The value proposition is the defining moment of any business, not the product or the service you offer. But it is important to realize that it is not of importance what you write in or think up for your business plan but what customers perceive to be your value. And there can be a huge mismatch.
The classic business plan is a plan of promises. On paper the value proposition almost always sounds promising but in reality the customers have quite often a different perception of the firm, of its products or services. There is a mismatch between value proposition and value perception, the perception gap:
Why: Simply put!
you do not get the message across to your customers since your distribution and marketing channels are too weak or
you do not fulfill the value proposition you offer with your business model you actually have.
The Perception Gap
In most cases, managers will say that the first reason that they just don’t get their message over to the customer is the main cause why they cannot close the perception gap. So in their belief they spent more money on communication and sales and try to persuade potential customers that they offer the best value.
Thomas Middelhoff was the CEO of the now insolvent German retail conglomerate Arcandor formerly known as KarstadtQuelle. Thomas Middelhoff has a good sense for timing. He left Arcandor in March 2009 just 3 months before the company had to file for bankrupcy in June. What made his stint at Arcandor so remarkable was not that he turned around the business of Arcandor but his ability to benefit personally from his position at Arcandor.
I am following the Arcandor business case for a while and I have written about the failure to innovate its business model in the past. So a recent article of Süddeutsche on Arcandor grabed my attention.
The articles goes well along my analysis of the newspaper market, where I argue that just a transfer of the paper business model to the Internet does not work since the business model of traditional papers is unbundled by the Internet. A newspaper is three businesses (content, advertising (selling of readers’ attention) and classifieds (bringing demand and supply together) bundled together by paper. And on the Internet, the glue of paper does not exists any more. So the revenue model of newspapers will not work on the Internet.
Varian argues that newspapers actually never earned money with news from their frontpages but from special interest sections like Automotives, Travel, Home & Garden or Food & Drinks. These sections attracted contextually targeted advertising which is much more effective than non-targeted advertising like you have in the news section.
And in the Online world, special-interest sites attract the search-engine traffic and not general-interest sites like the Internet pages of newspapers.
Well, when you follow his arguments than a mere transfer of the traditional business model to the web will never work for newspapers.
Simply put. The Internet is different. It has different economics and therefore you have to adapt your business model to the changing economics. Either you do it or you die! And this not only true for newspapers but also for other industries.
[update March 29th, 2010] Seth Godin writes in his blog what it means when the economics are changing in the publishing industry. He highlights the possibility that great authors have the potential to lead their own tribe. They will not be bond to the paper publishers any more. The text is worthwhile reading since it shows new business opportunities for authors.
[update August 5th, 2010] Google posted another paper on the subject. It comments in this paper the Federal Trade Commission’s News Media Workshop and Staff Discussion Draft on “Potential Policy Recommendations to Support the Reinvention of Journalism.” The paper is definitely more interesting than the title.
Dell announced on September 21, 2009 that it will acquire Perot System for $3.9 billion. Dell was the poster child of business model innovation. It had “invented” the direct sales model for PCs. Instead of going via resellers Dell sold its computers directly via telephone or the Internet to its customers. Now, Dell is extending its traditional business into services. Will this work?
I feel very ambivalent about the announced deal. First, Dell pays a premium of a 61% for Perot Systems. That is a huge premium and from my time as an investment banker at Lazard I know it is very difficult to recoup and justify such a premium. But even more problematic is that with the purchase Dell does not solve its problem with its current business model.
The deal makes sense from a corporate strategy perspective. Dell is suffering in its core business a steep fall in prices. For many years Dell was the price leader but now HP tries to undercuts Dell [update: link no longer available]. The first time in the history of PCs, the new Microsoft operating system Windows 7 will need fewer resources than the previous version, Windows Vista. That is bad news for computer makers that usually expect a big boost in sales from a new operating system.
The newspaper industry is suffering these days. Besides the economic crisis that leads to less advertising spending the traditional business model is under attack by the Internet. The large papers have reacted with large Internet activities that attract a lot of traffic. But the revenues of the online ventures are not sufficient to compensate for the decline in print. So what shall they do?
I had the pleasure recently to be invited back to my university, the University of St. Gallen, to give a speech on business model innovation in the media industry. Prof. Martin Eppler was so kind to sponsor the discussion. I used 8 theses to present my thoughts. Below you find the slides of my presentation.
