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Good Read | Blue Ocean Strategy

blue-ocean-strategyI have told you a lot already about the Blue Ocean Strategy principles and how I am using them to help my clients build distinctive, relevant and worth-spending-time-energy-and-money-on marketing strategies.

“Winning by not competing”, a concept that could sound so unfamiliar to all the old-school marketing addicts. But this international best seller upends traditional thinking with principles and tools to make the competition irrelevant. Yes, you read correctly: tools. The book is a fantastic toolbox of methodologies that will help you organize your thoughts and concentrate on what really matters.

The book is divided into three parts:

  • The first part presents key concepts of blue ocean strategy.
  • The second part describes the four principles of blue ocean strategy formulation.
  • The third and final part describes the two key implementation principles of blue ocean strategy including tipping point leadership and fair process.

While it was first published in 2005, the book’s message is still relevant. Blue Ocean Strategy is worth the time of anyone seeking to increase their success through innovation, whether it’s at the business strategy, product launch or simply marketing strategy level.

Strategy | Finding a blue ocean


You may think it’s a summer thing, to think about blue oceans… You may think I’m craving a vacation… You may think sandy beaches and coconut drinks…

Meanwhile, my wheels are spinning like crazy around words such as “strategy”, “customer experience”, “key factors”, “value curves”… I’m high on grids, canvas, tables…

Last week, I attended a 2-day workshop on Blue Ocean Strategy. The book,  first published in 2005 and written by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne of The Blue Ocean Strategy Institute at INSEAD, illustrates what the authors believe is the best organizational strategy to generate growth and profits. Blue Ocean Strategy suggests that an organization should create new demand in an uncontested market space, or a “Blue Ocean”, rather than compete head-to-head with other suppliers in an existing industry.

I was lucky enough to be part of a mix of university teachers and consultants during the workshop, which allowed for any expressed idea to be absorbed, questioned and dissected before being approved. No one there took anything for granted, and it was a refreshing way to learn. Learning through questioning, my old-time favorite!

More than the concept itself, the workshop was centered around using a battery of tools: Strategic Canvas, Buyer Experience Cycle, Three Tiers of Noncustomers Framework, Six Paths Framework… Each one of which I couldn’t help but observe, wondering: “how can I adapt this for marketing & communication purposes?”

Putting words into action

It only took me a few days to adapt the Strategic Canvas and the Buyer Experience Cycle and to put them to good use during a kick-off meeting with a client. Before I asked: “What are your objectives for the campaign?” and I received responses as various as: make money, develop awareness, build brand image (when I was lucky). Err… Could you develop a bit?

This time I made them work around the Key Factors for Success in their market, had them compare themselves with competitors and play with color dots… It was interactive, and it brought up some real field stories. What better way to hear my clients objectives through their own experiences and perceptions?

Then, I would ask: “Who are your clients? What do you consider your target(s)?” To which I would mostly get: “everyone and their cousins” (okay, I’m exaggerating a bit). But, in all seriousness, we’d get a list of brands or positions, period.

Using the Buyer Experience Cycle, I was able not only to define three different target groups: Clients, Prescribers and Partners, but I was also able to hear tiny details about the pain points each one of those groups were experiencing with my client’s services. We’re building a Content Strategy, after all, this is all food for the Big Idea!

Beside the simple fact that sitting in the student chair for a couple of days rewired my brain and revived the excitement of learning new stuff, I found that these two days have already proven useful in my daily work. That’s enough to finish convincing me, as a consultant and as a teacher, that continuous education is the key to quality of my services.

Good Read | Réussir sa création d’entreprise sans business plan*

Generally, I will talk on my French blog, about wonderful articles and tools… in English. This time, I’m inverting the trend. Here’s a wonderful book… in French! Of course, I’m not expecting everyone to learn French just to read that book (although…)

réussir-son-entreprise-sans-business-planA couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a presentation from Claude Ananou, Montreal HEC professor and author of the aforementioned book, about his vision of creating businesses (he created about a dozen himself) and the new process he developed, called SynOpp. To say it rocked my world would be light. This workshop lifted my spirits while formalizing an approach that I instinctively had started to drift toward: the anti-business-plan and the praise of the Gros Bon Sens (Good Old Common Sense).

