“Blue ocean strategy challenges companies to break out of the red ocean of bloody competition by creating uncontested market space that makes the competition irrelevant.”
That’s what W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne say in the original preface to Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant, published by Harvard Business Review Press in 2005. Since then the red/blue ocean metaphor has become business canon.
The problem with that canon is that it looks at customers the way a trawler looks at fish.
To understand the problem here, it helps to hear marketing talk to itself. Customers, it says, are targets to herd on a journey into a funnel through which they are acquired, managed, controlled and locked in.
This is the language of ranching and slavery. Not a way to talk about human beings.
Worse, every business is a separate trawler, and handles customers in its hold differently, even if they’re using the same CRM, CX and other systems to do all the stuff listed two paragraphs up. (Along with other mudanities: keeping records, following leads, forecasting sales, crunching numbers, producing analytics, and other stuff customers don’t care about until they’re forced to deal with it, usually when a problem shows up.)
In fact, these systems can’t help holding customers captive. Because the way these systems are sold and deployed means there are as many different ways for customers to “relate” to those companies as there are companies.
And, as long as companies are the only parties able to (as the GDPR puts it) operate as a “data controller” or “data processor,” the (literally) damned customer remains nothing more than a “data subject” in countless separate databases and name spaces, each with separate logins and passwords.
This is why, from the customer’s perspective, the whole ocean of CRM and CX are opaque with rutilance.
Worse, all CRM and CX systems operate on the assumption that it is up to them to know everything about a customer, a prospect, or a user. And most of that knowledge these days is obtained early in the (literally) damned “journey” through exactly the kind of tracking that has caused—
- Ad blocking, which (though it had been around since 2004) hockey-sticked in 2013, when the adtech fecosystem gave the middle finger to Do Not Track, and which by 2015 was the biggest boycott in world history
- Regulation, most notably the GDPR and the CCPA, which never would have happened had marketing not wanted to track everyone like marked animals
- Tracking protection, now getting built into browsers (e.g. Safari, Firefox, Brave, Edge) because the market (that big blue ocean) demands it
Stop and think for a minute how much the market actually knows—meaning how much customers actually know about what they own, use, want, wish for, regret, and the rest of it.
The simple fact is that companies’ customers and users know far more about the products and services they own and use than the companies do. Those people are also in a far better position to share that knowledge than any CRM, CX or other system for “relating” to customers can begin to guess at, much less comprehend. Especially when every company has its own separate and isolated ways of doing both.
But customers today still mostly lack ways of their own to share that knowledge, and do it selectively and safely. Those ways are in the category we call VRM (when it shakes hands with CRM), or Me2B (when it’s dealing broadly across everything a company does with customers and users).
VRM and Me2B are what make as free as can be, outside any company’s nets, funnels and teeming holds in trawler’s hulls.
It’s also much bigger than the red ocean of CRM/CX by themselves, because it’s where customers share far more—and better—information than they can inside existing CRM/CX systems. Or will, once VRM and Me2B tools and services stand up.
For example, there’s—
- What customers actually want to buy (rather than what companies can at best only guess at)
- What customers already own, and how they’re actually using it (meaning what’s their Internet of their things)
- What companies, products and service customers are actually loyal to, and why
- How customers would like to share their experiences
- What relevant credentials they carry, for identity and other purposes. And who their preferred agents or intermediaries might be
- What their terms, conditions and privacy policies are, and how compliance with those can be assured and audited
- What their tools are, for making all those things work, across the board, with all the companies and other organizations they engage
The list is endless, because there is no limit to what customers can say to companies (or how they relate to companies) if companies are willing to deal with customers who have as much scale across corporate systems as those systems wish to have across all of their customers.
Being “customer centric” won’t cut it. That’s just a gloss on the same old thing. If companies wish to be truly customer-driven, they need to be dealing with free-range human beings. Not captives.
There is already code for doing much of what’s listed in the seven bullets above. Services too. (Examples.) There could be a lot more.
There are also nonprofits working to foster development in that big blue ocean. Customer Commons is ProjectVRM’s own spin-off. The Me2B Alliance is a companion effort. So are MyData and the Sovrin Foundation. All of them could use some funding.
What matters for business is that all of them empower free-range customers and give them scale: real leverage across companies and markets, for the good of all.
That’s the real blue ocean.
Without VRM and Me2B working there, the most a company can do with its CRM or CX system is look at it.
Bonus link. Pull quote: “People must own root authority, before a system transmutes your personal life into a consumer. Before you need the system to exist, you are whole.”