If you think performance metrics are the sole quantifier of success on Amazon, you're in for a rude awakening.
Neither sales volume or a solid foundation are sufficient enough for eCommerce longevity in 2023. The reality is that industry standards can't progress without businesses willing to take a chance on new markets and navigating unknown market space.
That's the core philosophy behind the blue ocean strategy. We've discussed it before—and more specifically, how it can affect your success on Amazon. But how do you scale around blue ocean strategy propositions if your business is altogether new to the Amazon market?
It can be easier than you think.
What the Blue Ocean Strategy Is
Simply put, the blue ocean strategy (based on the best selling book of the same name by Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne) is a novel business strategy which reevaluates cost advantage, new services and product differentiation in order to imagine an entirely fresh world with new market space, new industries and entirely new demand.
A new market space isn't a question of low cost. Nor is it a question of maximizing available space. In fact, it's the exact opposite. The blue ocean strategy implies a complete reimagination of industry boundaries and, more importantly, how to exceed them.
When blue ocean strategies succeed, the results can be nothing short of revolutionary. And for better or for worse, Amazon is a pertinent example. But when they fail, the result is hyperbole at best. But at worst? Redundancy and restriction.
What the Blue Ocean Strategy Isn't
Creating blue oceans doesn't just mean exploring new market spaces. It means creating your very own market.
A red ocean strategy, on the other hand, is the polar opposite of blue oceans. It's a strategy that's based on competitive rules, where a brand attempts to saturate a known market space by outperforming a business rival. Perspective is shifted from the potential of a market space to the greater share of current business performance in the light of existing demand. More often than not, innovation is jettisoned in favor of a focus on a much more rigid and structuralist view of business.
There's a time and a place for both blue oceans and red oceans in eCommerce. A red ocean strategy can sustain high performance in the midst of increased competition by improving current industry standards—and hopefully allow for a much more coherent set of future benchmarks.
But those same standards are defined solely by their stability. They're rarely flexible enough to accommodate radical changes in both consumer shopping habits as well as market spaces. They neither level a playing field nor innovate it. They simply add to a greater competitive mix, with the result often being redundancy, low quality products and industry stagnation—if not outright irrelevancy.
Likewise, blue ocean strategies can suffer from untested performance, resulting in a failure to adequately provide for existing demand across the market universe in any given industry. There may be no value cost trade off in blue oceans, but that doesn't mean that any perceived value leap will be successful.
Amazon may have been an example of being in the right place at the right time. But there's a veritable mausoleum littered with the remains of brands and products who have failed to launch by overestimating their potential audience.
In short? It's a red ocean strategy which maintains. But to create blue oceans means creating disruption.
Disruption: What Becomes a Blue Ocean the Most
Disruption. It's one of the most commonly overused euphemisms in marketing today. It's been applied to everything from Fortune 500 companies to innovations to industries to one person startups specializing in… well, no one's quite sure what.
And no one seems quite sure just how to define disruption as a marketing principle adequately.
That's because disruption is primarily based on context—not necessarily a product or service. It's a process that largely depends on the relevance of your competition. Not simply their relevance, but their industry standards. Their benchmark. Their existing market space.
And their ultimate redundancy.
One of the biggest misconceptions about the blue ocean strategy is that it's predicated on industry disruption. And that may be true up to a certain point. But when a profitable blue ocean shift is successful enough to maintain its own momentum, its very nature is disruptive by default, not design.
That's because the blue ocean strategy itself revolves around uncontested market space—markets your competitors would have never even considered.
But what if you're already leveraging an established storefront like Amazon? How can you differentiate your product line and maintain innovation in an ever circling sea of your competitors?
You may want to consider thinking outside of your product line, to start.
Differentiation—It's Not Just Your Product Line
Here's a hard truth for some companies to face. Your product line may simply not be innovative at all.
It may be superior. In fact, it may be best in class. But take a close look at how it compares to your competitors. What sets it apart—your products' quality or its sense of innovation?
The opposite also holds true. Innovation doesn't necessarily mean high quality. And it doesn't always mean achieving profitable growth. In fact, it isn't always a great idea to break any new ground whatsoever. There may be no new market space for it, realized or unrealized.
Existing demand doesn't always necessitate new demand. And high performance is never a guarantee in eCommerce. The idea of a proverbial better breadbox became irrelevant largely as a result of built-in kitchen pantry cabinets.
