Black Panther, the latest Marvel superhero movie, broke the billion-dollar box office mark in record time. The comic and the character has always been on the cutting edge. By taking a proven movie formula and applying it to a untapped market, the movie illustrates key elements of Blue Ocean strategy.

Blue Ocean strategy focuses on  finding new customer segments to sell to (a blue ocean) instead of fighting with competitors for current customers (a red ocean). Most startups and small businesses are extremely resource-constrained, which limits their ability to compete. So when you can't afford to compete, go instead where others aren't. Examining your current business model and evolving accordingly is exactly what Black Panther did, and following its model can offer a new venture a "first to market" status and perhaps even enough time to establish a beachhead in the new market.

Most markets are very competitive. Competitors steal each other's ideas, copy each other's value propositions and generally fight over tight margins--a red ocean. The cell phone industry is a great example. Competitors offer similar services to similar customers, which in turn puts stress on all companies to fight for market share based on costs, revenues, and margins. Each time a company launches a new innovation, offering, or strategy, another company immediately tries to that meet or beat that offer. 

For instance, once one phone company offered free calling to a circle of five friends, the other phone companies launched variations of that same solution, thereby undermining the uniqueness of the original offer, nullifying the novelty, and minimizing the competitive advantage offered. Companies continuously undermining each another's offers, innovations, and strategies creates a blood-red ocean of an industry. 

Over time, and after reviewing many implementations of Blue Ocean strategies, two paths have emerged that most leaders follow to leverage the benefits of Blue Ocean strategies.

New Customers, Old Products

In this scenario, a venture taps into new customer segments with products that have already proved successful. Black Panther fits into this category: the movie took proven action movie tropes to a new market demographic. If you are looking to expand into a new customer segment or demographic, be sure to start by selling what has already worked with your current customers. Use the real stories of your current users to entice the new customer segment.

Old Customers, New Products

Here a venture uses its deep insight into customers to test new products on current users. Deadpool, another Marvel superhero film that also shocked the world with its incredible box office results, followed this second path: it brought humor and meta-fiction to an audience already familiar with superheroes. If you are looking to expand your revenue by selling a new innovation, then start with the customers you have the deepest relationship with. Collaborate with your best customers to ensure your proposed innovation delivers on its promise.

In summary: If you are bringing a new innovation to market, focus on selling it to your current customer base. But if your startup is focusing on an underserved customer group, then focus on leveraging innovations that have already proven successful in other markets.

Two Cautions

Two key issues that have been identified in the decade since Blue Ocean strategy was coined. First, you should never try follow both paths at the same time. Never try to sell new products to new customers. Second, no ocean remains blue forever. As you prove the viability of a new market, competitors will see your gains and try to follow you into the blue ocean, eventually turning your blue ocean red.