Only recently have business thinkers come to identify business models as a locus of innovation. In past eras, a business model was synonymous with monetization: how businesses generated revenue from customers. The concept of a business model came from the logic of goods and services: design and sell what the customer wants to buy.
Today, such a direct route to revenue is less assured. Famously, Google offers the world a search engine which is much used and generates no direct revenue. Revenue comes from advertising, which is an indirect property of search, and wasn’t even included in Google’s original proposition..
Today, as entirely new fields of business begin to open up, such as the unprecedented scope of service systems enabled by the connected devices and information streams of the Internet Of Things, a new breed of business models is about to emerge. How will businesses think about designing them?
The breakthrough paper by Professors Per Bylund and Mark Packard, Subjective Value In Entrepreneurship, gives the answer: business models will be designed through a subjectivist lens.
What exactly is entailed in subjectivist design? First comes the understanding and deep internalization of the concept of subjective value. Value is a feeling that comes from experience. For the consumer or customer, value is a learning process with clearly identifiable stages. Customers first encounter a value proposition from a potential provider of service, and must decide whether or not the proposition suggests a possibility of a valuable experience. If not, they’ll ignore it. If yes, they’ll go on to make a relative assessment of the potential value compared to available alternatives. Those alternatives may be similar services with a different mix of attributes, including price. Or the alternative might be an offering in an entirely different commercial space, in the case where the customer feels that, from a total expenditure perspective, they can only make one purchase and not two. Or the alternative might be doing nothing, and keeping money in the wallet for some future buying occasion.
If the purchase does take place, the value process is still nowhere near complete. It continues for several more stages. The buyer consumes the product or service (perhaps once or perhaps on several occasions or over time), noticing a usage experience as they do so. After the fact, they evaluate the experience, compared to what they anticipated and compared to what they perceive may be an alternative future or replacement experience. The customer now has new experiential knowledge to use the next time a value proposition is made to them.
The important mindset change for business model designers is to fully understand that all value is subjective. They are designing an experience for another mind, that of the customer. The method to use is Value Mapping.
Value mapping is the route to sound business models because it reflects the customer’s value learning process. There are 4 phases of value mapping for business model innovation, and together they compose the design of a desirable experience for the customer.
Value Experience Monitoring
Value Agility and Adaptiveness
What new experiences are possible for the customer? Which of them are more desirable? How can we know, given that customers have never experienced them before? Value conceptualization is the empathic phase of business model design. The customer, at every point in time, is in a mindset that can be described in the phrase, “Things could be better if…..” They are not necessarily precise in this expression of dissatisfaction. And they can’t tell the business model designer exactly what new and better experience they are seeking. They’ll know it when they feel it. Therefore, the first lines drawn on the value map are imaginary lines. The business model designer uses imagination – tries to imagine what positive emotions of satisfaction the customer might feel in the future if their wishful thinking for things to be better were fulfilled. Designers must place themselves inside the mental model of the customer, see things and feel experiences as customers might see and feel them, and then run a new experience “script” through that mental model, and project what the resultant feeling might be. That takes a lot of imagination.
The imagination may even be expanded further, to begin framing new experiences for employees who might work on the new initiative, and for partners who might join a future value network. Perhaps there is potential new value for the community in which a new venture is to be embedded, and perhaps also for the environment. The aim at this first stage is to map as big a value pool as possible.
Since it’s unlikely that the designer will get it exactly right, it’s necessary to develop many imagined experiences and find ways for customers to give input as to whether the design is going in the right direction and nearing some kind of level of evaluation where the customer gives a “Yes” to the question of whether they perceive any value potential at all. At this point, the designer has made it to the first threshold.
To reach the next threshold, the business model designer must identify all the resources, functions and capabilities necessary to bring the potential value experience to the point at which the customer can purchase. This is a reverse design process. The designer imagines the experience the customer will have in great detail, then works backward to identify every detail of what it will take to deliver it. This requires systems thinking. What is the system, in all its detail, that is required for perfect experience delivery? Not just the final product or final service, but the assembly of all components and elements, a supply chain, a network of partners, a back room, a service capability, a sales and marketing capacity. Every item at every stage must be designed and assembled so that the value proposition can be delivered without fault on every occasion.
