Thinking B2B: B2B marcomms — inside-out vs outside-in strategy
by Warren Moss (@warrenmoss) When it comes to customer communications strategies, there are two approaches a business may take: one that is outside-in, and another that is inside-out. But what’s the difference between the two?
An outside-in strategy means that a business aims to deliver something of value to meet its customers’ needs, whatever that need may be. It puts itself in the shoes of the customers, and then communicate a solution for that particular client in order to add value. In other words, it says: “How can we help you?”
This approach is more of a consultative sell, because the solutions that are created depend on the specific client and problem in question.
In contrast, an inside-out strategy is when a company looks at the resources and capabilities it has — embodied in the products and services it may offer — and then creates a communication strategy from there. In other words, it says: “This is what we do and what we can offer you, so let’s help you with those particular problems you have.”
This solution is delivered based on a predefined set of constraints and internal abilities that are unique to that company.
So, which is the better strategy?
The reality is that one isn’t better or worse than the other. Both may add value, and both may be used very successfully. For example, if you’re a copywriter, you could either say that you sell copywriting services (inside out: using the capabilities you have in your company), or that you help articulate business ideas more correctly (outside-in: you’re identifying a problem businesses have and then meeting those needs). Neither is right or wrong; they just involve different approaches to how you communicate the work that you do.
The key to success is to define which communications strategy is best for your business, based on what its internal identity is. This, in turn, defines how you communicate with your target market, and which angle you take compared to your competitors.
For example, if you say you’re suited to an outside-in communication strategy but you’re actually inside-out, you’ll quickly run into problems. A big bank may offer very lofty ideals in its communications, saying that it can customise solutions around individual needs. However, its products and services may be very standard and not easily changed from individual customer to individual customer. Because of this disconnect, it would most likely find itself scrambling to fulfil its initial promise because of its very standardised offering. What may happen in this scenario is that the business director or owner may then say: fix our business accordingly. But, this actually creates chaos, as the business loses its identity, as well as its core focus.
In a B2B context, defining whether you follow an inside-out or outside-in strategy is important because, if you know what you are, you’ll be able to look at a strategy or advertisement and know if it’s representative of you as a business. It offers a different filter through which to measure whether a marketing strategy is achieving its intended objective.
The bottom line is that it’s important to know what you are, and what business you’re in. As classic business theory says: don’t change your business model to match your promise. Change your promise to match your business model.
In other words, it’s better to change your promise so that it’s more honest to what your business can actually deliver. Doing this will make your business significantly more effective, and make your offering much more appealing to your target audience.
Warren Moss (@) is the CEO and founder of Demographica, a multi-award winning full service agency that specialises in the B2B category. He is the chair of both the Direct Marketing Association of South Africa (DMASA) and the Assegai Integrated Marketing Awards (Assegais), as well as the only African to judge the B2 Awards, which recognise the top performing B2B marketers in the world. Warren contributes the monthly “Thinking B2B” column, which looks at the latest trends in B2B communications and explains why it is fundamentally different from B2C comms.