Blue Ocean Strategy

Blue Ocean Strategy

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Article Summary
Blue Ocean Strategy
A list of related materials, with annotations to guide further
exploration of the article’s ideas and applications
Further Reading
Competing in overcrowded
industries is no way to sustain
high performance. The real
opportunity is to create blue
oceans of uncontested market
Reprint R0410D
Blue Ocean Strategy
page 1
The Idea in Brief The Idea in Practice

The best way to drive profitable growth?
Stop competing in overcrowded industries.
In those red oceans, companies try to outperform
rivals to grab bigger slices of existing
demand. As the space gets increasingly
crowded, profit and growth prospects
shrink. Products become commoditized.
Ever-more-intense competition turns the
water bloody.
How to avoid the fray? Kim and Mauborgne
recommend creating blue oceans—
uncontested market spaces where the
competition is irrelevant. In blue oceans,
you invent and capture new demand, and
you offer customers a leap in value while
also streamlining your costs. Results? Handsome
profits, speedy growth—and brand
equity that lasts for decades while rivals
scramble to catch up.
Consider Cirque du Soleil—which invented
a new industry that combined elements
from traditional circus with elements
drawn from sophisticated theater. In just
20 years, Cirque raked in revenues that
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey—the
world’s leading circus—needed more
than a century to attain.
How to begin creating blue oceans? Kim and Mauborgne offer these suggestions:
The logic behind blue ocean strategy is
• It’s not about technology innovation. Blue
oceans seldom result from technological
innovation. Often, the underlying technology
already exists—and blue ocean creators
link it to what buyers value. Compaq,
for example, used existing technologies to
create its ProSignia server, which gave buyers
twice the file and print capability of the
minicomputer at one-third the price.
• You don’t have to venture into distant waters
to create blue oceans. Most blue
oceans are created from within, not beyond,
the red oceans of existing industries.
Incumbents often create blue oceans
within their core businesses. Consider
the megaplexes introduced by AMC—an
established player in the movie-theater
industry. Megaplexes provided moviegoers
spectacular viewing experiences in
stadium-size theater complexes at lower
costs to theater owners.
To apply blue ocean strategic moves:

Never use the competition as a benchmark.
Instead, make the competition irrelevant
by creating a leap in value for both
yourself and your customers. Ford did this
with the Model T. Ford could have tried besting
the fashionable, customized cars that
wealthy people bought for weekend jaunts
in the countryside. Instead, it offered a car
for everyday use that was far more affordable,
durable, and easy to use and fix than
rivals’ offerings. Model T sales boomed, and
Ford’s market share surged from 9% in 1908
to 61% in 1921.
• Reduce your costs while also offering
customers more value. Cirque du Soleil
omitted costly elements of traditional circus,
such as animal acts and aisle concessions.
Its reduced cost structure enabled it
to provide sophisticated elements from
theater that appealed to adult audiences—
such as themes, original scores, and enchanting
sets, all of which change year to
year. The added value lured adults who had
not gone to a circus for years and enticed
them to come back more frequently—
thereby increasing revenues. By offering
the best of circus and theater, Cirque created
a market space that, as yet, has no
name—and no equals.
Blue Ocean Strategy
by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne
harvard business review • october 2004 page 2
Competing in overcrowded industries is no way to sustain high
performance. The real opportunity is to create blue oceans of
uncontested market space.
A onetime accordion player, stilt walker, and
fire-eater, Guy Laliberté is now CEO of one of
Canada’s largest cultural exports, Cirque du
Soleil. Founded in 1984 by a group of street
performers, Cirque has staged dozens of productions
seen by some 40 million people in 90
cities around the world. In 20 years, Cirque
has achieved revenues that Ringling Bros. and
Barnum & Bailey—the world’s leading circus—
took more than a century to attain.
