Cyclo-cross's disruptive innovation that made competition irrelevant.

This weekend several national championships cyclo-cross were organized. We looked at Belgium’s cyclocross championship held in Antwerp. This national championship almost equals a world championship as Belgium has delivered the best athletes within this sport for decades.

What’s even more interesting, a few years ago a Belgian rider – Sven Nys – started dominating the sport by introducing a disruptive innovation that made competition irrelevant. Sounds like a story that relates to the concept of the Blue Ocean (BOS) as developed by authors W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne. Let’s dig a little deeper into the story and try to derive relevant lessons for business practices.

Disruptive innovation: Sven Nys leaps over objects while driving

Red Ocean Strategy in Cyclocross - jump while running

Red Ocean Strategy in Cyclocross - jump while running

When talking about innovation, we often think of technical/technological innovations. These are rather important of course but are often incremental by nature. The innovation Sven Nys introduced years ago that disrupted the sport was not a technical one. It was e.g. not about an improved tire or a lighter bike frame – as those technical innovations were incremental and simultaneously available for all competing riders.

The true disruption happened when Nys introduced a skill: the ability to leap over objects while riding a bike. Other riders overcame the objects by jumping of the biking, lifting the bike by hand while jumping over the object. Speaks for itself that the manner deployed by Nys was faster. This often allowed him to make competition irrelevant during races. Nys created a Blue Ocean. Others were to follow his example soon of course and today one can see many riders leaping while riding. Is the Blue Ocean red again?

Relevance for Business?

We believe this case shows that innovation doesn’t have to come from technology – as you often read in the literature and cases, especially in the areas of BMI (Business Model Innovation). Additionally, the case clearly shows that you should never stop looking for new innovative practices or tools – since others will follow and might even excel the original innovator. Today there might be another rider who can leap over higher objects than Nys can.

Nuance: notes on Sven Nys

The above story is oversimplified. Sven Nys is a phenomenon, he’s way more than “the one able to jump over the obstacles”. During his career he also expanded into mountain biking and is quite good at it. To get an overview of his impressive career, have a look at the Wikipedia page.

Possibly related articles (not automated – suggested by author):

  • Basketball’s Disruptive Innovation
  • Clap skate in speed ice skating – this is in fact a technical innovation but nonetheless quite compelling. Something we just know about in one way or another. Not investigated thoroughly by us.

The app store economy. Squared.

We previously blogged about the app store economy. This “economic trend” will probably get an extra boost – after Apple launching the Mac App Store on January 6 2011. The store is available for Mac OS 10.6.6 users and introduces the app sales model to Apple computers.

Happy New year – a year in which the app store economy’s figures will square?

Mac app store screenshot - credits picture go to readwriteweb as we still run Mac OS 10.5.8

Mac app store screenshot - credits picture go to readwriteweb as we still run Mac OS 10.5.8

The app store economy: an innovative price model for publishers?

News behind a pay wall?

News behind a pay wall?

Newspaper publishers suffer for years now. The number of readers is going down – and as a result advertisers are less interested to put an advert in a newspaper. With the rise of the app store economy, publishers have the chance to come closer to a price model that works.

Strategy 1: news behind a pay wall?

In order to generate revenue there are plenty of newspapers who have turned news into paid content. The UK Times experiment with the paywall demonstrates that people say “No, thanks” and click away to another site when faced with a paywall at a news site. Source: The Times UK Lost 4 Million Readers To Its Paywall Experiment

Strategy 2: look at other industries (gaming industry) – The app store economy

The app store economy - innnovative pricing through inn-app purchase

The app store economy - innnovative pricing through inn-app purchase

Since there are loads of buzz within the publishing industry about publishing for the iPad, why not have a look at the opportunities of the app store economy? In the beginning of the Apple App Store, you had free apps and paid apps. After a while, they added a functionality called “in-app purchases”. In-app purchases mean that you can offer the apps for free and charge upgrades in the app – like e.g. in the gaming industry new levels.

Price model innovation newspapers: app store and in-app purchase

Consider this: a newspaper publisher creates an iPad edition. Would it make sense to offer the app for free, allowing everyone to read the entire newspaper on iPad? Would it make sense to limit the free articles to 3 and then offer “in-app purchase options” if one wants to read more? Would it make sense to show a summary of all articles and offer “in-app purchase options” to get the entire article?

