Blue Ocean Strategy Basics - Buyer Experience Cycle

Put yourself in the shoes of your buyer

The Buyer Experience Cycle (BEC) is a superficially short and often overlooked blue ocean exercise. In the books, tutorials, and even the tool itself, the BEC is always coupled with the Buyer Utility Map though they’re separate parts of the exercise.

In short, the BEC is a series of steps describing how a buyer finds, uses, and disposes of your product or service, with each step following the other. The book uses six default steps, Purchase -> Delivery -> Use -> Supplements -> Maintenance -> Disposal. For many products, these six steps work and too few people think through them in much depth.

Let’s look at an example of there the default six-steps of the buyer experience cycle work, an automobile. First, buyers look for and purchase a car. Next, it is delivered either at a dealership or some other way. Buyers then use it, driving it around. They supplement it with fuel over time. Maintenance is important and, eventually, most people dispose of their car either selling it or sending it to the junkyard.

The point of the exercise, which becomes more clear in the blue ocean strategy Buyer Utility Map exercise, is to find blocks to utility, areas where an industry focuses their attention but where a buyer might be lacking. I’ll go into more depth about blocks to utility in the Buyer Utility Map post; for now, let’s just focus on the Buyer Experience Cycle.

As I said, the default six steps work for many products and services but not all. Some products use some or all of the steps whereas others require fewer or more steps. Note that in the Buyer Experience Cycle it is permissible to modify, add, and remove steps whereas in the Buyer Utility Map it is (largely) impermissible to do so with the Buyer Utility Levers.

Let’s check out a few other examples where the default Buyer Experience Cycle doesn’t work.

Houses. Simply bucketing everything into “purchase” is too simplistic for buying a house. There are countless other considerations that, later, could create blocks to utility. Proximity to schools, work, shopping, and fun all come into play. One person’s block — say, being in the middle of nowhere — might be exactly what a different buyer is looking for. Financing needs to be added as a separate step. Delivery can be removed though Moving In replaced it. Supplements disappears whereas Maintenance and Disposal remain the same. Our final cycle becomes Analyze -> Finance -> Purchase -> Move In -> Use -> Maintain -> Sell.

Digital Music. Before obtaining digital music, users must first decide which format they want; streaming, digital single-track purchase, and what system plays their music. The buyer experience might be Understand Playback Options -> Explore -> Purchase -> Download/Stream -> Rate. Note this is entirely different than the default experience cycle. The only possible overlap might be “Supplement” if a strategist argues buyers might want to buy more similar music. Experts in digital music, a group that does not include me, may disagree with this cycle which is one of the reasons it is important to have subject matter experts do these exercises, not consultants.

Shoes. Simple, right? Actually, it’s a trick question because shoes can be purchased through so many outlets and each has a different buying experience, with many focused more on the emotional experience than the functional. It’s essentially impossible compare buying a pair of high-end designer shoes in a boutique from buying a pair of standard name-brand exercise shoes. The former are unlikely to be available online and the shopper is more likely to want a customized experience. In these cases, where the category of goods is so broad the product may appear the same but is substantively different, it sometimes becomes necessary to make two maps which would be the correct approach here.

Note the example above has seven steps which is not uncommon. Some cycles have as few as four steps whereas others have as many as ten. If your cycle has fewer than four or more than ten further thought is required.

Besides setting up the Buyer Utility Map exercise, thinking through what the steps are in the buyer experience cycle is important to devising a blue ocean strategy that redefines market boundaries, oftentimes by doing something different than those steps.

This exercise seems simple and, indeed, on its own it’s just a series of lines. But thinking it through carefully often leads to insights that help find blue ocean opportunities.