July 23 2009 10:26 AMOutside-in(with thanks to Lucy Purdy of Rainmakers, and Gifford Morley Fletcher of Base One)Outside-in, in many ways, is the new kid on the block. Otherwise - and quite confusingly - know as inbound marketing, it reflects the new information landscape that B2B buyers operate in since the widespread acceptance of social media.In short, outside-in means that buyers find you in their own time. It means that the role of marketing is not to interrupt the buyer by offering products and services via traditional means like direct mail, advertising and email shots (this is inside-out). Instead, marketing works to associate the brand with relevant issues that are important to that target audience. Every buyer has informational needs. Ten years ago, these needs were satisfied by the industry press (brand-neutral) and the vendors (brand-specific). There was little or no communication between buyers because it was physically difficult. But then, along comes social media, and suddenly buyers have a wealth of information to choose from online. This information is not just about which product to buy; it includes articles, blogs, research, how-to guides, videos, podcasts and a million and one other pieces of digital information covering all the issues that are pertinent to them. The scale of the web is huge that even the most esoteric business issue will be addressed somewhere on the web.And of course, most of this information is created by impartial, brand-neutral commentators, such as bloggers or fellow buyers - which means it is well trusted. This is the Buyersphere; this is where buyers operate and where brands need to be heard - and that is not possible through conventional, interruptive inside-out marketing, because now buyers have an alternative source of information that they can use in their own time, on their own terms.B2B marketers have to join in. Effective marketing means talking about issues, not products, positioning themselves as experts. This positioning will lead to preference at the buying stage.Inside-out(with thanks to Chris Wilson of The Team, and Howard Lewis & Rebecca Clayton of Experian)Fine words. But does it really work? When talking about inside-out marketing, it is easy to paint a picture of old-fashioned, poorly targeted, brand-damaging marketing communications that rely on sheer volume to compensate for dwindling response rates.But the fault here lies with the execution, not the principle. B2B marketers should not stop doing inside-out marketing - they should stop doing BAD inside-out marketing.When properly executed, inside-out marketing is about presenting the right offer to the right prospect at the right time - maximizing use of marketing resources, whilst also showing the customer that the brand understands their needs. Inside-out marketing is also more measurable. Give me response rates, percentages, ROI and I will show you how to make the next campaign even more targeted and effective. Which in turn adds even more weight to the pro-inside-out argument.Also bear in mind that B2B purchasers do not shop around for fun. They have very little time for research, so it is down to the marketers to make sure their brand is front of the buyer. On top of that, buyers do not always know what they need. I don’t mean this unkindly; they may simply be unaware of new thinking and new developments in heir field, which might ultimately influence their brand preference. Henry Ford famously said that if he had asked his customers what they wanted, they would have asked for a slightly faster horse. Sony have been quoted as saying that they know what their customers want before their customers do. So how can you maximize marketing effectiveness if you leave the essential business of brand awareness and communications to a time-pressed and semi-ignorant customer to do in their own sweet time?Here’s the fence; now sit on itWhen the debate was opened to the floor, it became clear that some sort of compromise was best. It also became clear that there was a large amount of skepticism about social media. Another point to bear in mind is that business trends are moving away from products and services and towards relationships. In this challenging economic environment, a quick buck is no longer possible and success is only achieved through long-term relationship building, which in turn depends on marketing practices that take into account the buyer’s preference for interpersonal, non-automated communication. Much of this relationship-building relies on allowing buyers to decide by themselves how they interact with brands and gather information on the issues that interest them.Yet we were reminded that there is still a role for inside-out marketing. It gradually became clear that the two can coexist happily, particularly if outside-in is seen as the thought-leadership approach that is most suited to the earlier stages of the buying process (such as need determination and brand consideration), whereas inside-out can be more effective at later stages (eg shortlisting and product consideration). So who won the debate? A narrow victory for the inside-outers, but if we could have voted for a sensible combination of the two, I have a feeling it would have been a landslide.