In this three part article, we’ve been looking at alternative approaches to formulating e-commerce strategy. Congratulations to you if you’ve read this far!

In previous articles we’ve looked at Goodwill & Utility, so in this article we look at the final approach, Innovation.

Increasing Innovation

Let’s start our journey into innovation by examining the types of assets a business can have. They are:

The Asset Matrix - assets move counter-clockwiseEntry Assets. The basic requirements to enter your industry. A website to take orders, a delivery mechanism, a way of taking payment.

Short Term Valuable Assets. Assets that you “compete” with – however because they can be imitated, they don’t stay valuable for long.

Strategic Assets. What’s unique about your business, your USP’s. In the meatspace, think of things like Zara’s spin-on-a-dime production and distribution model. It could be tangible things like a patent you have, but it’s rarely something capital (since capital assets can be easily replicated).

Asymmetric Assets. The weird things. The assets unique to your business that you haven’t figured out the value of yet.

What we’re interested in here, is innovating by creating a strategic asset.

What defines an innovative strategic asset? Well, have a look at Oren Harari’s EMBER model.

I’m not going to recreate it here, go read it lazy!

As you would have noticed from the graphic, assets can change their type. How does this happen?

Replication. Your competitors figure out how to replicate your assets
Mutilation. You mess with your strategic assets and they no longer become of use
Redundancy. You identify asymmetries that have no potential for use, and remove them from the business.
Homogenisation. Assets become so ubiquitous, they are considered part of the requirement to entry.

And the most important move….

Value Identification. You realise the potential of an asymmetric asset to become a strategic one, and invest in it.

Give me an example here!

Well, in the case of Wiltshire Farm Foods, we had two asymmetric assets that we invested in to become strategic assets.

1) Since we produce everything we sell, we had a mine of nutritional information about each dish. We then realised the value of publishing this information online, in a searchable form.

Catalogue numbers - make use of them!

2) We are, primarily a Catalogue business. Being a catalogue business seems like an oddity, until you realise that your visitors are likely to have a list of your products in front of them, and as such they don’t need to browse the site. In fact, they probably already know what they wish to buy!

In this case we developed a number of ways to assist these customers. From a simple “enter the meal number” option in our navigation, through to an entire mini-site dedicated to catalogue ordering.

Email Marketing with Tag Clouds

And in non-food land?

Well, say for example you run a fashion website, let’s call it, say,

You have a vast number of engaged, passionate visitors who live and breathe your site. They love your clothes, they consider you great value, and they adore your brand.

But you don’t know what to do with them. They are an asymmetric asset.

What you have here, is a large, untapped resource. Put them to work! A lot of sites could benefit from a Mechancial Turk.

In the mock-up on the left, is an example of an email I could receive from after abandoning my basket before purchasing, where the item has since gone out of stock. Having a community of users describe the products you sell can quickly create ( with moderation of course ) a large cloud of tags that you can use to drive the recommendations in your email marketing.

Turns out I might get a nice military style cardigan after all.

So that’s it! Well done for reading all this, no, really. Can you believe this started out as a single post?

So this year, you don’t have to constrain yourself to the traditional methods of working out your e-commerce strategy. When you’re working on your next project, as yourself the three questions:

Will it increase Goodwill?
Will it increase Utility?
Will it increase Innovation?

Now, remember to leave a comment. Preferably of the Warm Fuzzy kind…