We’d love to see publishers experiment with it and see whether the strategy from one industry can be applied to another one.

Innovate your twitter reading experience:

We stumbled upon a lovely and promising web app called “”. The app organizes twitter feeds into a newspaper-format. Shall publishers and marketing departments soon embrace this innovative technology? Or does the technology need to support multiple output formats before they do?

paper-li - create a newspaper of linked articles on Twitter feed

paper-li - create a newspaper of linked articles on Twitter feed

Your Twitter Feed as a Newspaper

The functionality and benefits of this web technology could not have been summarized better than by the organization that developed the tools. Here it is:

“ organizes links shared on Twitter into an easy to read newspaper-style format. Newspapers can be created for any Twitter user, list or #tag. A great way to stay on top of all that is shared by the people you follow – even if you are not connected 24/7!” – source:

The Whispering_Web Daily

Of course we’ve been playing around with it and truly love it: great product.
Have a look at the Whispering Web Daily!

Output for other media?

How will the publishing industry and brands embrace this? Will it be a necessity for to generate an iPad compatible “website”? Will those groups ask for a different experience, such as presenting the stream in the format of a “leaf-through digital document”? Will traditional publishers feel the need to organize the stream in a printable document? Stated differently: is a truly personalized newspaper to become reality in this manner?

Just one more thing: developer of the app embraces Social CRM

As we are publishing this article, the application is being updated. We wonder what the new features will be. Looking forward to it.

But what’s at least equally important: SmallRivers – the app developer – not only builds innovative solutions. It also innovates its operations. In this respect, one could state that they strive to practice concepts as “Social CRM”, “BMI” and “enterprise 2.0”.

The update made clear that SmallRivers’ Customer Service deploys social media to inform their customers. In practice: twitter is used to inform them about the ongoing update. Just great!

Social CRM, one aspect for BMI and enterprise 2.0 (e2.0)?

Social CRM, one aspect for BMI and enterprise 2.0 (e2.0)?

Social CRM via Twitter - Enterprise 2.0

Social CRM via Twitter - Enterprise 2.0

Facebook's history of innovations. What's next?

Facebook - online social network

Facebook - online social network

Facebook is pushing its latest product innovations hard these days. Only within the last three months we have seen the launch of Facebook places, Facebook Groups and Facebook Messaging.

The history of the enterprise seems a history of innovations. What is the next innovation and where will this end?

Facebook: a history of innovations

  • Facebook as a platform is innovative by nature: it redefined our social experiences. Hence, this technology had a tremendous impact on how people construct their identity. From time to time we tend to note a “I publish, so I am-trend”, meaning that if it didn’t happen on Facebook (or there are no traces on Facebook) it didn’t happen.
  • Secondly, with their “connect to facebook” technology, the social sharing experience was opened up to third-party apps.
  • The third innovation that we wish to bring forward is the implementation of the like button across the web. This might seem an easy trick but has loads of consequences. And it’s extremely nice for a savvy marketer! Why? Guess this is food for another blog post…
  • Finally, the innovative new messaging system which is rumored for bringing together text messaging, instant messaging and e-mail messaging. It seems as the Facebook Messaging Innovation took a classic “melt-to-innovate” approach.

Will the next innovation be mobile?

The question for us is: what will be next? What could be Facebook’s next big innovation? Let’s have some ideas flow on that …

Facebook Places @ Olympia London

Facebook Places @ Olympia London

  • Would a photo book app on top of Facebook be innovative? And what if you could collaborate with your friends on the creation of that photo book?
  • Would an e-newspaper based on posted articles by friends be innovative? In this manner you can leaf through a digital newspaper that contains all news shared by your network.
  • What are the chances they further develop an “office suite” on top of it? Would that be innovative? Would that impact the way employees work? Would it mean the definitive break-through of enterprise 2.0? After all Facebook obtained Docs from Fuse Labs that will allow to co-create and share text documents, spreadsheets and PDF directly within Facebook with all friends, family and (especially) colleagues.
  • Is the next big thing in the mobile sphere with Facebook Places? Shall we get suggestions to drink a beer with a friend in the bar behind the corner? Will it embrace AR technology?
  • Or will Facebook evolve into the basis for artificial intelligence, as one of the main (Russian) investors believes?

