Smoother sailing to Blue Oceans

A book I’ve been asked about numerous times is Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant. Bottom line, I’m a huge fan. But with a huge caveat.

So what is a Blue Ocean Strategy? It’s about going into markets that are uncharted, uncontested, untested, and unspoiled by “this is how we do things here.” It’s about radical differentiation and creating unusual value.

So what’s my caveat?

Well, first let’s look at Blue Ocean’s Four Actions Framework - the method for finding your Blue Ocean space:

  1. Eliminate: Which of the factors that the industry takes for granted should be eliminated?
  2. Reduce: Which factors should be reduced well-below the industry's standard?
  3. Raise: Which factors should be raised well-above the industry's standard?
  4. Create: Which factors should be created that the industry has never offered?

These are all great questions to ask and they can lead to truly radical innovations. So what’s missing?

Simply this: The voice of the customer. Or to be more clear, begin your Blue Ocean search with an implicit understanding of the prospective market’s unmet and very often even unvoiced needs or wants. I believe that working “customer back” rather than “our great idea forward” produces a far more resonant market innovation and one far more likely to succeed. I suggest that the Four Actions should be responses, not proposals.

The key is getting past customer wants and to the levels of deeper needs. To use the Blue Oceans metaphor, this requires a bit of sailing. There's an old saying that "Ships are safe in a harbor, but that's not what ships are built for." The same holds for the marketing department.