In formulated strategy we use a lot of words like innovative, based on core competencies, market driven, customer centric, operational excellence, best-in-class, top quality, leveraging existing brand, etc…. You named it and of course business model and business model innovation are now part of these buzz words. Are they still meaningful or did we forget the deeper concepts behind the words? Do we use the technocratic jargon to signal others that we are the experts?
As I have argued in my last post, I think we use in strategy and in management in general too many generic and meaningless words. And I think we use also too many meaningless graphs and pictures to say nothing as a matter of fact. Visualization does not help you if your strategy is bad. Sorry, Alex for this 😉 .
Every decent firm claims in restructuring that it is concentrating on its core competencies when divesting or closing parts of its firm. Well, and often it is the same firm that argued some time ago that it was necessary to buy this now divested firm since it wanted to offer full service to its customers. We have so many words for “Sorry, it did not work. We just could not make it work”. Why are we so afraid about the truth?
In management we have invented Newspeak. Original, Newspeak is a fictional language in the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. The basic idea behind Newspeak is to remove all shades of meaning from language. While in Orwell’s novel the government tries to introduce Newspeak to the people in order to make the people more compliant to its will, in the case of management it is our own fault. We managers use our own Newspeak and we have taken all meaning out of it. Continue reading Let’s commit a thoughtcrime
I lately wrote a blogpost in German on the poor chaps in advertising. I argued that advertisers are always coming too late with their creative ideas. If the business model they are going to advertise is bad they can’t do much anymore. They are just too late to fix the problems in the business model.
I made the provocative statement that you either have to be extremely creative to make good advertising for bad products or you must be schizophrenic.
The blogpost spured an interesting discussion. One advertiser sent me an ad from Bob Levenson, a guy from an agency called DDB. The ad is from the late 1960s. It is a manifesto for good products and against tricking people with advertising for bad products.
I want to share this ad with you since it is so true also for bad business models. If you have a bad or dated business model you have to change or die as department store Karstadt did. And it is not the fault of a bad economy or because of your competitors.To use the words from the ad. You die from your own skilled hands. It is the fault of your strategy skills.
Here comes the original text of the ad. Thanks to Serge Deville for the text.
DO THIS OR DIE
Is this ad some kind of trick?
No. But it could have been.
And at exactly that point rests a do or die decision for American business.
We in advertising, together with our clients, have all the power and skill to trick people.
The German retail and travel conglomerate Arcandor AG formerly known as KarstadtQuelle AG filed on June 9th 2009 for insolvency. It claims that the financial crisis is the reason. It had asked the German government in May for state aid but the government refused. But is the financial crisis the real reason for the dire situation? I do not think so. The business models of its retail activities (Karstadt and Quelle) are just dead. The management did not innovate on its business model and that is the reason for failure.
Most writers and bloggers take the music industry as a prime example for an industry that failed to innovate its core business model. But there are many other industries where failure to innovate its core business lead to their decline. A sad prime example of missed innovation is Karstadt, a large department store chain in Germany and Quelle, a German mail order powerhouse.
The Karstadt case is typical for a corporation that business model is dated. Instead of rejuvenating its business model or finding new business ideas the old business model is defended and by consolidating the industry even reinforced.
The next lesson is that all activities at corporate level like selling non-core assets do not solve your problems of an ailing business model. The solution must be found on the business level not on a corporate level. If you cannot fix it, than sell or close it early. Success in business is not defined on corporate level but by its business model!
In May 2009, the CEO of Arcandor, Mr. Eich asked for “a state guarantee to temporarily bridge the gap of the currently non-functioning financial markets.” [update: link no longer available] Arcandor did not want to have any handouts nor a state participation in the company. It promised that it will repay the loan “to the last penny.” It claimed that the credit crunch is the main reason for its financial stress.
But is this really true?
The only constant in retailing is business model innovation
Retail markets in general are dynamic markets where new business models destroy old ones and create new fortunes. Zara, Aldi, H&M, IKEA or Carefour all reinvented their retail category and made their owners rich. But since the whole market did not grow as fast as the newcomers, the incumbents suffered losses in market shares and sales. Continue reading Karstadt: Death of a legend (business model)