Framing innovation

Innovation is about adaptation! We don’t want to bother you with theoretical facts about the adaption of technological innovations, but please realize that in the end, it are always the people who decide whether an innovation becomes a mainstream success or not. For those interested in the theory on innovation & adaptation: it follows the statistical distribution known as Gauss.

Gauss graph - diffusion of innovation

Gauss graph - diffusion of innovation

How to make money with Social Media? A new business in "global village"?

Every young marketer probably has met a C-level executive that made him end up in the same situation as depicted in the cartoons below. (Credits for the cartoons go to this linked website.)

Anyway, it was a starting point for me to come up with a concept of how you can generate revenue with Social Media. As far as my thinking is concerned I came to the conclusion that social media cannot make money for you if you consider, deploy and use it solely as a communication channel. To state it very simply: a Facebook fan page or a netlog advert probably won’t do the trick.

We see a remarkable resemblance with the “status” of marketing within an organization. To unleash the power of marketing you cannot reduce them to channel communication and sales support, just as you cannot simplify social media solely into a communication channel for your business.

To make money with social media stop considering it as a communication channel

To make money with social media stop considering it as a communication channel

Don’t consider social media solely as a marketing channel.

The opportunities of social media should be explored in a far more extensive way then as it being a highly targeted communication channel for marketing messages. The image below demonstrates why this approach won’t result in you generating money with social media.

Why only perceive social media as a marketing (communication) channel?

Why only perceive social media as a marketing (communication) channel?

Create a new value on top of Social Media

If you create new value on top of social media networks, you might create a new market. If you are smart enough to keep your “new value” open for multiple social networks, you have a potential 700+ million euro business ahead of you.

Social Media Photo applications

I came to realize that one important aspect about the usage of social media is to share photographs with its friends, connections, peers, … (you name it). What if you could provide additional value to this “photo sharing experience” in such a way that people actually would want to pay for it? Wouldn’t it be better than “spending money on social media advertising”?

Connect the virtual photo sharing experience with the physical one

Social media profiles mostly contain a section where the user can upload images. In this manner users share their real-life experiences with their peers in the virtual domain. If there was an application that could gain access to all the images of the user and offer the user a user-friendly interface to create and consequently order photo books, postcards, calendars or slide show movies from their social media-assets, one could generate a business from selling those goods.

social media apps request for permission to access photo data

social media apps request for permission to access photo data

Dirty sketch of the value chain for a social media web app

Dirty sketch of the value chain for a social media web app

Social Media Web app specs

  • I would make the web app open enough. This means it should be able to access data from multiple platforms: facebook, netlog, hi5 and flickr seem quite appropriate platforms for the app I have in mind.
  • The application presents multiple templates to the user: select a photo book template, select a card template, select a calendar template or select to generate a slide show movie. At the start templates and slide show movies are rather limited since they are created by the app developer. The goal is to come up with a business model that encourages people to supply templates to the platform. If another user selects the uploaded template in order to make and purchase a photo book, the creator of the template receives a margin on the order. Templates are created in such a way that there occurs no resolution problem (since the platforms mostly resize the uploaded images, I suppose).
  • The user selects a template and consequently selects photos from his social media album.
  • The user gets a preview of the template with his photos.
  • The user sees a price for his creation and can order and pay it online.
  • The user receives his physical good at home. He can now have a physical photo sharing experience as well. What’s more he can use the social media to “testify” about the usage of the photo book application. In fact, you can imagine that one takes a picture of its physical experience (receiving the photo book) and sharing this experience virtually again (indeed, upload a picture of the photo book to the social media platform!).

How could a business model look like for this type of product?

There is a lot to say about a business model and its components, difference with a business plan, etc. Instead of going into an academic discussion about that topic, I will make use of the Business Model Canvas as developed by Alex Osterwalder. I believe his canvas provides a valid framework to design “a business”. The business model canvas is defined by the following building blocks: partners, activities, resources, value proposition, customer relations, channels, customer segments, cost structure and revenue stream.

The image below depicts a thinking exercise on a possible business model of the Social Media Photo Application. It is based on Osterwalder’s business model canvas. It might prove fruitful for reading purposes to download the business model canvas for the social media photo book application as a PDF. (yes click here, this is a link!)

Business model generation by using the BM canvas

Business model generation by using the BM canvas

Just one more thing, how should one call this type of solution: Social-to-Print?


