For me, there’s only ever been one place to start in marketing.
It has to be the consumer. The purchaser. Whatever you want to call that. Customer focus. Market orientation. The person who may want to buy what you’re selling.
I'm battle-hardened to all the criticisms:
“People don’t know what they want until they see it.”
“Consumers don’t think how they feel, they don’t say what they think and they don’t do what they say.”
“Steve Jobs never asked the customer.”
I know the debate about Inside-Out vs. Outside-In goes on in many areas.
One of the most famous examples is in acting. The film Marathon Man in 1976 brought together two stars, Dustin Hoffman and Laurence Olivier, from two different schools.
Dustin Hoffman was a method actor. He wanted to inhabit the character he was playing. It was all about finding the emotional truth. He knew his Stanivslaki.
Laurence Olivier was old-school. He created a character from the costume and the make-up, the delivery of the lines. He knew his Shakespeare.
In the film, Hoffman played a hunted, tortured innocent. Olivier played a Nazi dentist-come-torturer (“is it safe?”).
The story goes that, when asked how a scene shot the previous day had gone, one in which Hoffman’s character had supposedly stayed up for three days, Hoffman admitted he too had not slept for 72 hours in search of realism. “My dear boy,” replied Olivier, “why don’t you just try acting?”
In business, the debate is different. Outside-In and Inside-Out are both seen as valid strategies to pursue and in many ways they are. There are plenty of examples of success on both sides.
In marketing, everyone says they start with the consumer. But they don’t all mean it, do they?
Is a new food product there to fill people up or production lines?
Does a social purpose meet the needs of the consumer or the marketer?
Is award-winning advertising made for people at home or in Cannes?
Is a new technology launched because people want it or because it exists?
But I’m set now. I know what I think. I’m immune.
So then I start learning about Confirmation Bias.
There’s a great quote in Richard Shotton’s book, The Choice Factory, from a famous stock market investor, Charlie Munger:
“The human mind is a lot like the human egg, in that the human egg has a shut-off device. One sperm gets in, and it shuts down so the next one can’t get in. The human mind has a big tendency of the same sort.”
Maybe that’s me. Maybe the idea of satisfying consumer needs got into my head and I shut down. I kept a window open but the door was locked.
Which means I’m a whole lot more Inside-Out than I think.