Blog | 11 March 2020

Content and the power of outliers

Outlier – a person or thing differing from all other members of a particular group or set.

When it comes to solving complex problems, personal or otherwise, we often ask others for advice. We surmise that it’s important to get another perspective. Why is this? Well, it’s because not everyone thinks like we do or has the same experiences of a particular situation.

This is as important in business as it is in life (I know the two are often interlinked but bear with me). There’s an old adage that says if you keep doing things the same way, you get the same result. The same goes for people. If your business always employs the same types of people with the same sort of backgrounds or education, then they will be limited in their ability to think differently. In today’s ultra-competitive and fast-moving environment that can be a competitive disadvantage.

The pitfalls of this type of myopia are well documented. From the failure of the CIA to recognise the threat of the 9/11 terrorists, to the Conservative Party unable to understand the impact of their poll tax, teams can be made of perceptive individuals who are collectively blind.

Which brings us to the issue of an in-house team vs an agency.

In our recent podcast, Lysa Hardy, CMO of Hotel Chocolat, talks about, among other things, her experience of this particular issue.

She is the company’s first-ever CMO and, as you would expect, has extensively scrutinized the talent in her team. Hotel Chocolat has a strong heritage as a brand and that is in no small part due to the excellent work delivered by the in-house team.  They know the brand inside out, live it, breathe it, and often eat it. But, as Lysa indicated, the business has big plans to grow both economically and geographically.

Therein lies the rub. Does an in-house team have the skills to evolve at speed and can they learn new ways of working to match the shifting consumer landscape?

Content and content channels have evolved along with their consumer relationship. In addition, the move into new territories added a further level of complexity and a significant increase in output. So the answer is, yes, and no. Lysa found that while the existing team was able to adapt and learn new skills, there was a need to supplement this with outside help.

Lysa was keen to stress that to amplify and accelerate, it is important to find the right agency – not just in terms of talent but also in terms of culture.

So, in-house or agency? Why not both? Actually, there are plenty of examples of businesses that recognise the benefit of both. Google has just announced it is launching its own in-house agency and Sky and Unilever have had their own in-house operations for some time. But it is important to note that they don’t work alone.

Ultimately, no one should understand a brand better than the people who work directly for it, but when it comes to brand evolution and growth, business needs all the advantages it can get. So, who better to look at your problems than people who come with few preconceptions, more diverse experiences and different ways of thinking?

We’ll leave you with this final thought from Malcolm Gladwell – the man who brought the idea of outliers into the mainstream.

‘No one – not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires, and not even geniuses – ever makes it alone.’

Alex Marks
Alex Marks

Alex supports the strategic development of River's business and acts as an experienced marketing partner for our client teams. He is a regular commentator, writer and conference speaker on a wide variety of digital,  marketing,  and content strategy issues.

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