June 28, 2019

Using the Blue Ocean Buyer Utility Map

Many entrepreneurs believe that they have Blue Ocean companies and opportunities.  Yet, most have actually never read either of the books “Blue Ocean Strategy” or “Blue Ocean Shift”.  (BTW, I recommend “Blue Ocean Shift” for personal reasons).  And even fewer have properly applied some of the key principles of the books that would better ensure success. (BTW part 2 – Let me know if you want to use these concepts in your business for the same reason I recommend Blue Ocean Shift..wink wink)

People normally want to jump right into the Strategy Canvas without going through the 5-step process outlined in the Blue Ocean Shift book or without doing the background exercises outlined in both books.  This results in not fully developing your Blue Ocean strategy correctly.  One of the most effective tools in the Blue Ocean Sift book is the Buyer Utility Map.

The Buyer Utility Map is a 6 by 6 matrix which identifies both stages of the buyer experience and the six utility levers that can be used to develop your messaging and strategy. Carefully understanding and examining the intersections of these categories will help you identify the pain points in your industry which can still be exploited.

The purpose of the buyer Utility Map is to help you (and your team) think about unaddressed pain points in your industry.  There could be several currently unidentified pain points which will help you better prepare your Strategy Canvas.  It also helps you to help your buyer change their traditional buying criteria to one that is better suited for your offering.  Pain points turn into selling points.

The Six Utility Levers are:

  1. Customer Productivity:  What are the biggest current blocks to productivity for the users of the product?  Anything to do with efficiency, less time or effort and/or money spent.
  2. Simplicity:  Are there ways to simplify their jobs or their use of the product.  Eliminating complexity or mental hassle.
  3. Convenience:  Are their obstacles to the convenience of the application?  When and where I want something like 24/7, 365
  4. Risk Reduction:  Are their ways to reduce the risk of the purchase or use of the product?  Risks include financial, physical, emotional.
  5. Fun and Image: Are their ways to increase the fun in the product or to enhance the image of the user or the company?  Maybe the look, feel, attitude and style of an offering.
  6. Environmental Friendliness: In theory, this is about “green matters”.   However, for SaaS or other companies, you may want to change this category.

The Six Stages of the buyer Experience Cycle are:

  1. Purchase: What are the requirements to purchase a solution?
  2. Delivery:  How difficult or easy is it to get the product delivered or installed?  This can also be about workflow.
  3. Use: This is about actually using the product in practice.
  4. Supplements: This is about what other things I might need in order to effectively use the product.  Add-ons…
  5. Maintenance:  How difficult or easy is it to maintain the product…updates, service….?
  6. Disposal:  How difficult or easy is it to stop using the product or dispose of aspects of it.  What happens at the end of the product life?


The buyer utility map helps you better understand where your Blue Ocean opportunities lie or where there are significant problems worth solving (and therefore the buyer worth paying for).  The map outlines the full range of experiences buyers or users have in using your industry’s offering.  In so doing, it reveals the problems the industry has failed to address and therefore where opportunities exist for Blue Oceans.  Most entrepreneurs focus exclusively on the efficiency and effectiveness of their solution and don’t fully explore other potential opportunities.

This is a compelling way to determine your Blue Ocean Strategy and helps to make sure that you are not missing key aspects of your Strategy Canvas and overall Blue Ocean approach.

To help illustrate, we will look at two examples.  The first one is covered in the book and it is for the Electric Home French Fry Maker.  This was a commodity market dominated by oil-based french-fry makers.  Decisions were mostly made on price.  The Electric Fryer company wanted to change the buying criteria to other factors identified in the Buyer Utility Map.

As you can see, there were pain points in this market that were not being addressed by existing vendors including the smell of the oil, the disposal of the oil, clean up required with oil fryers, the price of the oil and the danger involved with hot oil in the home.  This company translated this Map into their Strategy Canvas and then used the canvas to get the market to change their buying criteria from price to other factors that favored them.

The next case is one of my cases.  Some of you know that I run the Blue Ocean Student Entrepreneur Pitch Competition which was started by a high school student in Maryland.  Since he was now at college and didn’t have the time, the authors asked me to see if I could grow the competition.  There are many pitch competitions for high school students around the country.  Almost all of them are face-to-face and local competitions with little publicity outside a small geographic region.  We wanted ours to be virtual, global, high visibility and prestigious.  We wanted to make it easy for anyone to enter and compete.  We used sophisticated “hot word” text messaging to register students.   We were looking for the premier students who wanted to use the competition to showcase their ideas and talents on a global stage.  We also wanted to appeal to students who lived in geographical areas that did not have a local competition.  We also wanted to appeal to students who may not want to simply stand up and verbally pitch their idea, but wanted to use more creative ways to present ideas (like videos).  We also wanted to have students get feedback from seasoned entrepreneurs.

So, our competition would focus on simplicity, convenience, image and prestige, global visibility and one that allowed students to use their pitches (on our YouTube channel to help them with their college applications.  We also wanted to appeal to high school teachers and provide them both a platform for entrepreneurship and content to offer in their classrooms.  This has all led to a dramatic growth in our competition.  Below is the Buyer Utility Map for the competition. But this time, rather than focusing on pain points, we will focus on selling points.  The Blue Ocean books do not recommend this approach, but we wanted you to see this from the other side of the issue (selling points versus pain points).  We used this Blue Ocean tool to help us build the Blue Ocean competition.

So, there are many hidden gems in the Blue Ocean books.  Understanding how to use them can have a dramatic impact on the success of your business. But you must have the discipline to go through the process and use the tools.

If you want to learn more how to use the Buyer Utility Map or how to implement other Blue Ocean concepts, please contact Arbor Dakota.  We have successfully implemented Blue Ocean concepts for many organizations.   Why compete, when you can create?