Cirque’s rapid growth occurred in an unlikely
setting. The circus business was (and still
is) in long-term decline. Alternative forms of
entertainment—sporting events, TV, and video
games—were casting a growing shadow. Children,
the mainstay of the circus audience, preferred
PlayStations to circus acts. There was
also rising sentiment, fueled by animal rights
groups, against the use of animals, traditionally
an integral part of the circus. On the supply
side, the star performers that Ringling and
the other circuses relied on to draw in the
crowds could often name their own terms. As a
result, the industry was hit by steadily decreasing
audiences and increasing costs. What’s
more, any new entrant to this business would
be competing against a formidable incumbent
that for most of the last century had set the industry
How did Cirque profitably increase revenues
by a factor of 22 over the last ten years in such
an unattractive environment? The tagline for
one of the first Cirque productions is revealing:
“We reinvent the circus.” Cirque did not make
its money by competing within the confines of
the existing industry or by stealing customers
from Ringling and the others. Instead it created
uncontested market space that made the
competition irrelevant. It pulled in a whole
new group of customers who were traditionally
noncustomers of the industry—adults and
corporate clients who had turned to theater,
opera, or ballet and were, therefore, prepared
to pay several times more than the price of a
conventional circus ticket for an unprecedented
entertainment experience.
To understand the nature of Cirque’s
achievement, you have to realize that the busiBlue
Ocean Strategy
harvard business review • october 2004 page 3
ness universe consists of two distinct kinds of
space, which we think of as red and blue
oceans. Red oceans represent all the industries
in existence today—the known market space.
In red oceans, industry boundaries are defined
and accepted, and the competitive rules of the
game are well understood. Here, companies
try to outperform their rivals in order to grab a
greater share of existing demand. As the space
gets more and more crowded, prospects for
profits and growth are reduced. Products turn
into commodities, and increasing competition
turns the water bloody.
Blue oceans denote all the industries not in
existence today—the unknown market space,
untainted by competition. In blue oceans, demand
is created rather than fought over. There
is ample opportunity for growth that is both
profitable and rapid. There are two ways to create
blue oceans. In a few cases, companies can
give rise to completely new industries, as eBay
did with the online auction industry. But in
most cases, a blue ocean is created from within
a red ocean when a company alters the boundaries
of an existing industry. As will become evident
later, this is what Cirque did. In breaking
through the boundary traditionally separating
circus and theater, it made a new and profitable
blue ocean from within the red ocean of
the circus industry.
Cirque is just one of more than 150 blue
ocean creations that we have studied in over
30 industries, using data stretching back more
than 100 years. We analyzed companies that
created those blue oceans and their less successful
competitors, which were caught in red
oceans. In studying these data, we have observed
a consistent pattern of strategic thinking
behind the creation of new markets and industries,
what we call blue ocean strategy. The
logic behind blue ocean strategy parts with traditional
models focused on competing in existing
market space. Indeed, it can be argued that
managers’ failure to realize the differences between
red and blue ocean strategy lies behind
the difficulties many companies encounter as
they try to break from the competition.
In this article, we present the concept of
blue ocean strategy and describe its defining
characteristics. We assess the profit and growth
consequences of blue oceans and discuss why
their creation is a rising imperative for companies
in the future. We believe that an understanding
of blue ocean strategy will help today’s
companies as they struggle to thrive in an
accelerating and expanding business universe.
Blue and Red Oceans
Although the term may be new, blue oceans
have always been with us. Look back 100 years
and ask yourself which industries known
today were then unknown. The answer: Industries
as basic as automobiles, music recording,
aviation, petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals,
and management consulting were unheard-of
or had just begun to emerge. Now turn the
clock back only 30 years and ask yourself the
same question. Again, a plethora of multibillion-
dollar industries jump out: mutual funds,
cellular telephones, biotechnology, discount
retailing, express package delivery, snowboards,
coffee bars, and home videos, to name
a few. Just three decades ago, none of these industries
existed in a meaningful way.
This time, put the clock forward 20 years.
Ask yourself: How many industries that are unknown
today will exist then? If history is any
predictor of the future, the answer is many.
Companies have a huge capacity to create new
industries and re-create existing ones, a fact
that is reflected in the deep changes that have
been necessary in the way industries are classified.
The half-century-old Standard Industrial
Classification (SIC) system was replaced in 1997
by the North American Industry Classification
System (NAICS). The new system expanded
the ten SIC industry sectors into 20 to reflect
the emerging realities of new industry territories—
blue oceans. The services sector under
the old system, for example, is now seven sectors
ranging from information to health care
and social assistance. Given that these classification
systems are designed for standardization
and continuity, such a replacement shows how
significant a source of economic growth the
creation of blue oceans has been.
Looking forward, it seems clear to us that
blue oceans will remain the engine of growth.
