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3 Studies Show Critical Mass for Outside-In Marketing

October 19, 2011

Erin Kissane said something recently that shocked me:

“I don’t understand your research.”

This came during a talk at the October Minneapolis Content Strategy Meetup. Now, Erin is one of the smartest people I know in the content strategy field, and author of a great little book: The Elements of Content Strategy. So when she doesn’t get it, we have a problem. Obviously, I have not done a good job of explaining my research. I thought I’d take this opportunity to explain it, not only in terms of what I’ve written both here and in our book, but in terms of what other people are writing about it.

This week I was pleased to come across three good resources that explain the basic principles of my research from different points of view. They don’t all refer to my work specifically, but they are essentially about the same thing: what I call outside-in marketing. Before getting into them, let me take another crack at explaining what I do.

Outside-in marketing is the method of learning the language of clients and prospects and using thier language to develop content that they can relate to on their own terms.

We learn the language of clients and prospects through keyword research and social media listening. We analyze the research to develop content strategies that will tend to attract and captivate that audience with digital experiences. We publish and iterate on those experiences to develop healthy relationships with that audience–relationships based on trust that will ultimately lead to stronger business results.

Outside-in marketing is a radical concept for some marketers, perhaps because they learned more traditional inside-out marketing. In inside-out marketing, we develop products to differentiate our brand from competitors. We build that brand by persistently pushing our messages into the market, primarily with advertising. Then we try to reuse the same messaging in our digital experiences.

When you try to reuse inside-out messages in digital, lots of undesirable things can happen. Typically, the only people who find and use these digital experiences are existing customers who are thoroughly entrenched in your branded nomenclature. It might rank well in search, but the words don’t have much demand outside of those who already know what you offer. If you want to attract new people who might not know what you offer, you need to use their language. If you try to slap their language on inside-out pages, it’s even worse. Either you rank well with very high bounce rates or you don’t rank at all. Since Google released Panda, the latter is more often the case.

Outside-in marketing is a tacit acknowledgement that most people use search to find content. Content helps them learn about product categories; use those product categories to solve their problems; compare and contrast products; and ultimately purchase products. Your goal is to create the content they’re looking for to do each of these activities on their terms. My research is about matching the grammar of search queries to the activities audiences want to participate in, and developing content strategies that will help them do those activities.

As I said, I was pleased to see some independent support for this approach. After the jump, I will give short descriptions of and links to that research.

1. Lou Rosenfeld recently presented at Web 2.0 what is the best presentation explaining how to use data to inform content strategy decisions. Even without speaker notes, the presentation is a treasure trove of outside-in marketing best practices. Here is a partial list:

  • How you can discover what users want in their own words by using Site Search Analytics
  • How you can architect a site based on query grammar
  • How jargon (i.e. branded terms) is the enemy of usability
  • How to segment the audience by their interests and develop content geared towards different audiences
  • How search analytics can help you prioritize content and remove underperforming content

After viewing the presentation, I can think of no better site analytics tool than site search analytics. But, though Lou did a great job of focusing on how to use site search analytics, there is one thing missing from his presentation: It only covers the people who interact with your site. What about all the people with whom you want to develop a relationship but who haven’t found your site yet? The answer is, you can use the same methods he demonstrates for external Google.

2. The Content Marketing Institute just came out with a great guide to using content optimization tools for better writing. The only negative review I’ve read of our book was from a novice writer who wanted practical guidance for using our strategy to help with her writing. She found our book wanting for this. Well, this article can help point the way. It shows you how to focus on the words and phrases your target audience uses to build more compelling content experiences for them.

The authors did a study to compare writing by those who use content optimization tools and those who didn’t. The content optimization tool used by study participants is InboundWriter, which gives real-time search and social intelligence to writers as they compose. The tool plugs into WordPress and other authoring environments.  Using the tool increased traffic to some of the pages by up to 30 percent.

All that said, the authors of the study are also the developers of the tool. So they have a vested interest in promoting a tool that does this. I’m just pleased that there is a market for the kind of tool I’m helping to develop within IBM–one that will not only give writers guidance on word choice and usage, but will govern that usage across an enterprise.

3. Brafton published one of the best content and search infographics I’ve seen. It’s part of a great blog post about the importance of quality content. To quote the post:

The bottom line is that a positive search experience translates into users’ ability to find quality information that answers their queries. Top-notch content is what searchers want, and it’s what search engines want to prioritize in results.

I couldn’t have said it better myself. The post, and especially the infographic, will take you some time to consume. But they are well worth it.

As we said in the book, the winner of the search wars will ultimately provide the highest quality results for its users. When we wrote that, it was almost a joke because Google results were polluted with content farms. Bing gained market share because users found their results more relevant and higher quality. So Google responded with Panda, which has progressively favored higher quality results. This is great for users and white-hat SEOs, and bad for black-hat SEOs.

It also puts a premium on good content. There are no shortcuts to attracting and captivating an audience of willing participants. You need to learn their information preferences and develop content for them. If you’re in marketing, it’s called outside-in marketing.  Erin, if you’re out there, I hope this helps.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 20, 2011 4:11 pm

    Based on my observations, perhaps the main mistake in applying the “outside-in” approach is that people target the wrong audience. It would seem the whole idea of this is to actually reach prospects. It’s even in your definition. If you can, why not? People are used to the old days of marketing, where you needed a middle man in order to do this.

    On one hand, not just making up your own jargon is a good start. On the other, if you’ve got the wrong audience, the benefits of the outside-in approach are lost.

    What would you go about encouraging an convincing people to target actual prospects in your outside-in approach?

  2. October 20, 2011 5:56 pm

    We build personas of typical target audience members based on common psychographics. The psychographics are just outputs of our keyword and social media research. So we target the “right” audience according to their interests. We learn about the audience through our keyword research. And we develop content that connects with that audience using that research as a guide. If we presume that our audience is, say, a composite of our existing customers or those who have already come to our site, we ignore the full audience for our content. Ultimately, outside-in attracts a fuller set of audiences to the offerings they might be interested in.

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