It’s a kind of value engineering. All the necessary parts must be in place, connected in the right way, all fully functioning and enabling all other parts, sub-systems and the system as a whole to function perfectly to bring potential value to the customer without any barriers or undue work required on their part.
At this point, the customer buys or does not buy. The act of exchange – the customer exchanging money and other resources such as time – is often seen as the moment of value creation. If the revenue flows, it’s an indication of value realized. But this is wrong. Think back to the Google search service example. The exchange takes place when the customer types into the search bar, expressing the belief that a knowledge gap they feel can be filled by the service. When they receive a response and feel that their expectation was fulfilled, that is when value is created. No money changes hands. Nor is it merely a time-shifting of a revenue commitment, such as when a customer visits a doctor for a health consultation, knowing that there will be a bill for somebody to pay in the future as part of the health care payment system.
The exchange, whether accompanied by payment or not, is the pivot from the first half of the value map, conceptualization and facilitation, to the second half of the map.
Value Experience and Value Monitoring
The customer now has ownership or control of the value proposition – the product, service or relationship from which they feel they will gain a valuable experience. The actual value comes in consumption, but it’s not value-in-use but value-in-experience. It’s a 2-step process on the customer’s part: consume then evaluate. Use the product or service, note the real-time experience and then stand back and appraise that experience. Did it feel as satisfying as expected, or as desired? How did it measure up to other comparable experiences? How does it stack up against future experiences promised by competitors?
The service provider’s role at this stage is monitoring, and, if possible, measuring. In the value facilitation phase, the provider did everything possible to get to the point of exchange, and put the service in the customer’s hands. Now it is time to observe. In some cases, there might be the opportunity to interact, if the customer calls a service center or uses a service chatbot, but these interactions are more accurately part of the customer’s consumption than their value experience. They become part of the experience later.
The provider’s business model design should include the capacity for experience monitoring. This could be ethnographic observation. It could be real-time analysis of web usage patterns from which judgments of experiential feelings can be made (an abandoned shopping cart, for example, might be indicative of frustration with the checkout process). We are promised sentiment analysis in the future: real-time measurement of how the customer feels during consumption, via mood sensors or other devices. This will be a great development for business model designers, making the value monitoring phase speedier and better informed.
And if the Phase 1 value map identified potential new value for employers, partners, communities and the environment, the business model must also build-in monitoring and measurement for these value holders, so that the keeping of any value promises made to them can be ratified.
The complete value cycle takes time to unfold, and the world is changing as it does. The customer is acquiring new knowledge, both from the current exchange and experience, and from multiple other experiences occurring in the same time frame, both of their own and those of others whom they can observe. Prices are changing, the competition is changing, and service options and possibilities are changing. The service system is in continuous flux and change.
That’s why this phase of the business model is referred to as value agility. The service provider is receiving feedback from customers, new information from the marketplace and competitors, suggestions from employees, and new environmental data. In response, they are developing new ideas for improved value propositions, and news of these improvements needs to reach customers before they defect or identify better alternatives. The business model designer must build in this agility and flexibility. Nothing in the capital stack or the corporate procedures or systems or in business model execution can be so fixed as to prevent agility or even slow it down.
How does a business model designer build-in agility? It requires an appreciation of capital flexibility, of capital as a process rather than as a balance sheet entry. It requires organizational empowerment, so that the first receivers of input from customers are empowered to put it to work in those parts of the organizational structure that can make most use of it. It requires an embrace of change as the operating norm rather than as a complication to be resisted.
The Value Cycle
The four stages of the value cycle – conceptualizing, facilitating, monitoring experience and agility in response to feedback – are brought together in contemporary business model design. Revenue and profit emerge for the participants and partners in the value network, but they are not measures of business model effectiveness. That role belongs to value.