Prospects in most established market spaces—
red oceans—are shrinking steadily. Technological
advances have substantially improved industrial
productivity, permitting suppliers to
produce an unprecedented array of products
and services. And as trade barriers between nations
and regions fall and information on products
and prices becomes instantly and globally
available, niche markets and monopoly havens
are continuing to disappear. At the same time,
W. Chan Kim
([email protected]) is
the Boston Consulting Group Bruce D.
Henderson Chair Professor of Strategy
and International Management at Insead
in Fontainebleau, France. Renée
Mauborgne ([email protected] is the Insead Distinguished
Fellow and a professor of strategy and
management at Insead. This article is
adapted from their forthcoming book
Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested
Market Space and Make the
Competition Irrelevant (Harvard Business
School Press, 2005).
Blue Ocean Strategy
harvard business review • october 2004 page 4
there is little evidence of any increase in demand,
at least in the developed markets,
where recent United Nations statistics even
point to declining populations. The result is
that in more and more industries, supply is
overtaking demand.
This situation has inevitably hastened the
commoditization of products and services,
stoked price wars, and shrunk profit margins.
According to recent studies, major American
brands in a variety of product and service categories
have become more and more alike.
And as brands become more similar, people
increasingly base purchase choices on price.
People no longer insist, as in the past, that
their laundry detergent be Tide. Nor do they
necessarily stick to Colgate when there is a
special promotion for Crest, and vice versa. In
overcrowded industries, differentiating
brands becomes harder both in economic upturns
and in downturns.
The Paradox of Strategy
Unfortunately, most companies seem becalmed
in their red oceans. In a study of business
launches in 108 companies, we found that
86% of those new ventures were line extensions—
incremental improvements to existing
industry offerings—and a mere 14% were
aimed at creating new markets or industries.
While line extensions did account for 62% of
the total revenues, they delivered only 39% of
the total profits. By contrast, the 14% invested
in creating new markets and industries delivered
38% of total revenues and a startling 61%
of total profits.
So why the dramatic imbalance in favor of
red oceans? Part of the explanation is that corporate
strategy is heavily influenced by its
roots in military strategy. The very language of
strategy is deeply imbued with military references—
chief executive “officers” in “headquarters,”
“troops” on the “front lines.” Described
this way, strategy is all about red ocean competition.
It is about confronting an opponent and
driving him off a battlefield of limited territory.
Blue ocean strategy, by contrast, is about
doing business where there is no competitor. It
is about creating new land, not dividing up existing
land. Focusing on the red ocean therefore
means accepting the key constraining factors
of war—limited terrain and the need to
beat an enemy to succeed. And it means denying
the distinctive strength of the business
world—the capacity to create new market
space that is uncontested.
The tendency of corporate strategy to focus
on winning against rivals was exacerbated by
the meteoric rise of Japanese companies in the
1970s and 1980s. For the first time in corporate
history, customers were deserting Western
companies in droves. As competition mounted
in the global marketplace, a slew of red ocean
strategies emerged, all arguing that competition
was at the core of corporate success and
failure. Today, one hardly talks about strategy
without using the language of competition.
The term that best symbolizes this is “competitive
advantage.” In the competitive-advantage
worldview, companies are often driven to outperform
rivals and capture greater shares of existing
market space.
Of course competition matters. But by focusing
on competition, scholars, companies,
and consultants have ignored two very important—
and, we would argue, far more lucrative—
aspects of strategy: One is to find and
develop markets where there is little or no
competition—blue oceans—and the other is
to exploit and protect blue oceans. These
challenges are very different from those to
which strategists have devoted most of their
Toward Blue Ocean Strategy
What kind of strategic logic is needed to guide
the creation of blue oceans? To answer that
question, we looked back over 100 years of
data on blue ocean creation to see what patterns
could be discerned. Some of our data are
presented in the exhibit “A Snapshot of Blue
Ocean Creation.” It shows an overview of key
blue ocean creations in three industries that
closely touch people’s lives: autos—how people
get to work; computers—what people use
at work; and movie theaters—where people
A Snapshot of Blue Ocean Creation
The table on the next page identifies the
strategic elements that were common to
blue ocean creations in three different
industries in different eras. It is not intended
to be comprehensive in coverage
or exhaustive in content. We chose to
show American industries because they
represented the largest and leastregulated
market during our study
period. The pattern of blue ocean
creations exemplified by these three
industries is consistent with what
we observed in the other industries
in our study.
Blue Ocean Strategy
harvard business review • october 2004 page 5
Key blue ocean creations
Was the blue ocean
created by a new
entrant or an
Was it driven by
technology pioneering
or value pioneering?
