April 2007 - Per Inquiry

Into the Blue

By Rick Petry

Some years ago, the circus industry was faltering. Ringling Bros. and small regional circuses were fighting over a diminishing returns scenario in addition to competing with electronic entertainment. The circuses used the same conventions-three rings, animals, barkers and clowns-as the basis upon which to compete. Then something fascinating happened. A new paradigm for what a circus could be came along that had no rings, no animals, no barkers in the aisles and no traditional circus stars. Instead, this new model used sophisticated music, acrobatics and live theater to redefine the genre. I’m speaking, of course, about Cirque du Soleil. Such absolute reinvention of a business model is the premise of Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne.

Rather than competing for market share based upon accepted conventions-the sort of bloody waters the authors term a red ocean strategy (can anyone say, “knock-off”), it challenges leaders to redefine their businesses in fresh ways. This is exactly the approach taken by entrepreneur Leslie Blodgett, the innovator behind Bare Escentuals who is responsible for a mineral makeup revolution. Rather than hiring the latest Hollywood starlet to endorse the product, Blodgett has used her own authentic persona and the story of her drive to promote a superior alternative to traditional makeup, to build a cosmetics empire. This bedrock of credibility complements the all-natural ingredients of the product line to create the ideal-in no uncertain terms-foundation. And, she’s used QVC and infomercials to establish the brand; a path that most well-heeled Madison and Fifth Avenue-types would never risk following. With 30 Bare Escentuals boutiques and counting, the company has transcended its direct roots and recently gone public, creating a blue ocean awash with success.

What other blue oceans are waiting to bubble out of the creative reservoir of talent within our industry? As more and more consumers shift their focus from the television set and what has been a traditionally linear experience to the Internet-a decidedly non-linear experience-can we afford to rely on standard conventions that require nothing more than paint-by-number skills? Furthermore, as viewers exercise more ability to watch what they want, when they want and how, it seems apparent that simply streaming an infomercial online is not going to get the job done.

Finally, for those of you who participate in ERA’s many committees, isn’t it high time we allowed our brains to surf the high tides of azure seas? Many of our accepted conventions, and what a convention gathering should be comprised of, need to be challenged and born anew. If networking is the number-one benefit prospective and actual members cite in survey after survey, shouldn’t they be looking at new and innovative ways the organization can facilitate connections? After all, the opportunity to transform our pond of 400 or so companies into an ocean vast and blue awaits.

Rick Petry is chairman of the ERA Board and CMO of Downstream. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].


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