Reassembling the Value Network for Business Model Innovation

A company never creates value in isolation. There are always other companies involved in some way to realising and delivering the final product for the customer. Such value chains of companies optimise connections on their complementary capabilities, which enables each to focus on what they’re good at.

The composition of a car is a good example here. Car manufacturers design, and assemble cars under their own brand. But all the parts required for assembly come from different suppliers (for pistons, suspension, braking technology, seat manufacturing, etc), and distribution & sales of the car to the final customer is done through networks of car dealers.

Value chain analysis is great for supporting business as usual. However, when you need to shift your business to a seemingly similar, adjacent customer segment (as is often case in today’s turbulent business environments), the value chain’s usefulness breaks down. The solution lies in framing partnership relations in a different way, as I’ll explain in this article.

The Functional Value Chain
Value chain analysis is a great way to understand production systems. You sketch out the value chain for the product from its origin to the end consumer. The value chain shows the companies involved in value creation, and the sequence in which value creation is achieved.

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The linkages in the value chain can be used to describe the relation between each company in that chain. The value chain is a great tool to examine how and where value is created, and where the risks in the production system reside.

The Disfunctional Value Chain
The value chain approach works well for analysing very formalised, industrial production systems with a clear hierarchy in the organisation of production. But the knowledge that comes from analysing the value chain gives an elusive sense of control about the ability to actually change a production system.

The instant you want to focus on a different customer segment, or change your value chain, because a partner role is not contributing value (or has become obsolete) you start sensing the illusion. Change takes more than replacing some of the mechanics in a sequential production system.

When changing your company, and changing the value chain with it, you see that in reality you are part of a complex, highly interdependent, nested production network, that is designed to drive value creation towards a very narrow purpose.

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Attempts to focus on a customer segment outside of the scope of that system flushes up restrictive dependencies, and the configuration’s immune system will have you ousted, rather than change with you. You’re on your own!

This is what Unilever experienced with the recent hostile take-over bid from competitor Kraft. Though Unilever, and its customers are on a change route to sustainable consumption, shareholders remain with their demand of maximising shareholder value. The Kraft bid showed how Unilever has set each foot in a different value network, and that this inconsistency can painfully split a company.

Changing Partner Relations
Professor Tim Kastelle said it well:

“not only do our end users have to prefer our idea, but we also have to get others within the value network to stop using [and supporting] our competitors”.

In order to change your business model to serve a different customer segment, you need to draw in partners involved in other value networks, and lure them to investing resources into yours.

To achieve this, the perspective on partnership relations needs to shift from that of value chain efficiency, and scale, to that of value network discovery, and growth. This entails that partnership relations shift from tweaking business model efficiency, to a joint search for creating, delivering, and capturing new value.

This shift can be seen in Amazon’s partnership with an air freighter. It’s not that existing value chain partners like UPS, and Fedex aren’t able to work to the particular requirements  of Amazon’s operations. It’s more so that Amazon’s B2C customer segment is adjacent to UPS, and Fedex’s existing core B2B customers. They have different demands regarding delivery rhythms, volumes, and shipping rates than Amazon’s customers.

The Business Model, and Partnership Canvas: Tools that change Perspective
The objective is to define the logic of tying 2 business models together in an exercise of joint value creation. Search is required to figure out how you can collaborate in such a way that both your, and your partner’s business benefit from this new value.

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Partnership Design, which is based on Alexander Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas, and my  Partnership Canvas, provides a way for achieving this. Partnership Design frames partnering as a business model innovation challenge. It brings focus to value inputs that partners can respectively bring to the table to jointly create a new form of value for delighting customers.

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By focussing on the potential of synergy between value offered, and value desired from each partner, discussions on relationships are framed around the merit of their creative potential. It allows thinking to escape the trap of conventions of efficiency in partnership relations, and upfront disqualification of new linkages due to differences in company size, market power, and assumptions about where industry boundaries lie.

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By looking at your partners one-by-one, you can start to gradually reassemble your value network, around a new customer segment.

The Business Model, and Partnership Canvas help teams to quickly flesh out key hypotheses. These need to be tested to verify whether the new relationship will add value to both their partner’s, and their own business model at the same time.

Continue the exercise for all the partners that you’ll need to build the value network, and watch the ripple effects change an industry!