At the time of the blue
ocean creation, was
the industry attractive
or unattractive?
New entrant Value pioneering*
(mostly existing technologies)
Ford Model T Unattractive
Unveiled in 1908, the Model T was the first mass-produced
car, priced so that many Americans could afford it.
Incumbent Value pioneering
(some new technologies)
GM’s “car for every purse and purpose” Attractive
GM created a blue ocean in 1924 by injecting fun and
fashion into the car.
Incumbent Value pioneering
(some new technologies)
Japanese fuel-efficient autos Unattractive
Japanese automakers created a blue ocean in the mid-1970s
with small, reliable lines of cars.
Incumbent Value pioneering
(mostly existing technologies)
Chrysler minivan Unattractive
With its 1984 minivan, Chrysler created a new class of automobile
that was as easy to use as a car but had the passenger
space of a van.
Incumbent Value pioneering
(some new technologies)
CTR’s tabulating machine Unattractive
In 1914, CTR created the business machine industry by
simplifying, modularizing, and leasing tabulating machines.
CTR later changed its name to IBM.
Incumbent Value pioneering
(650: mostly existing technologies)
Value and technology pioneering
(System/360: new and existing
IBM 650 electronic computer and System/360 Nonexistent
In 1952, IBM created the business computer industry by simplifying
and reducing the power and price of existing technology.
And it exploded the blue ocean created by the 650 when in
1964 it unveiled the System/360, the first modularized computer
New entrant Value pioneering
(mostly existing technologies)
Apple personal computer Unattractive
Although it was not the first home computer, the all-in-one,
simple-to-use Apple II was a blue ocean creation when it
appeared in 1978.
Incumbent Value pioneering
(mostly existing technologies)
Compaq PC servers Nonexistent
Compaq created a blue ocean in 1992 with its ProSignia
server, which gave buyers twice the file and print capability
of the minicomputer at one-third the price.
New entrant Value pioneering
(mostly existing technologies)
Dell built-to-order computers Unattractive
In the mid-1990s, Dell created a blue ocean in a highly
competitive industry by creating a new purchase and delivery
experience for buyers.
New entrant Value pioneering
(mostly existing technologies)
Nickelodeon Nonexistent
The first Nickelodeon opened its doors in 1905, showing short
films around-the-clock to working-class audiences for five cents.
Incumbent Value pioneering
(mostly existing technologies)
Palace theaters Attractive
Created by Roxy Rothapfel in 1914, these theaters provided
an operalike environment for cinema viewing at an affordable
Incumbent Value pioneering
(mostly existing technologies)
AMC multiplex Unattractive
In the 1960s, the number of multiplexes in America’s suburban
shopping malls mushroomed. The multiplex gave viewers
greater choice while reducing owners’ costs.
Incumbent Value pioneering
(mostly existing technologies)
AMC megaplex Unattractive
Megaplexes, introduced in 1995, offered every current blockbuster
and provided spectacular viewing experiences in
theater complexes as big as stadiums, at a lower cost to
theater owners. Automobiles Computers Movie Theaters
*Driven by value pioneering does not mean that technologies were not involved. Rather, it means that
the defining technologies used had largely been in existence, whether in that industry or elsewhere.
Copyright © 2004 Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.
Blue Ocean Strategy
harvard business review • october 2004 page 6
go after work for enjoyment. We found that:
Blue oceans are not about technology innovation.
Leading-edge technology is sometimes
involved in the creation of blue oceans, but it
is not a defining feature of them. This is often
true even in industries that are technology intensive.
As the exhibit reveals, across all three
representative industries, blue oceans were
seldom the result of technological innovation
per se; the underlying technology was often
already in existence. Even Ford’s revolutionary
assembly line can be traced to the meatpacking
industry in America. Like those within the
auto industry, the blue oceans within the computer
industry did not come about through
technology innovations alone but by linking
technology to what buyers valued. As with the
IBM 650 and the Compaq PC server, this often
involved simplifying the technology.
Incumbents often create blue oceans—and
usually within their core businesses. GM, the
Japanese automakers, and Chrysler were established
players when they created blue
oceans in the auto industry. So were CTR and
its later incarnation, IBM, and Compaq in the
computer industry. And in the cinema industry,
the same can be said of palace theaters
and AMC. Of the companies listed here, only
Ford, Apple, Dell, and Nickelodeon were new
entrants in their industries; the first three
were start-ups, and the fourth was an established
player entering an industry that was
new to it. This suggests that incumbents are
not at a disadvantage in creating new market
spaces. Moreover, the blue oceans made by incumbents
were usually within their core businesses.