That analogy may be a bit of a stretch. But take a close look at industry players and your competitors. Are they succeeding with a differentiated strategy or product line that's a radical departure from similar industry offerings just five years ago? More importantly, where are they falling short and how can you improve on those weaknesses?
Capitalizing on the shortcomings of a competitive product is one way to distinguish yourself in what seems to be a rapidly homogenized retail sea.
All new market spaces will have their own specific market boundaries, defined by the success of their predecessors. That's one of the curses of being an innovator. But when those market boundaries become rigid and inflexible, oversaturation is inevitable.
Amazon's a great example. There may have been no small shortage of doubters when they first advanced the boundaries of retail markets as we knew them in 1995. But if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then the slew of would-be digital followers aiming to capitalize on Amazon's success soon found out that there's no such thing as a duplicate pioneer—as both telling tales of jet.com and pets.com sadly illustrate.
But differentiation isn't just about the competition. A key element of the blue ocean strategy is predicated on making competition irrelevant because of one critical fact: differentiated products sell faster.
Service. Distribution. Image. And value. These are the basic cornerstones of your differentiation. It's not about the price advantage but the quantifiable growth of your business.
The Three Factors of eCommerce Growth
In eCommerce, growth can be nurtured by three distinct factors:
Basic need: precisely what your customers demand from both your product and your order fulfillment processes.
Expected need: industry standards which your customers have learned to expect from you as well as your competitors.
Desired need: the random factor which sets you apart from the competition.
Of these three distinct factors, it's the latter which is fundamental to understanding blue ocean strategies. And it's one which demands keen insight into your own weaknesses, as well as your deeper potential elsewhere.
Disruption, Continuity, and Alignment
Product differentiation can be a two edged sword.
On the one hand, disruption encourages businesses and existing markets to adapt and evolve to the increasing diversity of consumer needs. But on the other, you may find yourself scaling your business to a level where it threatens its chief selling point: identity.
Brand awareness drives marketing. But brand awareness demands cohesion. And cohesion has historically been a thorn in the side for many brands attempting to scale from brick and mortar to digital platforms.
Social media is a great example. If you review the feed of many top-name companies, there's a good chance you'll come across more than a few blatant attempts to pander to a younger Millennial and Gen Z audience already nurtured by social media. But these attempts don't merely ring hollow. They're downright condescending.
If brand disruption is going to have any effect by causing fundamental market change, it needs to be organic. It can't simply be a case of rebranding as a result of market research insights. If your brand is going to affect that change—the very crux of the Blue Ocean strategy—you need to consider it during your pre-launch; not when your brand narrative is already established. If you're old enough to remember “New Coke” or “Pepsi Clear” (and, yes…. some of us are), you'll understand our argument.
What goes for marketing also goes for your customer engagement. Not every product is suitable for omnichannel strategies. They're expensive. They're not always effective. And you can waste valuable time implementing them for very little return.
Much like differentiation, learn the channels which prove to have the highest level of engagement. Learn to integrate your sales, marketing and customer service more seamlessly to provide a more coherent form of customer experience.
One which builds a connection with your audience that's based on intimacy, not industry.
Connectivity: The Mother Of Continuity?
Customers don't just want to purchase a brand. They want to feel like they're a part of its life cycle—which they are.
In fact, they're the single most vital part.
A recent case study from the Harvard Business Review indicated that the average number of active customers can increase by as much as 15 percent as a result of emotionally based marketing strategies.
But emotional connectivity doesn't necessarily mean a Hallmark card moment. What it means is a certain level of relatability with your customers. A relatability that can get lost in digital translations.
And a relatability you can use to your advantage.
You can't market an emotion. But you can market your connectivity. When you think of your ideal customer, what picture emerges in your mind? How can your product affect their lives? And how does your overall customer experience affect the identity of your product?
Don't try to boil down the ocean of data to extract insight into your customers. We don't. We never have and we never will. That's not merely because their needs and habits are constantly changing, but because it will rarely provide you with a deeper understanding of those needs and habits.
Learn what affects them the most and what they truly need, expect and desire from a brand—and fulfill it beyond their wildest dreams. That's the essence of connection. And that's what ensures your differentiation.
Continuity. Connection. And above anything else, adaptation.
No matter how turbulent the waves.
Color More Lines doesn't just strategize for your profitable growth on Amazon. We engineer it. Find out more atColor More Lines