Would you rather be in combat with your competition, fiercely battling for each and every customer, or would you rather set up shop on a tropical island, where customers line up to buy your products and services?

You’d probably prefer the option of a wide-open market with no competition, yet in reality you probably find yourself embroiled in an endless struggle with your competitors — a proverbial red ocean. But adept business leaders can find a space where they are uncontested and free to thrive. The “blue ocean” is the place where your competition has been rendered irrelevant and you own the market because you created it yourself.

Even though this strategy was formulated a number of years ago, the current social media phenomenon makes it easier than ever to achieve the goals set out in the blue ocean strategy. This article will explain the concept of blue ocean strategy, and how it intersects with social media, so that you can navigate your way to the open waters of business success.

What Is the Blue Ocean Strategy?

Blue Ocean Strategy (BOS) is the business theory — and corresponding best-selling book of the same name — first published in 2005 by co-authors W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne. According to the Blue Ocean Strategy website, “the aim of BOS is not to out-perform the competition in an existing industry, but to create new market space or a blue ocean, thereby making the competition irrelevant.” In other words, going head-to-head with one’s competition is a fool’s bargain, where companies battle over a limited, often declining or fragmented market share, only to “bloody the waters red” with decreased profit margins, increased costs, and stagnant products.

Instead, the authors suggest that businesses head for open, “blue oceans” where there is no competition, and where there aren’t even any existing products or services filling customers’ needs. The blue ocean is the realm of innovation, where the rewards are entirely new products and services with uncontested markets eager to purchase these innovations.

The BOS is not an ethereal concept based on unsupported assumptions and assertions. According to the authors, the theory is “based on a study of 150 strategic moves, spanning more than 100 years and 30 industries.” The book itself provides myriad examples of companies successfully benefiting from the concepts inherent in Blue Ocean Strategy, such as Cirque du Soleil, Ford, Apple, and others.

How Does Blue Ocean Strategy Relate to Social Media?

The blue ocean strategy suggests four principles as means to achieve business success. We’ll show you how social media activities corresponding to these principles can help you achieve your business goals in the context of BOS.

Reconstruct Market Boundaries: The first principle of Blue Ocean Strategy suggests that you look beyond your current market for new opportunities for growth. In other words, if you are in industry “x” don’t continue to compete in this limited arena for increased market share. Look at other industries or products and services that are just emerging, or that don’t even exist yet.

Social media monitoring applications and techniques can be used very effectively to keep abreast of emerging business trends. It’s also a great way to interact with the key players to make sure that your company is “in on the ground floor” as new business opportunities arise.

Focus on the Big Picture: BOS suggests that businesses abandon the traditional “strategic planning report” so common in the waters of “red ocean” businesses. Instead, it recommends the creation of a “strategic canvas” where the big picture of a business’ goals is crafted in more broad strokes. Furthermore, the authors caution against focusing solely on “the numbers.”

This advice is directly applicable to good social media strategy. When implementing your social media plan, you should be more concerned with creating great content that builds strategic relationships, not worrying about how many followers you have.

Reach Beyond Existing Demand: To implement this principle, Blue Ocean Strategy advises that you challenge two conventional “red ocean” practices — focusing on existing customers and trying to segment your customer into ever more granular demographics. Henry Ford is used as an example of how a successful business was forged by eschewing these “common wisdom” practices of the day. He famously said that if he asked his customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse and buggy. Segmentation? Ford’s Model T came in one color — black — yet it was the catalyst that helped create a business empire.

In the social media environment, new social networks are being created at a high rate. Although you may have built a sizable audience on one platform, don’t be afraid to experiment with building an entirely different community on another platform, or using the platform you’re comfortable with to build a completely different audience. Although business focus is still a good thing, it takes relatively little effort these days to explore new networks and connections in search of a new customer base.

Get the Strategic Sequence Right: As alluded to earlier, Blue Ocean Strategy is not all about the “40,000 foot view.” It prescribes a very specific formula for building a successful strategy. With respect to the innovative products and services that companies plan to sell in blue ocean environments, businesses must think long and hard about “buyer utility, price, cost, and adoption.” In other words, one must still be concerned with the economics of bringing a new product to market.

Social media marketing is also sometimes challenged on its ability to provide a positive return on investment (ROI). When using social media to achieve business goals, measurement of the relevant metrics is important to make sure you’re headed in the right direction. More importantly, you must be prepared to act on that data, at the appropriate stage in the customer relationship/customer sales cycle, to achieve very concrete business objectives (like increasing sales as a result of a specific social media campaign).

Never before in the history of business have companies had such unfettered access to competitive intelligence — thanks to the power and ubiquity of social media. However, consider that as a business owner and planner, your time might be better spent focusing on new products, innovations, revenue streams and target audiences. Blue Ocean Strategy provides a tangible, practical framework that can complement your social media activities to achieve these goals.

Have you heard of Blue Ocean Strategy? Have you used any of its principles to positive business advantage? Let us know in the comments below.

[Source: Blue Ocean Strategy website; Image Credits: Badruddeen, Eric M Martin, flyzipper]