In fact, as the exhibit shows, most blue
oceans are created from within, not beyond,
red oceans of existing industries. This challenges
the view that new markets are in distant
waters. Blue oceans are right next to you
in every industry.
Company and industry are the wrong units
of analysis. The traditional units of strategic
analysis—company and industry—have little
explanatory power when it comes to analyzing
how and why blue oceans are created.
There is no consistently excellent company;
the same company can be brilliant at one time
and wrongheaded at another. Every company
rises and falls over time. Likewise, there is no
perpetually excellent industry; relative attractiveness
is driven largely by the creation of
blue oceans from within them.
The most appropriate unit of analysis for explaining
the creation of blue oceans is the strategic
move—the set of managerial actions and
decisions involved in making a major marketcreating
business offering. Compaq, for example,
is considered by many people to be “unsuccessful”
because it was acquired by Hewlett-
Packard in 2001 and ceased to be a company.
But the firm’s ultimate fate does not invalidate
the smart strategic move Compaq made that led
to the creation of the multibillion-dollar market
in PC servers, a move that was a key cause of the
company’s powerful comeback in the 1990s.
Creating blue oceans builds brands. So powerful
is blue ocean strategy that a blue ocean
strategic move can create brand equity that
lasts for decades. Almost all of the companies
listed in the exhibit are remembered in no
small part for the blue oceans they created
long ago. Very few people alive today were
around when the first Model T rolled off
Henry Ford’s assembly line in 1908, but the
company’s brand still benefits from that blue
ocean move. IBM, too, is often regarded as an
“American institution” largely for the blue
oceans it created in computing; the 360 series
was its equivalent of the Model T.
Our findings are encouraging for executives
at the large, established corporations that are
traditionally seen as the victims of new market
space creation. For what they reveal is that
large R&D budgets are not the key to creating
new market space. The key is making the right
strategic moves. What’s more, companies that
understand what drives a good strategic move
will be well placed to create multiple blue
oceans over time, thereby continuing to deliver
high growth and profits over a sustained
period. The creation of blue oceans, in other
words, is a product of strategy and as such is
very much a product of managerial action.
The Defining Characteristics
Our research shows several common characteristics
across strategic moves that create blue
oceans. We found that the creators of blue
oceans, in sharp contrast to companies playing
by traditional rules, never use the competition
as a benchmark. Instead they make it irrelevant
by creating a leap in value for both buyers
and the company itself. (The exhibit “Red
Ocean Versus Blue Ocean Strategy” compares
the chief characteristics of these two strategy
In blue oceans, demand
is created rather than
fought over. There is
ample opportunity for
growth that is both
profitable and rapid.
Blue Ocean Strategy
harvard business review • october 2004 page 7
Perhaps the most important feature of blue
ocean strategy is that it rejects the fundamental
tenet of conventional strategy: that a tradeoff
exists between value and cost. According to
this thesis, companies can either create greater
value for customers at a higher cost or create
reasonable value at a lower cost. In other
words, strategy is essentially a choice between
differentiation and low cost. But when it
comes to creating blue oceans, the evidence
shows that successful companies pursue differentiation
and low cost simultaneously.
To see how this is done, let us go back to Cirque
du Soleil. At the time of Cirque’s debut,
circuses focused on benchmarking one another
and maximizing their shares of shrinking
demand by tweaking traditional circus acts.
This included trying to secure more and betterknown
clowns and lion tamers, efforts that
raised circuses’ cost structure without substantially
altering the circus experience. The result
was rising costs without rising revenues and a
downward spiral in overall circus demand.
Enter Cirque. Instead of following the conventional
logic of outpacing the competition by offering
a better solution to the given problem—
creating a circus with even greater fun and
thrills—it redefined the problem itself by offering
people the fun and thrill of the circus and
the intellectual sophistication and artistic richness
of the theater.
In designing performances that landed both
these punches, Cirque had to reevaluate the
components of the traditional circus offering.
