Growing Your Sales with Lessons from Alternative Industries

When companies commit to Blue Ocean Strategy implementation, they go through numerous steps in the Blue Ocean Shift process. One of the key tools used is the Six Paths Framework. Below is a graphic associated with that part of the process. As you see below, the discipline associated with just this single aspect of Blue Ocean Strategy and Blue Ocean Shift will take your team to new levels of familiarity with your industry, strategic alignment, buyers, products, offerings, orientations and time factors.

If today’s post, I’m covering only the Blue Ocean Strategy method of looking across alternative industries. The remaining segments of the Six Paths Framework will be covered in followup articles.

When a company lives in red oceans of bloody competition, its focus is on rivals. That is to say, its focus is on price, competitive advantages, geography, personnel, IP, etc. etc. All the things we’re trained to believe are all important.

When a company moves to a Blue Ocean mentality, it begins to think in broader terms. Instead of the competition, it begins to learn from looking across alternative industries. When Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airline fame began looking at starting an airline, he didn’t look at other airlines for inspiration. He looked at travel times of driving, yes, driving from one city in Texas to another. The push was to look at the automotive industry for inspiration in launching an airline. When Cirque du Soleil looked to entertain millions of people, it’s initial vision wasn’t to reinvent the circus or the theater. However, in looking at those industries and borrowing from them, they were able to literally invent a new mode of entertainment.

In my work in the MarTech space in spirits and wine, as a Blue Ocean Strategist, I’m going through the same process as others before me. I’ve shared a phase one, beta version, graphic that depicts looking across different industries to see what may be learned in the process.

The first question?

What is your focal industry? Sometimes, we think we know but we don’t. When some companies start their work, they don’t really know what their focal industry. They assume they do and then find themselves adjusting. In the startup world, we’d call it a pivot.

For our purposes, I’m viewing the sampling, tasting, and activation world of spirits and wine across other industries that have proven models in place for sampling products and services.

In the spirits, wine, and beer activation business, it’s about liquid to lips. How does a brand get potential customers to try its product? You know the answer if you’ve ever entered a liquor store around 5 pm on just about any given night. You’ve also seen their attempts to get their product sampled by you and your friends when you attend a benefit dinner or a sponsored event of some kind. The trouble and challenge with the current state of sampling activities is there there is little activity around the current implementations that actually serve to build relationships with the consumers.

There are metrics in the liquor business around case count sales and that’s it. The brands don’t know you as a consumer. Their agencies like to make out as though they do, but they don’t.

Let’s take a look at some other industries and see what may be learned.

In the technology, software specifically space, when one signs up for a service, there is routinely a trial period. This isn’t a taste of the software tool. It’s a full-on full-featured ability to use and asses the product. The only time this type of testing takes place in the spirits and wine space is when a supplier or distributor gives full bottles to general managers or bartenders for personal use and sampling. There are pretty strict laws in place for violating regulations on who gets what for free and from where it comes. Might it be possible to utilize marketing firms to give 1/2 pints or pints to select consumers as real tests of the brand? I would argue, yes, do so. The true cost of putting unmeasured liquid to lips is staggering. Spend the dollars on targeted marketing and product introduction to people who would make a true difference to the brand. Samples in throwaway cups at a store are expensive when factoring in personnel, product cost, and the total lack of effective measurement.

The “wine party at home” model. In this model, the brand supports Ambassadors with a paid model around co-hosting events in the homes and businesses of high-level contacts. These events allow the host to invite friends or colleagues and all get to learn something about the wine and the people behind it. Might more of the right people be experiencing your brands? I was a cigar guy at one point in my life. As a result of my networking in that space, the largest cigar maker/seller in the world reached out and made me their Tennessee ambassador. They delivered product monthly to me with an understanding I would share the products and host monthly events co-branding their line of cigars. What could be accomplished if your ambassador core was equipped with the ability to leverage product into paid events?

The “beer of the month” subscription model. A search of “beer of the month club” delivered 58,000,000 page results on a Google search. There are not 58 million beer of the month clubs. There are thousands. The way consumers get introduced to new things nowadays is with subscription models. What can your brand learn from successful subscription models? Perhaps a lot. Data around the who, what, when, where, and how of your customers. You know, all the things your current sampling programs don’t deliver at present.

The open bar event is a category most found in experiential sampling. This may be where a brand is sponsoring an event, a benefit, or a contest or even some ticketed event. These events may be extremely popular depending on circumstances. Brand discovery is possible in these events. The big miss by brands is the woeful lack of follow up marketing to the attendees. In almost every case this writer has ever seen there is NO relationship building with the attendees. It is ludicrous and borderline narcissistic for a brand to believe the mear presence of their brand in signage and pre-event marketing will be enough to justify the spend. Customers truly don’t give two s…ts about your brand at an open bar event. The single individual putting on the event will appreciate you but only until the next event comes around. In other words, build relationships with the customers showing up. Missed opportunity example: This writer helped coordinate a great evening for a promotion done by a globally known brand at a Nashville theater. The crowd was blown away by the experience. Attendees had registered for the event individually and the brand knew who they were and considerable detail was provided in the registration process. Once the event was over, the attendees never heard another word from the brand. This is typical.

Taking a look at other industries allows us to explore the “try it before you buy it” model from Amazon Prime. You get to order up numerous items. Try them on and see how they work. Send back the items that don’t work and buy the ones that do. How many people might end up buying your line of products if there was a riskfree way for them to experience them?

Alternative industries could include any alternative to the way your industry operates. I include sponsorships in the alternative category because I believe there are numerous ways spirits, wine, and beer brands could be sponsoring events, benefits, and complementary products and services and they are failing in the process. A successful sponsorship? Alton Lane and Elijah Craig. Through this very appropriate product placement, Elijah Craig is exposed to and sampled by men and women who are high-income earners with disposable income. They fit the desired target market. Alton Lane’s personnel make great ambassadors as they offering their clients a cocktail as they shop. Where could your brand be enhanced with the right product placement?

In this post, I’ve shared the first path of the six paths framework from Blue Ocean Strategy. If you’re interested in a discussion around the implementation of this type of work with your brand, shoot me a message or schedule a call on

Sherman G. Mohr is an Insead Certified Blue Ocean Strategy Consultant and CEO of Shared Spirits Marketing. His work also includes consulting in the CBD/Hemp and Cannabis markets.