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Brand Identity: Avoiding "Inside Out" Thinking

by Jim Schakenbach

"Inside Out" thinking is a classic marketing communications mistake and the result of an insular mindset that can gradually grow and take over the sales and marketing efforts of virtually any company. Identified early on, it is easiest to root out of young companies. Once established, it becomes like a weed, difficult to eradicate and prone to spreading. Quite simply, it is the prevalent view within a company -- and particularly within management -- that "our company has the best products/service/solution" for a particular marketplace need and that sales should logically follow once the market is made aware of its availability. This attitude is often accompanied by a certain level of scorn and derision for the competition, dismissing their offerings as "not well designed", "over-priced", or simply "inferior." Whether any of these are true is not relevant and misses the point. These assumptions are dangerous.

"Inside Out" thinking is easy to identify because it is usually accompanied by such empty marketing messages as "Industry leader since blankety-blank", "Number one in the industry", and other boastful, self-congratulatory phrases. The length-of-time-in-business phrase is one of my favorites for its sheer uselessness and misguided sense of self-importance. Apparently, companies which use this type of sloganeering are laboring under the delusion that it somehow conveys quality or value to the market. It is particularly favored by company owners and boards of directors because they often believe it speaks to their business acumen. It never occurs to them that length of time in business might cause some potential customers to view them as industry dinosaurs, or as inconsequential has-beens who have somehow managed to dodge the bullet. When was the last time YOU bought something because the company's been around for a hundred years?

The same holds true for that other classic, overwrought phrase, typically appearing as some form of "Leader in (blank)." These self-appointed industry leaders can rarely back up their claims with objective fact and the result is just another empty form of hype that provides no real value to the customer.

When that rose-tinted view of self-value is coupled with the idea that the competition isn't even worth considering, the results can be, at the most, disastrous and, at the least, time-consuming and wasteful. Instead of thinking from inside the company out, marketers should be more concerned with thinking from the outside in. How DO potential customers really see us? Do we really offer something of value, something that solves a problem for them efficiently and cost-effectively? Why DO they buy from my competitors? How do we position our offerings against the competition's real -- or even perceived -- features and benefits? Once you start looking from the outside in at your company, only then can you determine what the real marketing message, the core of your brand identity, should be for your company and its products or services.

Jim can be reached through our contact page.

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