The Inside-Out Brand Perspective

Your brand needs to reflect the customer and not be an inside-out brand

By Tom Dougherty

One of the most common comments we, at Stealing Share, hear clients (both prospective and those “in-process”) say is, “We just can’t figure it out. We have the best, cheapest, most fully featured, innovative, insert positive adjective here, product or service out there. We just can’t figure out how to get people to buy it.”

Any Choice Would Be A Good Choice

Inside-Out BrandFunny, there are so many organizations that say that now. To “Mr. Consumer,” based on what brands are telling him, it would seem that ANY choice they made would be a good choice. Truth be told, this is probably true. We all know there is a whole host of substitutes and alternatives for just about every product or service out there with all of them working fairly well considering their purpose. Let’s face it, if “Mr. Consumer” did not believe the product or service they were currently using worked to their satisfaction, they would have already quit using it and switched to something else.

However, to those organizations, and there are a great many, who really believe they have the best widget ever to be created by man, to even consider the possibility that their product or service is not THAT UNLIKE their competition’s can be a monumental undertaking.

Emotional Investment

There is usually a high degree of emotional investment that comes along with most organizations. This can actually be a good thing. It shows a belief in the company and what it is doing. It also shows that employees are dedicated to its success and take any failure personally. We see this not only with employees but with management and boards of directors as well. The drawback to this “good” emotional investment is that people within an organization can get so stuck on what they BELIEVE the organization is they cease to be objective. In cases where a company was started by an individual who has caressed it from its infancy, this is especially true.

This is certainly an interesting behavior to observe, especially to a company like Stealing Share where it is our raison d’être to understand, predict and influence human behavior. This internal behavior that many companies exhibit illustrates a major tenet at Stealing Share: “Beliefs do not have to be true, they only have to be believed to be powerful.”

The Strength of Belief

Because of the strength in these beliefs, people within an organization have a difficult time getting out of their own way. They have become experts in their company’s products and services. They know so much about every aspect of them – what makes them “better,” “last longer”, “be more environmentally friendly”, etc. – that it is nearly impossible for them, on their own, to look at their products and services in any other way. They think their customers SHOULD think about their products the same way and “if we could only get them to try our product or service once, they will be a customer for life.”

Inside-Out BrandSo often, they continue to do and say the same things they have always done and said. Corporate culture continues to be formed around product characteristics and, therefore, marketing stasis sets in. Today’s retainer-based advertising agency environment does little to change this behavior. In fact, in most cases, there is a deranged co-dependent relationship that rears its ugly head.

Some agencies will tell clients only what they want to hear, as they are afraid they may loose their retainer. In these cases, there are some agencies that have the ability and knowledge to look at the business objectively but decline to do so out of fear. In other cases, agencies become so involved with their clients they too, “drink the Kool-Aid” and become as much of an insider as those they are working for. In either case, the agency ceases to be truthful and further fuels the fire of non-objectivity.

A Different Perspective

There is a saying that goes, “It is hard to read the label when you are inside the bottle.” For the aggressive, forward-thinking companies that we at Stealing Share work with, there comes a moment of clarity by their management team when a CEO will put a stake in the ground and say, “Ladies and gentlemen, we can no longer read the label on our bottle.”

This mere statement does not change the internal belief of an organization in terms of the “bestness” or “rightness” of their products. It does show, however, a willingness to at least entertain the idea that, as organization, they may not be asking the right questions and that their inside out approach to their customers may be falling short. They must ask themselves if their own view matches that of their target audience’s.

Inside-Out Brand

This is a difficult realization to make but a necessary one if companies are to survive and flourish not only in this economic environment but in the future as well. If you are wondering if you have become stuck “inside the bottle,” ask yourself the following questions.

  1. If I were to go around to each employee in the organization and ask them, “What is the single purpose of our company,” would I get the same answer every time?
  1. When I look at our product or service, is our message centered on something OTHER than being “different”, “faster”, “longer lasting”, “better”, or “new?”
  1. Can I answer why a prospect would switch to our product or service without using a product attribute that our competitors can also claim?

If the answer is “no” to even one of the three questions, perhaps it is time to take a step back and take a look at your organization in a different way – the way your customers and prospects see it. Is the label on the bottle really what’s inside? Are you seeing and hearing the “truth” as you believe it to be rather than what the prospect sees and hears it?

Asking these questions is uncomfortable and often a bit scary. But in order to address the question, “How do we get more people to buy our products or services,” they must be asked. An inside-out perspective is fine if you do not care what is on the label. But, in order to make the best label possible, you have to look at it from the outside in.

(Read about ways to influence prospect behavior here)