Why you need an outside-in view of your market

Something happens to us on the way to work.

We wake up as people, and spend a lot of our time as consumers, but once through the doors at work, our outlook changes.  We become part of the machine. We can’t help it. Our minds are wrenched away from the cacophony of life, towards a much narrower and intense focus on what we do for a living.

This isn’t a new observation, and for a lot of things, it’s absolutely the right thing to do.

However, it really does matter when you want to know what someone from the outside (also known as a consumer) actually thinks about your product, service, brand.

There’s a lovely poem in prose by Oscar Wilde, which illustrates this point rather well. Most of us are familiar with the story of Narcissus (good looking chap, a bit too keen on his reflection). Wilde challenges our perspective by imagining how the spirit of the pond might feel after the death of Narcissus.

“But I loved Narcissus because, as he lay on my banks and looked down at me, in the mirror of his eyes I saw ever my own beauty mirrored”

We’ve been told the story’s about Narcissus, but Wilde shows us that there’s always another side.

Put into a business context, we tend to collect data in a way that fits how we’re organised. Our surveys reflect how we operate; communities respond to your stimuli. Which is great, it just means you have to know exactly what to ask, without biasing or framing the response in any way.


This is where the idea of outside-in research comes in. You can think of research data in two ways: there’s the information that comes, as a result of your direct action, or there’s data that’s created indirectly, without you. We think of this second type as ‘free-form’ text.

There’s a rawness, spontaneity and freedom to free-form text, which feels nothing like a closed-ended questionnaire or discussion guide. It’s us, as people, talking about our lives. It happens in social media and in the quiet places in surveys where you let customers do the talking.

There are some real benefits to listening to consumers in this way: they’ll tell you what’s really salient for them, they’ll share the language and context they use to talk about it, and you’ll learn how they really see your world. Not how you, see theirs.

There’s no perfect answer in life (or market research). Free-Form Text gives you an outside-in view of the world you want to influence. It can help shift your thinking, take you back to the person you were before you opened the door to the office.


About us

We’re an insights agency that uses social data to help brands + their agencies find new opportunities for growth.

If that sounds good to you, drop us a line and we’ll get straight back to you. If you want to hear more stories from social, then sign up to our blog (As Heard on Social) below.

Share on LinkedIn :
Subscribe to updates:

Please select all the ways you would like to hear from Listen + Learn Research: