Struggling to think outside-in? Do the spinach 3-step

“People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole.”

This solid piece of marketing advice comes courtesy of Theodor Levitt, economist and professor at Harvard Business School. Yet much of the content that is created, focuses a lot more on the drill than it does on the hole. It’s a classic example of inside-out thinking, when what you should do is the opposite.

The idea behind inbound marketing is pull, instead of push. By sharing insanely relevant advice with your audience, you hope to slowly gain their trust and work towards a top of mind position (something which I explain here). You don’t gain anyone’s trust, and you certainly do not make a sale, by shouting how fantastic you are, and how awesome your products or services.

So, we have to flip our way of thinking, and learn to think more outside-in.

This is not easy to do, as many people – both inside and outside of the marketing department – still seem hard-wired to think inside-out. It’s easier to go on about your drill, if you’re the one who manufactures it. Putting your customer’s agenda at the heart of your content, is much harder to do. You’ll need to put in a lot of effort. But you’ll also get better results.

The first step? Teach yourself and your co-workers to think outside-in. An exercise which I find very useful, and which was brought to my attention years ago by, a Belgian copywriting agency, is what I refer to as the spinach 3-step.

It goes like this

How do you get your kid to eat spinach?

You could say: “Eat this, sweetie, because spinach contains iron.” Well yes, it is true. Spinach contains iron. But I’m sure that not a single kid will be swayed. This is an answer at the functions and features level. It is as useful as saying that aspirin contains acetylsalicylic acid. Some people care, but I bet your kid won’t.

You could say: “Hey darling, when you eat this, you’ll become strong, just like Popeye.” Now, I’m not sure kids these days still know about Popeye the sailor man, but you get the idea. It’s not about the spinach so much as what it’ll do to you. It will make you stronger. Aspirin will get rid of your headache. Not bad! But we can still do a little better.

How about: “When you eat that spinach, honey, you might actually win next time you wrestle with daddy!” Now, this is what I call addressing the ‘what’s in it for me’. You might just win (because you got stronger, because you ate spinach which contains iron). When you take that aspirin, you can put on your dancing shoes and go out, just like you’d planned on doing.

When we go back to our drill, the hole in the wall is actually at the second level. The third level would be something like: next time you buy a picture, it can be up on your wall in no time. Without accidents. Without the threat of divorce. And with your house and your body parts intact.

This does not mean that spec sheets are totally useless. Of course they aren’t. The trick is to know your audience through and through, and to know when they will need and look for which type of information. Professionals will want to see spec sheets a lot sooner in the buying process than your average DIYer.

I know the spinach 3-step is a deceptively simple example. It gets a lot more complicated when you’re selling complex products or services. Still, I have used it numerous times, and found it very useful in explaining to a business audience that outside-in does not (always) do the trick.

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Photo by chiara conti on Unsplash