Businesses with good marketing sense believe in the unseen. They know that the world is full of as-yet-unknown possibilities for competitive advantage.
Like intrepid explorers, these businesses set off to discover new innovations to expand their markets, or as authors W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne put it in their book Blue Ocean Strategy, new blue oceans.
The Four Actions Framework is a conceptual process that helps a business discover blue oceans and create ground-breaking products and services. This involves out-of-the-box thinking, and often going against accepted industry norms. The Framework involves generating questions that re-evaluate all marketing methods and factors in an industry where a company wants to innovate. The four actions are:
- Elimination: Which factors that the industry has long competed on should be eliminated?
- Reduction: Which factors should be reduced?
- Raising: Which neglected factors should be raised well above the industry standard?
- Creation: Which new factors should be created that have not been offered before?
The first two questions may mean reconsidering norms even if they are part of a company’s basic foundation. Two examples of companies that failed to do this are now defunct Blockbuster video and Kodak. They could not give up their long-standing service model or product offering – video/CD rental and analog film respectively.
The third question concerns focusing on things that customers really value. For instance, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak knew that personal computer users wanted, above all, ease of use. He instructed Apple engineers to create a computer that could be fully operable “right out of the box”.
The fourth question encourages the discovery of new sources of value for customers – the blue ocean. Examples of blue ocean innovation are the iPhone, bag-less Dyson vacuum cleaners, new fabrics for sneakers and water-proof jackets, “Smart” thermostats, Bluetooth headphones, and hybrid cars. Service innovations such as Amazon, UberEats, Disney’s RFID wristbands for visitors, and Zappos online shoe store also demonstrate Four Actions Framework thinking.
The uniqueness of blue ocean products and services gets the attention of existing consumers, attracts new ones and is not easily replicated by competitors – everything a good business strives for. Using the Four Actions Framework is a tried and tested way to achieve success through innovation.
The topic of this article is inspired by the curriculum for the Schulich ExecEd program Masters Certificate in Sales Leadership (Starts March 30, 2020). Master the critical-thinking skills and strategies that senior sales executives require to excel.