want to take? How can you learn this from a few simple search keywords and some social conversations?

You are not serving your client if you merely mine the data. Clients expect you to recommend the right things for them to do. They want to be told what to do, in words of two syllables or less. They might be experts in what they do, but they are not experts in what you do—until you make them so.

We will start to answer these questions in this chapter and continue throughout the book. To answer these questions, we want to more strongly differentiate outside-in from inside-out marketing. Table 1-1 shows the differences. As we refine the definition of outside-in marketing, we can begin to answer how to do it.

Table 1-1 The Major Differences Between Inside-Out and Outside-In Marketing

Inside-Out Marketing

Outside-In Marketing

Uses company terminology

Uses audience language

Pushes content chosen by the company to the audience

Pulls content chosen by the audience from the company

Requires heavy and broad advertising

Requires narrow advertising, if any

Interrupts audiences with the message the company wants to send

Intercepts audiences with content that meets their needs

Has a short shelf life and consists of many one-time campaigns

Has the long shelf life of a perpetual campaign

Uses fragmented media approaches

Uses an integrated media approach

Uses a waterfall development approach, where work is thoroughly planned up front and executed without change until the entire project is finished

Uses an agile development approach, where you start small, with ideas tested and modified throughout the execution of the project, based on what’s working and what’s not

Employs search and social media as an after-the-fact tactic

Integrates digital, search, and social media throughout the entire campaign

Clutters the user experience with many messages

Creates a unified user experience with an integrated message

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