Interested to learn how you can reinvent your industry through partnerships?
Check out our upcoming Partnership Design Masterclasses

Join the Partnership Design Linkedin group for support

Or contact me for specific questions.

Cracks in the walls of mainstream consumer food retail: Naked Wines meets Kagio market.

Some time ago, I wrote about the concept of the value chain, and that I couldn’t match it with what I observed in informal emerging markets like in rural Kagio, Kenya. What I observed of the market there was not a neat box in the formal structure of a value chain, but a flexible, multipurpose node in the rural economy’s complex web of human interaction and exchange of goods, services, and knowledge; a value web.

Recently, I revisited this notion when I was reading an article on a company called Naked Wines. This company is by no means serving an emerging economy audience, but it is trailblazing the wine market and working it in the same way as I saw at the farmer’s market in Kenya.

Intoxicating innovation
Founded by an ex-banker and wine aficionado, Naked Wines provides a compelling value proposition to a considerable group of people who are looking for exclusive wines of origin. Naked Wines provides an online market place, where independent wine producers can sell their wines, and connect with the current 200.000 subscribers, as well as with occasional customers, through an online forum and rating system. The company shifts around 10.000 bottles a day.

The value proposition lies in solving a big chunk of search costs that wine lovers usually place into finding their exclusive wine, and offers it to them at a very compelling price point (though still more than what the average consumer pays for). No longer do you need to organise a wine tour to Lombardia each time you want to purchase batches of exclusive wines.

The crux
Many wine-grape growers would dream of being able to sell their own wines. Yet, most are deterred from doing so because of the financial risk. The whole system of the mainstream wine market is based on selling your grapes as fast as you can at moment of harvest to the bidder who will buy as much as possible, or preferably all, of your product. Going at it alone could come with the repercussion of big wine houses boycotting your grapes for good. No banker minding his pinstripes would fund such a move.

Naked Wines has solved this financial risk. By asking an upfront monthly membership subscription to its customers of about 20 euro, the company has a monthly reserve of 6 million euro to pre-finance a winegrower’s full harvest in return for exclusive purchase. Through this pre-finance, growers commit themselves to the platform, and in return customers can buy wines that are not available elsewhere at a discount rate.

For many growers the pre-finance is what convinced them to take the plunge, and is thus the x-factor that makes this business model work. Have a look at this awesome business model in the slides below, compiled with the business model canvas.

http://www.slideshare.net/slideshow/embed_code/32570704

 

The bigger picture
Back to the case of Kenya, I see comparison. The integrated functions of the value web I saw there, are utilised in the same manner by Naked Wines through combining finance and a marketing proposition to growers, into a unique value proposition that can be carried by a specific market niche (“these melons are destined for Mombasa”). Also, in both circumstances the ubiquity of ICT has enabled this distributed, networked type of market, or value web to come into existence.

The big insight here is that in order to create a market, we are not dependent on figuring out what the average person wants on average anymore. Our connecting technologies support endless market re-segmentation possibilities at a global level, and serving them effectively and at low cost. Mainstream targeting is turning into a vulnerable strategy, and is likely be substituted by an endless variety of globally dispersed, yet easily connectable niches. 

There are those that say that the advancement of the modern supermarket, indicates advancement in developing nations. But with the new layout of the competitive landscape, I think that the legacy of the supermarket system in developed economies inhibits newer, and higher forms of value creation. In countries like Kenya, I predict you will not likely see the same pattern of development in consumer retail as in the current developed nations. Instead I expect a surge in food retail innovation that will leapfrog western markets (just like with mobile payments).

There is tremendous market power by coalescing value chain functions. By turning these functions from separate islands of myopic economic optimisation into purposeful networks that are hosted by a common business model, a new market power is unleashed. Cases like Naked Wines, show what can be achieved.

I think that businesses that are able to achieve these type of connections are serious contenders for overturning the status quo in the agriculture and food system. This is a huge opportunity to stab at mainstream retail culture, which has become complacent in providing value to farmers and consumers alike. Risk capital investing in the future of agriculture and food should be on the look-out for this business model pattern.

Take-aways:

  • Difference is not so much made by the product or product technology, but more so by the business model
  • Integrating value chain functions into a network setup, hosted by a common business model, creates a disruptive innovation juggernaut in our food and agriculture economy
  • Yes, you can create tons of value by connecting consumers and farmers. But only if it’s purposeful
  • I think I need to change the title of my blog. Suggestions anyone?