What the company found was that many of
the elements considered essential to the fun
and thrill of the circus were unnecessary and
in many cases costly. For instance, most circuses
offer animal acts. These are a heavy economic
burden, because circuses have to shell
out not only for the animals but also for their
training, medical care, housing, insurance, and
transportation. Yet Cirque found that the appetite
for animal shows was rapidly diminishing
because of rising public concern about the
treatment of circus animals and the ethics of
exhibiting them.
Similarly, although traditional circuses promoted
their performers as stars, Cirque realized
that the public no longer thought of circus
artists as stars, at least not in the movie star
sense. Cirque did away with traditional threering
shows, too. Not only did these create confusion
among spectators forced to switch their
attention from one ring to another, they also
increased the number of performers needed,
with obvious cost implications. And while aisle
concession sales appeared to be a good way to
generate revenue, the high prices discouraged
parents from making purchases and made
them feel they were being taken for a ride.
Cirque found that the lasting allure of the
traditional circus came down to just three factors:
the clowns, the tent, and the classic acrobatic
acts. So Cirque kept the clowns, while
shifting their humor away from slapstick to a
more enchanting, sophisticated style. It glamorized
the tent, which many circuses had abandoned
in favor of rented venues. Realizing that
the tent, more than anything else, captured
the magic of the circus, Cirque designed this
classic symbol with a glorious external finish
and a high level of audience comfort. Gone
were the sawdust and hard benches. Acrobats
and other thrilling performers were retained,
but Cirque reduced their roles and made their
acts more elegant by adding artistic flair.
Even as Cirque stripped away some of the
traditional circus offerings, it injected new elements
drawn from the world of theater. For
instance, unlike traditional circuses featuring
a series of unrelated acts, each Cirque creation
resembles a theater performance in that
it has a theme and story line. Although the
themes are intentionally vague, they bring
harmony and an intellectual element to the
acts. Cirque also borrows ideas from Broadway.
For example, rather than putting on the
traditional “once and for all” show, Cirque
mounts multiple productions based on differ-
Red Ocean Versus Blue Ocean Strategy
The imperatives for red ocean and blue ocean
strategies are starkly different.
Red ocean strategy
Compete in existing market space.
Beat the competition.
Exploit existing demand.
Make the value/cost trade-off.
Align the whole system of a company’s
activities with its strategic
choice of differentiation or low cost.
Blue ocean strategy
Create uncontested market space.
Make the competition irrelevant.
Create and capture new demand.
Break the value/cost trade-off.
Align the whole system of a company’s
activities in pursuit of differentiation
and low cost.
Copyright © 2004 Harvard Business School
Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.
Blue Ocean Strategy
harvard business review • october 2004 page 8
ent themes and story lines. As with Broadway
productions, too, each Cirque show has an
original musical score, which drives the performance,
lighting, and timing of the acts,
rather than the other way around. The productions
feature abstract and spiritual dance,
an idea derived from theater and ballet. By introducing
these factors, Cirque has created
highly sophisticated entertainments. And by
staging multiple productions, Cirque gives
people reason to come to the circus more often,
thereby increasing revenues.
Cirque offers the best of both circus and
theater. And by eliminating many of the most
expensive elements of the circus, it has been
able to dramatically reduce its cost structure,
achieving both differentiation and low cost.
(For a depiction of the economics underpinning
blue ocean strategy, see the exhibit “The
Simultaneous Pursuit of Differentiation and
Low Cost.”)
By driving down costs while simultaneously
driving up value for buyers, a company can
achieve a leap in value for both itself and its
customers. Since buyer value comes from the
utility and price a company offers, and a company
generates value for itself through cost
structure and price, blue ocean strategy is
achieved only when the whole system of a
company’s utility, price, and cost activities is
properly aligned. It is this whole-system approach
that makes the creation of blue oceans
a sustainable strategy. Blue ocean strategy integrates
the range of a firm’s functional and operational
A rejection of the trade-off between low cost
and differentiation implies a fundamental
change in strategic mind-set—we cannot emphasize
enough how fundamental a shift it is.
The red ocean assumption that industry structural
conditions are a given and firms are
forced to compete within them is based on an
intellectual worldview that academics call the
structuralist view, or environmental determinism.
According to this view, companies and
managers are largely at the mercy of economic
forces greater than themselves. Blue ocean
strategies, by contrast, are based on a worldview
in which market boundaries and industries
can be reconstructed by the actions and
beliefs of industry players. We call this the reconstructionist
The founders of Cirque du Soleil clearly did
not feel constrained to act within the confines
of their industry. Indeed, is Cirque really a circus
with all that it has eliminated, reduced,
raised, and created? Or is it theater? If it is theater,
then what genre—Broadway show, opera,
ballet? The magic of Cirque was created
through a reconstruction of elements drawn
from all of these alternatives. In the end, Cirque
is none of them and a little of all of them.
