The advertising industry, more than many others, is intimately connected with the economy at large. Now that hurricane season on Wall Street shows no signs of passing over any time soon, it is time that the vision gurus at our ad agencies rethink their approach to marketing. There's a large hole in the financial stratosphere, and the least we can do for our clients and executive teams is help them identify new ways to grow their businesses. It will not be easy.
In a crowded market, where hundreds of companies are fighting over a shrinking profit pool, we have to develop entirely new approaches to marketing. No longer can we be content with developing plans that seek to dominate existing markets. After all, making inroads at the expense of established competitors is an expensive proposition requiring a flood of marketing dollars - always a luxury in a tough economy.
Keeping this in mind, it is imperative that our marketing strategies capitalize on new and hitherto unidentified windows of opportunity. If we are to accomplish this effectively, we cannot continue to function solely as marketers. We have to think like entrepreneurs.
And one approach that has always served me well during my career, both in marketing and as an entrepreneur has been the Blue Ocean Strategy.
"Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant" (W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne) studies 150 strategic moves made by companies in thirty industries over the last hundred years, and arrives at a simple conclusion: tomorrow's companies will succeed not by battling competitors, but by creating "blue oceans" of uncontested market space that are ripe for growth. Instead of competing in existing markets, companies can succeed by creating new market space.
The history of marketing is replete with instances of companies tapping into unfulfilled market segments with a giant leap in demand. Here are a few from the book.
Even if you aren't a circus-going type, you might have still been to a Cirque de Soleil show. Cirque de Soleil combined the pleasures of the circus with the sophisticated delights of the theater and ballet to differentiate itself from the Barnum Baileys of the world. It was not only able to charge a premium, but more importantly, succeeded in broadening its appeal to people that would have never otherwise gone to a circus.
JC Decaux created a blue ocean in the outdoor advertising industry. They could have competed for low value billboard inventory, eyesores that dot the freeways and the outskirts of our towns. But they didn't. Instead they pioneered outdoor advertising on urban furniture (like bus stands), and were able to tap into an entirely new world of consumers for outdoor advertisements, for which they were able to charge a premium.
It seems hard to believe now, but there was a world before Google. And yet, it's easy to forget that when Google launched they had many competitors. Google didn't succeed because they beat the competition. They rendered the competition irrelevant ? by making search results more relevant.
How does this strategy apply to my job as a Marketing Manager or Media Planner, you ask?
The Blue Ocean strategy is a philosophy that we can incorporate in our brand visions, strategies and even discrete tactical elements. While implementing a cohesive Blue Ocean strategy calls for a multifaceted approach, here are three things you can do immediately to steer your marketing plan in the right direction:
1. Look across the chain of buyers.
In most industries, competitors converge around a common definition of who the target buyer is. Challenging conventional wisdom in this regard can lead to the creation of a blue ocean.
Look beyond the "sweet spot" target demographic to identify areas of opportunity that are not being targeted by the competition. In an interactive and measurable age, intent to buy (and not demographics) should be the guiding factor when deciding on media placements.
2. Participate in shaping external trends
Be it the Internet or any new technology, the biggest winners have been those who didn't focus their efforts on merely adopting to the new trend in an incremental manner, but those who saw how it could help them add value to their consumers.
The Internet, more than any other medium, has allowed consumers to express their preferences and personalities in a potent and meaningful way. The Jetblue Twitter Forum, the Nikeplus site, the Threadless.com website are all examples of advertisers thinking beyond conventional marketing strategies to come up with new and unique ways to engage consumers in a relevant way, provide tangible value and distinguish themselves from the competition.
If you are putting together a marketing plan, take a moment to ask yourself, as to what features of the plan are connecting your brand to the consumer in a meaningful way that drives value.
3. Look across alternative industries
In our personal lives, we are broadminded when it comes to the way we think about things. A movie and a restaurant are entirely different things, but we consider both when making a decision about how we want to spend our leisure time.
It's a pity that this broadmindedness doesn't carry itself over to our jobs.
When it comes to our work, we frequently confine ourselves to narrow verticals. For example, in the online advertising space, marketers think of CPM banner, CPC search or CPL lead generation campaigns as different and entirely separate entities, when all three can be used to build a responsive consumer pipeline. By thinking across vertical silos, we can spread our marketing dollars effectively across all three types of campaigns, instead of spending an inordinate amount of time and money over a hotly contested keyword.
To create a blue ocean, you have to expand beyond an existing red ocean, or venture into entirely new territory. In either case, you can generate a quantum leap in demand by tapping into unfulfilled consumer needs and by seeing past the red waves to the blue ocean beyond.
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