4 Steps to Initiating Business Model Innovation

Business model innovation is an increasingly common topic.  The advent of freemium and non-linear revenue generation is shaking the foundations of many established organizations whose tried-and-true business models are feeling constrained and sluggish. Even large organizations with strong track records of innovation are feeling consistent pressure to keep up with these rapidly changing market dynamics (Terlep, 2017).  Ironically, many business leaders and strategist have given very little thought to their business model.  Here are four steps, and resources, to assist in getting a grip on initiating business model innovation.

#1 Understand What Your (a) Business Model Is

Perhaps it is an artifact of our technology driven culture where massive companies are built without ever even having a business model, but before you can innovate a business model, you need to understand what a business model is in its most basic form, and what your specific model is.  At its core a business model comprises two basic concepts:

  1. Value Creation (how do you create value); and,
  2. Value Capture (how do you capture some of that value as profit) (Matzler, Bailom, von den Eichen, & Kohler, 2013).

While perhaps pedantic, understanding this basic construct of a business model is highly informative and the progenitor to all other business decisions. They are also the starting place for business model innovation.  Increasing the perceived value of your product without changing the cost to produce it can increase market penetration by being seen as a value offering if you don’t increase price, can increase profit if you capture this new value as profit by also raising prices, or both if the increase in perceived value is greater than the increase in price.  Conversely, maintaining perceived value, but reducing price or the costs to create the product can affect profit.  All business decisions start at this basic level and the business model informs every other aspect of the business.

The part of a business model most misunderstood is the effect of perceived customer value; yet this is one of the most important factors.  Even if your product is no different from competitors, if customers perceive it as more valuable, you have created more value – value you can capture either as market share or in direct profit.  This makes understanding your product’s value proposition a key part of business model innovation.

#2 Understand Your Product/Service Value Proposition

Many businesses either don’t understand the true job that their product performs for their customers, or believe it has no effect on the bottom line (Christensen, Anthony, Berstell, & Nitterhouse, 2007).  Yet, understanding how and why a customer is using your product or service is a key component to evaluating the perceived value.  If you don’t know what job your product is performing, it is difficult to properly affect the perception of how well it does that job.  Christensen, Anthony, Berstell, and Nitterhouse (2007) document several examples of how understanding the right job for your product is essential to understanding perceived value.

For example, how does the value of certain features of your product change depending on how the user is using it?  Does a soccer mom have a different perception of her vehicle than a travelling salesperson?  Does this perceptual difference affect the perceived value of your current product?  Understanding how your products and services are perceived and what their true function is in the lives of its consumers is critical to your business model.  Not only will it help you find ways of maximizing your current business model, it may also lead to new ways of capturing and/or creating value (Bettencourt & Ulwick, 2008).

Understanding how the percieved value of your offering differs, and what contexts affect this perception is a gateway to finding new ways of value capture.  Instead of just offering a product, there may be services when combined with the product could greatly elevate the value.  The easiest example of this is the iTunes store added to the iPod.  Not only did the iTunes store add a significant new revenue stream to apple, it greatly increased the value of the iPod because it worked seamlessly with iTunes to make finding and exploring new music simple.  Capturing “out-of-band” value is an excercise in nonlinearity.

#3 Understand Nonlinearity

Linear bias, the tendency for humans to think in straight-line correlations, can lead to very costly mistakes (Bart de LangheStefano PuntoniRichard Larrick, 2017).  While understanding we live in a nonlinear world is important in and of itself, it can have pronounced effects on business models.  This linear thinking process can severely limit your ability to understand or comprehend business model innovation; we are taught from day one in business school that profit is generate through the difference between the cost to create a product and the price we sell the product for.  In Competing Against Free (2011), Bryce, Dyer and Hatch examine how this linear approach to business models can prevent successful organizations from competing with start-ups using nonlinear business models to capture value indirectly.

The reality is we generate profit based on the cost to create value, and how much of that value we can capture.  This does not suggest that we must capture value directly from the sale of the product, nor does it say we can’t. This is most readily visible in software subscriptions (Microsoft, Adobe) and other technology sectors, but companies like Gillette, HP, and others have built their business similarly for decades.  By selling their “products” at, or below, cost and captured value through the supplies necessary to keep those products functioning they have moved from “product” companies to “service” companies by realigning how they create and capture value.    Evaluating the cost and benefits of these approaches is why understanding nonlinearity is especially important to business model innovation.

#4 Understand Whether to Innovate, How, and When

One of the lessons of Competing Against Free (Bryce et al., 2011) is just because someone else has a different business model, doesn’t necessarily mean you should change yours as well.  Business model innovation is not a simple process and can depend on the conditions of the market and internal dynamics like the presence of leadership capable of making tough decisions and building organizational consensus (Giesen, Riddleberger, Christner, & Bell, 2010).   This is not a process for the faint of heart as it likely affects every aspect of your business from how you market and sell your products, the partner organizations you work with, and even basic accounting, cost-controls, and financial reporting.  Since the business model is the most basic statement of your “theory of business”, changing your model changes everything.

The positive side is that even if you don’t implement a complete business model change, going through these steps will surely uncover a host of ideas about how you can elevate customer perceived value or better capture the value you already create.  It may also help you better understand what new competitive business models might be lurking out there, how they operate, and how you can address them should they come knocking.  Lastly, it may lead to a business model refresh, softening the organization for the day a full business model innovation needs to take place.

References

Bart de LangheStefano PuntoniRichard Larrick. (2017). Linear Thinking in a Nonlinear World. Harvard Business Review, (June). Retrieved from http://hbr.org/

Bettencourt, L. A., & Ulwick, A. W. (2008). The customer-centered innovation map. Harvard Business Review, 86(5), 109–114. http://doi.org/Article

Bryce, D. J., Dyer, J. H., & Hatch, N. W. (2011). Competing against free. Harvard Business Review, 89(6). Retrieved from https://hbr.org/

Christensen, C. M., Anthony, S. D., Berstell, G., & Nitterhouse, D. (2007). Finding the right job for your product. MIT Sloan Management Review, 48(3), 38. Retrieved from http://sloanreview.mit.edu/

Giesen, E., Riddleberger, E., Christner, R., & Bell, R. (2010). When and how to innovate your business model. Strategy & Leadership, 38(4), 17–26. http://doi.org/10.1108/10878571011059700

Matzler, K., Bailom, F., von den Eichen, S. F., & Kohler, T. (2013). Business model innovation: Coffee triumphs for Nespresso. The Journal of Business Strategy, 34(2), 30–37. http://doi.org/10.1108/02756661311310431

Terlep, S. (2017). Procter & Gamble vs. Nelson Peltz: A Battle for the Future of Big Brands – WSJ. Retrieved October 9, 2017, from https://www.wsj.com/articles/p-g-vs-nelson-peltz-a-battle-over-the-future-of-big-brands-1507485229

 

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