From within the red oceans of theater and circus,
Cirque has created a blue ocean of uncontested
market space that has, as yet, no name.
Barriers to Imitation
Companies that create blue oceans usually
reap the benefits without credible challenges
for ten to 15 years, as was the case with Cirque
du Soleil, Home Depot, Federal Express,
Southwest Airlines, and CNN, to name just a
few. The reason is that blue ocean strategy creates
considerable economic and cognitive bar-
The Simultaneous Pursuit of Differentiation
and Low Cost
A blue ocean is created in the region
where a company’s actions favorably
affect both its cost structure and its
value proposition to buyers. Cost savings
are made from eliminating and reducing
the factors an industry competes on.
Buyer value is lifted by raising and
creating elements the industry has
never offered. Over time, costs are reduced
further as scale economies kick
in, due to the high sales volumes that
superior value generates.
Buyer Value
Copyright © 2004 Harvard Business School
Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.
Blue Ocean Strategy
harvard business review • october 2004 page 9
riers to imitation.
For a start, adopting a blue ocean creator’s
business model is easier to imagine than to
do. Because blue ocean creators immediately
attract customers in large volumes, they are
able to generate scale economies very rapidly,
putting would-be imitators at an immediate
and continuing cost disadvantage. The huge
economies of scale in purchasing that Wal-
Mart enjoys, for example, have significantly
discouraged other companies from imitating
its business model. The immediate attraction
of large numbers of customers can also create
network externalities. The more customers
eBay has online, the more attractive the auction
site becomes for both sellers and buyers
of wares, giving users few incentives to go
When imitation requires companies to make
changes to their whole system of activities, organizational
politics may impede a would-be
competitor’s ability to switch to the divergent
business model of a blue ocean strategy. For instance,
airlines trying to follow Southwest’s example
of offering the speed of air travel with
the flexibility and cost of driving would have
faced major revisions in routing, training, marketing,
and pricing, not to mention culture.
Few established airlines had the flexibility to
make such extensive organizational and operating
changes overnight. Imitating a wholesystem
approach is not an easy feat.
The cognitive barriers can be just as effective.
When a company offers a leap in value, it
rapidly earns brand buzz and a loyal following
in the marketplace. Experience shows that
even the most expensive marketing campaigns
struggle to unseat a blue ocean creator. Microsoft,
for example, has been trying for more
than ten years to occupy the center of the blue
ocean that Intuit created with its financial software
product Quicken. Despite all of its efforts
and all of its investment, Microsoft has not
been able to unseat Intuit as the industry
In other situations, attempts to imitate a
blue ocean creator conflict with the imitator’s
existing brand image. The Body Shop, for example,
shuns top models and makes no promises
of eternal youth and beauty. For the established
cosmetic brands like Estée Lauder and
L’Oréal, imitation was very difficult, because it
would have signaled a complete invalidation of
their current images, which are based on
promises of eternal youth and beauty.
A Consistent Pattern
While our conceptual articulation of the pattern
may be new, blue ocean strategy has always
existed, whether or not companies have
been conscious of the fact. Just consider the
striking parallels between the Cirque du Soleil
theater-circus experience and Ford’s creation
of the Model T.
At the end of the nineteenth century, the automobile
industry was small and unattractive.
More than 500 automakers in America competed
in turning out handmade luxury cars
that cost around $1,500 and were enormously
unpopular with all but the very rich. Anticar
activists tore up roads, ringed parked cars with
barbed wire, and organized boycotts of cardriving
businessmen and politicians. Woodrow
Wilson caught the spirit of the times when he
said in 1906 that “nothing has spread socialistic
feeling more than the automobile.” He called it
“a picture of the arrogance of wealth.”
Instead of trying to beat the competition
and steal a share of existing demand from
other automakers, Ford reconstructed the industry
boundaries of cars and horse-drawn carriages
to create a blue ocean. At the time,
horse-drawn carriages were the primary means
of local transportation across America. The carriage
had two distinct advantages over cars.
Horses could easily negotiate the bumps and
mud that stymied cars—especially in rain and
snow—on the nation’s ubiquitous dirt roads.