Sustainable Business Strategies for SMEs in a "dying industry"?

Business strategies for a dying industry

Business strategies for a dying industry

Print: a dying industry?

I often encounter the phrase “Print is dead”. Of course, print is not dead. First of all, it’s not a living organism – so technically unable to die because it never actually lived. Second, I still meet printed collateral on a daily basis. Third: history demonstrates that some people always tend to state that new emerging media “kill” existing ones. Concerning this third issue, allow me to have a small digression by referring to the panic for the medium radio with the rise of commercial television.

Commercial television would kill “the radio”. In fact, radio still exists. What happened is a re-allocation of the time spent for a specific medium. People tend to watch more tv and listen to the radio less. But radio is still alive and kicking. People just use it in a different way. The radio went from a “primetime” medium to a “drive time” medium – which means that people mainly use radio while driving a car. So: did video kill the radio star? No, it did not. It just resulted in a new way of allocating resources for specific media.

How to understand the phrase “print is dead”?

So one needs to pay attention what exactly is meant and how the above phrase should be understood. First of all, we have explained in the above paragraphs that media do not die. However, having a look at the phrase “print is dead”, there seems to occur another problem. What is the “printing industry”?

The printing industry is a rather general description of business activities related to printing. The argument that print is dead doesn’t hold much water past books, newspapers and magazine – which aren’t even dead also by the way. The printing industry has multiple subsections, so one cannot simplify that easily.

To start with: every single item made and sold in this world comes with packaging, even if ordered over the internet. So package printing won’t die. However, in times of economic downfall people consume less, which results in less shipments of goods (with printed packages). This also counts for commercial printing – which most of the time people denote when saying the phrase “print is dead”.

Is commercial printing dead?

Commercial printing is about the creation of leaflets, brochures, catalogues, etc. Yes, it still exists and it’s often quite important to have those “sales support documents” next to a powerful website. What is a fact is that more and more corporations are re-allocating their budgets from print to other media (internet, mobile, tv, …). But it is not dead. Nevertheless, the decrease in volume of printed marketing collateral has been an undeniable trend for years now.

Companies that have been in the industry for years are increasingly looking to survive. What business strategies have proven to be effective in surviving this turmoil?

Sustainable business strategies for commercial printers?

Business strategies and innovation are closely linked together

Business strategies and innovation are closely linked together

We don’t want to put an in-depth (theoretical) analysis here about business strategies for growth and innovation. But apparently they are closely linked to one another. The image on the left should do the trick for now. We believe it’s more fruitful to draw a real-life business case.

Sustainable business strategies for SMEs in commercial printing?

The graphics / printing industry has been going down for years now. The economic slowdown and the credit crunch only empower the trend. Loads of SME printers went bankrupt or at least had to shrink down the number of employees.

As a reaction, the industry’s major players reached out to a well-known strategy for growth: “M&A” (mergers and acquisitions). A financially strong company within the sector buys out less powerful players and consequently integrates them into the new structure. The sustainability and growth of the business is hence secured (it might be a short-term…).

As a result of the concentration process, the number of printers within the industry decreased. SMEs reacted by expanding into multi-media production services or by integrating into larger corporations. However more creative initiatives have seen the light as well. And those initiatives don’t even mean the loss of SME commercial printers. The initiative “Pinca” of the Pica Media Partners Group is one of those creative initiatives to counter-fight the negative spiral of the industry.

The Pica Media Partners case

Pica Media Partners is an independent network that contains more than 30 graphic communication corporations within it. The network covers the entire area of The Netherlands. By gathering the strengths of each entity in a network, the group has additional forces for marketing, sales and purchase. By uniting forces, the SME companies within the network can benefit from the state-of-the-art tools as if they were a big player.

In today’s printing industry it’s important to make the transition from a “printer” who sells products into a “media service provider” who sells services. An important element to successfully realize this transition is technology. Specific technologies support printers’ transformation into a service provider.

The network equally saw the importance of technology and jointly invested in an “online collaboration platform”. We are very keen to see how this technology will further prove how business model innovation can act as a strategy for growth. And I have to say: it looks quite promising. The deployment of the technology resulted in an innovative business model within the graphic production industry. In fact, BMI or business model innovation could well be the theme for my next blog post since I started to feel a particular interest in related subjects.


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