A Cirque du Soleil Blue Ocean Strategy
Created in 1984 by a group of street performers, Cirque’s productions have been seen by almost forty million people in ninety cities around the world. In less than twenty years Cirque du Soleil has achieved a level of revenues that took Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey—the global champion of the circus industry—more than one hundred years to attain. What makes this rapid growth all the more remarkable is that it was not achieved in an attractive industry but rather in a declining industry in which traditional strategic analysis pointed to limited potential for growth. Supplier power on the part of star performers was strong. So was buyer power. Alternative forms of entertainment— ranging from various kinds of urban live entertainment to sporting events to home entertainment—cast an increasingly long shadow. Children cried out for PlayStations rather than a visit to the traveling circus. Partially as a result, the industry was suffering from steadily decreasing audiences and, in turn, declining revenue and profits. There was also increasing sentiment against the use of animals in circuses by animal rights groups. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey set the standard, and competing smaller circuses essentially followed with scaled-down versions. From the perspective of competition-based strategy, then, the circus industry appeared unattractive. Another compelling aspect of Cirque du Soleil’s success is that it did not win by taking customers from the already shrinking circus industry, which historically catered to children. Cirque du Soleil did not compete with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey. Instead it created uncontested new market space that made the competition irrelevant. It appealed to a whole new group of customers: adults and corporate clients prepared to pay a price several times as great as traditional circuses for an unprecedented entertainment experience. Significantly, one of the first Cirque productions was titled “We Reinvent the Circus.”
Hewlett-Packard, a cautionary tale
What happens when a company stops believing in secrets? The sad decline of Hewlett-Packard provides a cautionary tale. In 1990, the company was worth $9 billion. Then came a decade of invention. In 1991, HP released the DeskJet 500C, the world’s first affordable color printer. In 1993, it launched the OmniBook, one of the first “superportable” laptops. The next year, HP released the OfficeJet, the world’s first all-in-one printer/fax/copier. This relentless product expansion paid off: by mid-2000, HP was worth $135 billion. But starting in late 1999, when HP introduced a new branding campaign around the imperative to “invent,” it stopped inventing things. In 2001, the company launched HP Services, a glorified consulting and support shop. In 2002, HP merged with Compaq, presumably because it didn’t know what else to do. By 2005, the company’s market cap had plunged to $70 billion—roughly half of what it had been just five years earlier. HP’s board was a microcosm of the dysfunction: it split into two factions, only one of which cared about new technology. That faction was led by Tom Perkins, an engineer who first came to HP in 1963 to run the ...
Perhaps the most famous is the railroad lines, which Levitt argues fell into steep decline because they thought they were in the train business rather than the transportation business. If those leaders had seen themselves as helping customers get from one place to another, they might’ve expanded the business into other forms of transportation like cars, trucks, or airplanes.