February 10, 2005
Excerpts: Blue Ocean Strategy - Part V
Target costing, the next step in the strategic sequence, addresses the profit side of the business model. To maximize the profit potential of a blue ocean idea, a company should start with the strategic price and then deduct its desired profit margin from the price to arrive at the target cost. Here, price-minus costing, and not cost-plus pricing, is essential if you are to arrive at a cost structure that is both profitable and hard for potential followers to match.
When target costing is driven by strategic pricing, however, it is usually aggressive. Part of the challenge of meeting the target cost is addressed in building a strategic profile that has not only divergence but also focus, which makes a company strip out costs. Think of the cost reductions Cirque du Soleil enjoyed by eliminating animals and stars or that Ford enjoyed by making the Model T in one color and one model having few options.
Sometimes these reductions are sufficient to hit the cost target, but often they are not. Consider the cost innovations that Ford had to introduce to meet its aggressive target cost for the Model T. Ford had to scrap the standard manufacturing system, in which cars were handmade by skilled craftsmen from start to finish.
Instead, Ford introduced the assembly line, which replaced skilled craftsmen with ordinary unskilled laborers, who worked one small task faster and more efficiently, cutting the time to make a Model T from twenty-one days to four days and cutting labor hours by 60 percent.3 Had Ford not introduced these cost innovations, it could not have met its strategic price profitably. Instead of drilling down and finding ways to creatively meet the target cost as Ford did, if companies give in to the tempting route of either bumping up the strategic price or cutting back on utility, they are not on the path to lucrative blue waters. To hit the cost target, companies have three principal levers.
The first involves streamlining operations and introducing cost innovations from manufacturing to distribution. Can the products or services raw materials be replaced by unconventional, less expensive onessuch as switching from metal to plastic or shifting a call center from the U.K. to Bangalore? Can high-cost, low-valueadded activities in your value chain be significantly eliminated, reduced, or outsourced? Can the physical location of your product or service be shifted from prime real estate locations to lower-cost locations, as The Home Depot, IKEA, and Wal-Mart have done in retail or Southwest Airlines has done by shifting from major to secondary airports? Can you truncate the number of parts or steps used in production by shifting the way things are made, as Ford did by introducing the assembly line? Can you digitize activities to reduce costs?