Do “Blue Ocean” opportunities really exist? Or is it all just “Red Ocean”?

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fedex-blue-ocean-strategy-1-638People love brainstorming “blue ocean” ideas where they’ll talk about how to create their own uncontested market space and make competition irrelevant. I’ve participated in those sessions and admit they are a blast. It’s a great tool for opening up business minds that might be stuck, get them out of the usual and explore where else you could go.
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At Beloved Brands, we always start with the consumer so that we ensure we are meeting the needs of consumers rather than blindly putting things out into the marketplace that no one wants. However, the second check is the competitive nature of your positioning to make sure I’m not blindly putting things out that someone is already doing. Murder and Strategy have one thing in common, they both start with opportunity. Yes, finding those blue ocean strategies, can create opportunities.However, the reality is that most brands play in a highly competitive space where every gain you make, comes at the expense of someone else, who is also constantly trying to win. Netflix has dramatically impacted network television and movie theatres, Uber is experiencing fights across North America with Taxi companies and Municipal governments and Amazon is fighting against brands selling direct. While you might use Blue Ocean to create these type of ideas, you have to use Red Ocean when you start to run these businesses. Be prepared that anytime you take a dollar away from someone, they will fight back.

How to win in a Red Ocean world

Brands have four choices:  better, different, cheaper of not around for long

The key is to find a unique selling proposition for your brand.  You don’t always need to find a rational point of difference as long as there is room to be emotionally unique.Slide04

Map out everything your consumer wants–all the possible need states. Then map out all the benefits that you and your competitors can do better than anyone else–both functional and emotional zones.  You want to find that intersecting zone where what you can do best matches up to a need state of the consumer. Then find a way to serve that need state to the best of your ability and transform it into an even bigger deal than first meets the eye. Avoid the intersecting zone where your competitor is better than you and please avoid that zone where you and your competition foolishly battle in an area that “no one cares” about. The battle ground zone is where both you and your competition can satisfy the consumer need at an equal rate. To win in this situation, you need to get creative and find ways to out-execute or find some emotional connection that changes the game and makes you the clear winner.

Competitive Warfare

At the start of any strategy definition, you should ask “where are we?” Here are four questions to be asking that force you to choose four possible solutions to each.

  1. What is your current share position in the market?
  2. What is the core strength that your brand can win on?
  3. How tightly connected is your consumer to your brand?
  4. What is the current business situation that your brand faces?

This article focuses on question one which speaks to where you rank in the market, which a great indicator of how much power you can command in the market.  You have four choices, using Marketing Warfare (Trout and Ries) you are either the Leader, Challenger, Niche or a Guerilla.

  • Leader (defensive): Leader of category or sub-category defending their territory by attacking itself or even attacking back at an aggressive competitor.
  • Challenger (offensive): Challenger’s attack on the leader to exploit a weakness or build on your own strength.
  • Flanking: An attack in an open area where the Leader is not that well established.
  • Guerrilla (Niche): Go to an area where it’s too small for the Leaders to take notice or are unable to attack back.

The leader uses defensive strategies

Defensive strategies should be pursued by the leader. Not only the market share leader, but the perceived leader in the consumers’ mind. Attacking yourself is the best defense. Identify and close leaks in service, experience or products. Introduce new products superior to your current. Challenge the culture to step it up to continually get better and stay ahead of the competitors. Can’t be complacent or you’ll die. The Leader blocks all offensive moves. Keep an eye on your competitors moves—and adjust your own brand to ensure you defend against their attacks. Attack back with an even greater force than the one attacking you. Demonstrate your brand power. Leverage all the brand power you’ve mustered to maintain your positional power.Slide1

The challenger brand uses offensive strategies

The best offensive attack is to actually find weakness within the Leader’s strengths. Turn a perceived strength around is very powerful. Attack a weakness might be insufficient. Be careful of the Leader’s Defensive moves. Anticipate a response with full force—possibly even greater than yours. Avoid wars that drain resources and hold same share after the war. Attack on as narrow of a front as possible to ensure your resources are put to that area—which might be more force than the leader puts to that one area. Narrow attacks are effective when the leader tries to be all things to all people—enabling you to slice off a part of their business before they can defend it. Leapfrog Strategy, technology and business models are game-changers in the category.Slide2

The flanker brand stays clear of any battles

The flanker strategies go to uncontested areas, in the safety where the leader is not competing. Make sure you are the first in this area. Speed and surprise can help win the uncontested area before the Leaders take notice. Make your move quickly and stealthfully. Follow through matters, to defend the area you’ve won. Others may follow—whether it’s the leader trying to use their might or copy cats looking for an early win. You can win with new targets, price points (premium or value), distribution channels, format or positioning. Flanking, while lower risk of attack from the leader, is a higher risk with consumers because innovation is always riskier because consumers might not like the concept.

Guerrilla warfare wins where no one notices or cares

Pick a segment small enough that it won’t be noticed and you’ll be able to defend it. Be aggressive. Put all your resources against this small area, so that you’ll have the relative force of a major player. Be flexible and nimble. You’ll need to enter quickly to seize an opportunity that others aren’t noticing, but also be ready to exit if need be—whether the consumers change their minds or competitors see an opportunity to enter. Explore non-traditional marketing techniques to get your brand message out and your brand into the market quickly. Because you’re playing in a non-traditional market, you’ll be given leeway on the tools you use. For Guerrilla brands, it is better to be loved by the few, than liked or tolerated by many.Slide1

Marketing Warfare Rules for Success

  1. Speed of attack matters. Surprise attacks, but sustained speed in the market is a competitive advantage.
  2. Be organized and efficient in your management. To operate at a higher degree of speed, ensure that surprise attacks work without flaw, be mobile enough.
  3. Focus all your resources to appear bigger and stronger than you are. Focus on the target most likely to quickly act, focus on the messaging most likely to motivate and focus on areas you can win.   Drawn out dog fights slows down brand growth. Never fight two wars at once.
  4. Use early wins to keep momentum going and gain quick positional power you can maintain and defend counter-attacks.
  5. Execution matters. Quick breakthrough requires creativity in your approach and quality in execution.
  6. Expect the unexpected. Think it through thoroughly. Map out potential responses by competitors.

In a red ocean world, you need to efficiently own your territory and ruthlessly beat your competitors.

Do you want to be an amazing Brand Leader?  We can help you.

Read more on how to utilize our Brand Leadership Learning Center where you will receive training in all aspects of marketing whether that’s strategic thinking, brand plans, creative briefs, brand positioning, analytical skills or how to judge advertising.  We can customize a program that is right for you or your team.  We can work in person, over the phone or through Skype.  Ask us how we can help you. 

We make Brands better.

We make Brand Leaders better.™

We offer Brand Coaching, where we promise to make your Brand better by listening to the issues, providing advice that challenges you, and coaching you along a strategic pathway to reaching your Brand’s full potential. For our Brand Leader Training, we promise to make your team of Brand Leaders better, by teaching sound marketing fundamentals and challenging to push for greatness so that they can unleash their full potential. Feel free to add me on Linked In, or follow me on Twitter at @belovedbrands If you need to contact me, email me at graham@beloved-brands.com or phone me at 416 885 3911

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One thought on “Do “Blue Ocean” opportunities really exist? Or is it all just “Red Ocean”?

  1. Branding is as difficult and as painful as during the days when cattle branded.

    Nevertheless, Graham Roberson, in his unique way stimulates our frontal lobe to think how we can win in a red ocean

    Emotional differentiation is another great idea to open up a blue ocean

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