Allow me to summarize for you 7 key learnings I gathered from him on the art of putting together a project: business or, in my idea, marketing…

1. The Need: If there is no need there for it, your project will be utopia; i.e., will fail.

2. The Solution: In what seas will your project (the solution you’re offering) swim? Plug here, Blue Ocean Strategy training coming up in July…

3. The Benefits: Is this project/solution desired? Desirable?

4. The Potential: Is your project economically viable on its market?

5. The Risks: What are your uncertainties? How could they potentially turn into risks?

6. The Action Plans: Marketing. Implementation. Financial. Legal.

7. The Next Steps: What will you do next?

You have answers? Then you have a project. Now, all you have to do is go…

* Succeeding in creating a business without a business plan

Marketing Objectives | Be S.M.A.R.T.

I will never repeat it enough. I’m actually pretty sure that if you perform a keyword search on this blog, you will read the words “start with the WHY?” over and over again. Wether it’s coming from my students, my clients, or my business acquaintances, I still hear way too often: I want to do a social media campaign, what should I do?

And my response is invariably the same: START WITH THE WHY?

A social media campaign is not a strategy in itself, it’s a tool. A tool that services a strategy. A strategy that services Marketing Objectives.

Truth is, not many people really understand what a marketing objective is. So, as I am trying to put together a few exercises to help students and clients do the exercise, I’m seizing the opportunity to jolt down this basic answer to “What exactly is a Marketing Objective?”

Simply put, marketing objectives define what you want to accomplish through your marketing activities.

Most marketing objectives will fit in one of those categories:

  • Maintaining or increasing market share
  • Developing new products / innovation
  • Meeting the needs of customers (current and new)
  • Entering a new market / market positioning
  • Gaining an advantage over competitors

Obviously, the correct answer to which category you should focus on comes from market research and a good old S.W.O.T (Stress, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis.

Most importantly, those objectives need to fit into the S.M.A.R.T model.

In the November 1981 issue of Management Review, George T. Doran introduces the “SMART” approach, a mnemonic to guide people when they set objectives. Five letters to keep in mind:

  • Specific – are your objectives stated in a way that is precise about what you are hoping to achieve?
  • Measurable – Can you quantify each objective, i.e. can you use a unit of measure such as market share in percentage or dollars or other to provide a way to check your level of success?
  • Achievable – Are your objectives reasonable in terms of what you can actually achieve or are you setting your sights too high?
  • Realistic – Do you have sufficient employees and resources to achieve the objectives you have set? If you don’t then they are likely to be unrealistic.
  • Time specific – When are you hoping to achieve these objectives? You need to define a timing plan with target timing for each specific objective.

Do you have defined marketing objectives? Do they pass the S.M.A.R.T test?

Preparing your strategic plan: the business goal(s)

There is no good strategic plan without a first hand question: “What are you trying to achieve?” Ah… the difficult question of business goals… Isn’t every businesses’ answer: increase sales? Probably, in a way. However, again, it’s good to start thinking outside the box and define those goals a measurable and quantifiable way.

So, you want to increase your sales, don’t you?

Lets build from here.  Successful organizations select a goal that can be easily measured and quantified – meaning you have to pick a number – and stick to it. This can be as simple as a sales, revenue or profit number, or it can be expressed as a %.

Alright then, let’s get nuts, you want to increase your sales by 75%! Good enough goal? Not really…

You have to set a time horizon for your objectives. How much time are you giving yourself to reach that objective? A year, a month, a week, a day?

Your business goal is starting to shape up: you want to increase your sales by 75% versus the same period last year. Are we in business? No yet…

The most important rule that many business owners forget when setting objectives is the following: “Objectives must be attainable.” Consider your knowledge of your industry and your competitors. Is it realistic to expect your sales to almost double versus last year?

