Blue Ocean Strategy - Hire Consultants Carefully

Hiring superficial "consultants," or trying to find a middle-ground between blue and red oceans - a "purple ocean" or "purple goldfish" - is futile.

Blue ocean strategy requires thinking differently, pushing beyond and outside the boundaries most strategists and marketers are comfortable with.

This makes many traditional marketers skittish. They’ve been doing the same thing their entire career — they’ve been promoted into their jobs doing things a certain way — and they’re hesitant to do things differently.

“Can’t we build, say, a blue stream rather than a blue ocean?” some traditional marketers ask.

The correct answer is … no. You can create a marketing plan disguised as a blue ocean strategic move but, ultimately, it’s simply a red ocean move dressed up in blue. That doesn’t mean it’s destined to fail, lots of red ocean marketing moves do work, after all. But the marketer has either failed to understand or refuses to follow blue ocean strategy.

Recognizing the refusal of many marketers to think differently, some people came up with a blue ocean/red ocean hybrid called “purple ocean” or “purple goldfish.”

Look — the purpose of blue ocean strategy is to create a blue ocean strategic move. Goldfish are little and, honestly, insignificant. If that is really what a business wants then that’s certainly their prerogative but don’t tie it to genuine blue ocean moves.

This doesn’t mean all blue ocean strategic moves only create enormous markets. It’s possible to create a blue ocean lawn care service, a blue ocean legal office, and a blue ocean boutique college. I’ve worked on all three. Rather, it means that if you want to stay in the safety of red ocean thinking — to think inside a long-term comfort zone — do that but don’t mislead that there’s anything blue ocean about it.

Let’s briefly think about why.

One of the core exercises in blue ocean strategy is the Four Actions Framework, defined in-depth in a separate post. Summarizing, we define the key factors of an offering then eliminate, reduce, raise, and create new factors to create a new blue ocean strategic offering.

I’ve taught my kids to avoid using the word hate but I’ll use it in this context: traditional marketers hate eliminating and reducing anything. They’d do just about anything to avoid it. I’ve seen countless people when faced with what to eliminate or reduce, use squishy language to instead add more features. “We’ll eliminate frustration by creating and bundling a 600-page user manual!” is the common refrain.

This isn’t eliminating; it’s raising documentation. Eliminating would be entirely removing parts of the offering that require a user manual. Furthermore, reducing means reducing well below the industry standard, not just tweaking a tiny bit. It’s a difficult exercise and it’s meant to be difficult. There is nothing easy nor superficial about it. However, without eliminating and reducing you will never find a new blue ocean opportunity.

To avoid eliminating and reducing, marketers have instead come up with their “purple ocean” and “purple goldfish” ideas. These are just nonsense, a way to justify doing the same thing while claiming to think differently.

Red plus blue, in this case, yields mud.

This becomes quickly apparent when we briefly examine “purple goldfish strategy.”

Red ocean strategy is “compete in existing market space.” Blue ocean is “create uncontested market space.” Purple is “compete in existing market space, but stand out via…”

Look - there is no but. It’s either competition in an existing space or creating a new one. Adding a “but” is nothing more than a wiggle-word to remain mired in the red ocean, to avoid making the leap.

The explanation remains similarly awful for the other components. Red: “make the value-cost trade-off.” Blue: “Break the value-cost trade-off.” Purple: “Break the transaction market economy mindset, add value to exceed expectations.” Adding “value to exceed expectations” is pretty close to the literal definition of the value/cost trade-off.

This is precisely the reason businesses should hire a genuine blue ocean strategist. Genuine blue ocean consultants know how to guide the process. They can be identified by verifiable case studies, distributed at Harvard Business School Press or the Case Centre, where their names will be attached. If searching the name of your “blue ocean strategy consultant” returns nothing then find a different consultant (with the one exception that they’ve published their own high-quality book).

Do not be fooled by fly-by-night online “certification” programs available for a few hundred dollars no matter how “official” they sound. These programs result in a superficial understanding that is useless, at best, and more likely dangerous as they lead your project into a hopeless red ocean.

Even if you’re not paying the consultant much, you will waste considerable time and money into implementing a blue ocean strategy. Trying to skimp on fees is penny-wise and pound foolish; you’ll pay the cost of their shallow understanding. Besides being expensive, it’s also frustrating and likely to reinforce to traditional marketers that they’re right to remain mired in the red ocean when the “blue ocean” project, which isn’t blue ocean at all, fails.

Creating a blue ocean strategy is hard work. That doesn’t mean it’s a miserable process: it can actually be quite fun in the hands of an experienced practitioner. But it requires somebody who knows how to push to and through the boundaries traditional marketers and strategists are comfortable with. Much like an experienced physician might inflict some pain for a lot of gain — while a fly-by-night quack will feed snake oil that leads to long-term suffering — it’s vital to bring in somebody who actually knows what they’re doing. This means, minimally, avoiding the watered-down purple offerings and also the web-trained “consultants.”