And horses and carriages were much easier to
maintain than the luxurious autos of the time,
which frequently broke down, requiring expert
repairmen who were expensive and in short
supply. It was Henry Ford’s understanding of
these advantages that showed him how he
could break away from the competition and
unlock enormous untapped demand.
Ford called the Model T the car “for the
great multitude, constructed of the best materials.”
Like Cirque, the Ford Motor Company
made the competition irrelevant. Instead of
creating fashionable, customized cars for
weekends in the countryside, a luxury few
could justify, Ford built a car that, like the
horse-drawn carriage, was for everyday use.
The Model T came in just one color, black,
and there were few optional extras. It was reliable
and durable, designed to travel effortlessly
over dirt roads in rain, snow, or sunBlue
Ocean Strategy
harvard business review • october 2004 page 10
shine. It was easy to use and fix. People could
learn to drive it in a day. And like Cirque, Ford
went outside the industry for a price point,
looking at horse-drawn carriages ($400), not
other autos. In 1908, the first Model T cost
$850; in 1909, the price dropped to $609, and
by 1924 it was down to $290. In this way, Ford
converted buyers of horse-drawn carriages
into car buyers—just as Cirque turned theatergoers
into circusgoers. Sales of the Model
T boomed. Ford’s market share surged from
9% in 1908 to 61% in 1921, and by 1923, a majority
of American households had a car.
Even as Ford offered the mass of buyers a
leap in value, the company also achieved the
lowest cost structure in the industry, much as
Cirque did later. By keeping the cars highly
standardized with limited options and interchangeable
parts, Ford was able to scrap the
prevailing manufacturing system in which cars
were constructed by skilled craftsmen who
swarmed around one workstation and built a
car piece by piece from start to finish. Ford’s
revolutionary assembly line replaced craftsmen
with unskilled laborers, each of whom
worked quickly and efficiently on one small
task. This allowed Ford to make a car in just
four days—21 days was the industry norm—
creating huge cost savings.
• • •
Blue and red oceans have always coexisted and
always will. Practical reality, therefore, demands
that companies understand the strategic
logic of both types of oceans. At present,
competing in red oceans dominates the field
of strategy in theory and in practice, even as
businesses’ need to create blue oceans intensifies.
It is time to even the scales in the field of
strategy with a better balance of efforts across
both oceans. For although blue ocean strategists
have always existed, for the most part
their strategies have been largely unconscious.
But once corporations realize that the strategies
for creating and capturing blue oceans
have a different underlying logic from red
ocean strategies, they will be able to create
many more blue oceans in the future.
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Further Reading
Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create
Uncontested Market Space and Make the
Competition Irrelevant
by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne
Harvard Business School Publishing
December 2004
Product no. 6190
The authors provide recent examples of businesses
that have created blue oceans and
present a framework for crafting blue-ocean
strategies: 1) Eliminate factors in your industry
that no longer have value. For example, winemaker
Yellow Tail eliminated fancy terminology
in its marketing communications. 2) Reduce
factors that overserve customers and
increase cost structure for no gain. Yellow Tail
initially offered just two choices: red or white
wine. 3) Raise factors that remove compromises
buyers must make. Yellow Tail priced its
wines above the budget category of wines
but below those deemed “premium.” 4) Create
factors that add new sources of value. Yellow
Tail provided ease of selection and the fun
and adventure of Australian branding. By late
2003, Yellow Tail had become the United
States’ best-selling red wine in a 750-ml bottle—
outstripping all California labels.
MarketBusting: Strategies for
Exceptional Business Growth
by Rita Gunther McGrath and
Ian C. MacMillan
Harvard Business Review
March 2005
Product no. 9408
The authors provide suggestions for creating
blue oceans within your existing business. 1)
Redefine your unit of business—what you
bill customers for—to reflect what customers
value. For example, Mexican cement company
Cemex shifted its unit of business from cubic
yards of cement to delivery window: the right
amount of concrete delivered when needed.
2) Boost your performance on key metrics.
Cemex reoriented its information systems, logistics,
and delivery infrastructure to improve
truck utilization—a key metric for delivery
businesses. 3) Improve customers’ performance.
UPS handles shipping and repair for
laptop makers—freeing these customers from
employing expensive maintenance staff, and
getting laptops back in owners’ hands quickly.
The service enhances laptop makers’ productivity
and lowers their costs.

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