Let’s make that business goal a little more attainable and stick to it: you want to increase your sales by 10% versus the same period last year. Now run with it…

Sales are a very wide area to play with when digging into business objectives. I highly recommend to put a little more efforts and to use a little more precise measuring tool. Marketing 101, here are some ideas:

  • % growth in units objective: This sets your growth in a given measurement (say, for example, number of units sold) against the same measurement from the same period last year.% growth in revenue or profit objective: This works the same way as % growth in units, only you substitute the number of units sold for your revenue or profit.
  • Sales variance objective: The number of customers buying from your website or brick & mortar location. Can be expressed as a number or %. Sometimes referred to as customer count.
  • Spend per customer objective: Defines the dollar amount spent per customer in a single transaction. Can be compared as a number or % against prior period results.
  • Revenue or profit per square foot objective: This objective demonstrates how efficiently you are using your physical space vs. prior time period.
  • Closing ratio objective: Number of sales obtained versus the number of offers or quotes tendered.

Don’t hesitate to toss numbers around and see which ones make the most sense with your own development strategy. A marketing consultant can help you define business objectives so never hesitate to ask.

Next week, we’ll look at how to use those business objectives and turn them into marketing and social media goals.

How do you set your business goals? Which are your favorite key numbers? How often do you take the time to stop and look at them?

Preparing your strategic plan: the target market(s)

Whether you chose to use the services of an outside contractor or not, we will not repeat it enough, digital marketing should not be opportunistic. A good campaign is thought ahead, planned, implemented and analyzed.

Today I would like to highlight a few points that will help with the “thinking ahead” portion and help you identify your target market(s).

1. Don’t limit yourself
I highly recommend to define 2 or 3 target markets. One that will be your core target and 1 or 2 secondary ones. Putting all your eggs in the same basket has never proven to be a durable strategy. Unless your product ONLY appeals to one specific & very define target, think broader. Potentially, think about alternative use of your product or service. Secondary targets are not where you will be putting most of your energy but they are worth keeping in the back of your mind and understanding as you’re preparing your strategic plan.

On another end, defining your target market as “everyone and their brothers” is probably too general. Targeting a specific market does not mean that you have to exclude people that do not fit your criteria from buying from you. Rather, target marketing allows you to focus your marketing dollars and brand message on a specific market that is more likely to buy from you than other markets. This is a much more affordable, efficient, and effective way to reach potential clients and generate business.

How to define your target markets? Look at your customer base! You don’t have one yet? Check out your competition!

2. Define their needs & wants
Why would they be interested in purchasing your product/service? And what are their hidden motivations? More often than not that will be your key for a great content marketing campaign.

You may be asking, “How do I find all this information?” Try searching online for research others have done on your target. Search for magazine articles and blogs that talk about your target market or that talk to your target market. Search for blogs and forums where people in your target market communicate their opinions. Look for survey results, or consider conducting a survey of your own. Ask your current customers for feedback.

This last part is the most important one. One-on-one interviews with key representatives of your target market can bring out a wealth of knowledge. It can be as easy as throwing an event for your customers and navigating the crowd, introducing yourself and asking the most relevant questions in a nonchalant manner. You’ll get 2 things: the information you need and the gratitude of your customer for being listened to and feeling very special.

3. Do your homework
If you’re working on strategic plan for a digital campaign, you want to know what utilization your target markets are doing of the digital medias. Some handy resources:
Pew Internet publishes reports regarding internet use among various demographics. Type of info you can find there: “As of February 2012, some 15% of online adults use Twitter, and 8% do so on a typical day.”
– Scarborough issues press releases with useful data and sometimes publishes free studies. An example of press-release: “Denver, Portland and Seattle Adults Nearly Three Times More Likely than All Adults 21+ to Reach for the Local Brew.” (Philly people don’t even make the list, so surprised!)
– Also look for free studies by Arbitron. Some good stuff there as well…

Again, don’t be afraid to ask. If you have a customer database, a simple online survey might do miracles helping you understand where your customers fit the trend.

Do you have any tips & tricks in defining or surveying your target markets? Some success stories you want to share with us? Some unsolved issues that we might be able to help with? Express yourself in the comment section!