Home Professionalisms Think Outside-In: Customer First

Think Outside-In: Customer First


by Catherine Kaputa, author of “THE NEW BRAND YOU: How to Wow in the New World of Work” and founder of SelfBrand

A cardinal rule of branding is to think Outside-In. Think customer first: what reaction you want from your target audience (outside), then figure out what you have to do to get that reaction (inside).

So don’t begin with what you want (inside-out). Begin with what your customers want and what you want your target audience to do, then plan your action. For example, if you are a salesperson, the reaction you want, of course, is a sale. But if you go right into a sales message with a new client, you probably won’t get the reaction you want. Most people don’t want to be sold, but they do want to buy. A better tactic is to get to know what the client’s needs are first and avoid “selling.”

Think in terms of framing your message. People are different and what would work with one target audience or customer group might be completely wrong for another. Frame your message and how you act so that you connect with people’s wants and desires.

Guess Who’s Number One?

Even if you’re not in sales, you have “customers” for Brand You just the same. If you work in a company, your boss is no doubt your most important customer. Why? Your boss has the most control over your career success (except for your own your own personal branding efforts).

You’ve got other customers too. Other senior managers and executives are customers. If you have direct reports, your team is also an important customer. You want to think Outside-In toward all these different groups. Look at Zoe’s story. Warm and engaging, Zoe had an impressive background in marketing. Unfortunately, she had spent her career building brands for others and had not done much to build her brand. She was a hard worker and focused on leading her team, yet she hadn’t been promoted to vice president, like her colleagues.

Quiet Quitting in Not a Smart Career Strategy

Her problem was a familiar one: “The boss doesn’t appreciate me.” How did Zoe respond to her problem? She avoided her boss. She went remote! And she stayed remote even when her boss asked all direct reports to come in two days a week. Analyze this from an Outside-In perspective. What response did Zoe want from her #1 customer? She wanted to get promoted, of course. What was her tactics for achieving her goal? She was ignoring her customer’s desires.

Emotionally, I could understand why Zoe wanted to work remotely and avoid in person encounters. She was upset that she hadn’t been promoted but her behavior was career sabotage. It was completely counterproductive to her goal of becoming a corporate VP.

Zoe had established a distant, formal relationship with her boss. Things were so bad that even pre-pandemic she was communicating with him primarily through e-mail and memos, and as infrequently as possible. She had focused on her team as her primary target audience to the neglect of building relationships with her boss, other colleagues in the company and senior managers – all of whom are important target audiences.

Perception is Everything

In her performance evaluations, Zoe’s boss gave her high marks in leading her team, but felt that she needed to play a stronger role in initiating projects, selling them to management, and increasing her visibility in the company.

The business world, like most places, operates on perceptions.

It really didn’t matter that Zoe supervised a larger group than many of her colleagues had. Her team was the only target market she focused on. She was viewed as a weak brand by her boss and other senior managers, and not a vice president brand. And, in most companies, if your boss doesn’t nominate you for VP, you will not have those two letters appearing after your name no matter how good you are with your team.

So, if this happens to you, the choice is clear: you must either start thinking Outside-In and change your boss’s perceptions of you or find a new boss somewhere else.

Take Action for a New Reaction

Above all, Zoe needed to stop quiet quitting. She had to emotionally engage with her manager beginning with adopting the hybrid work schedule and coordinating her schedule with her boss and other senior managers.

To begin the process, she had to build rapport with her boss by meeting with him, making eye contact, and interacting in a more relaxed manner.

Rather than viewing her “boss” as the “enemy,” Zoe had to approach her boss as a trusted confidant (even as a friend). She needed to replace her negative self-talk with a positive mantra (“My boss is my ally”).

Zoe also worked on developing relationships with other customer groups such as other managers, executives and co-workers by volunteering for cross-department projects and outside activities.

Little by little, Zoe started getting a different response from her boss and others at her company as she became more visible and engaged with all her key internal customers.


Catherine Kaputa is the author of “THE NEW BRAND YOU: How to Wow in the New World of Work” and founder of SelfBrand, a consultancy dedicated to helping people use personal branding insights to achieve career success and fulfillment. She has given branding presentations and conducted employee workshops at many of today’s most innovative companies such as Google, Microsoft, PepsiCo, Intel, Merck, Unilever, and Citi.