Tuesday, October 27, 2009

SkyMall (you know you need a Spy Pen)

Founded in 1990, SkyMall originally operated as a delivery service- maintaining warehouses near to or on selected airport properties for same-day delivery of its catalog products to customers. Frequent travelers may recognize it more readily in its current form, described by their website as “a multi-channel, direct marketer offering high-quality, innovative merchandise from top direct marketers and manufacturers through its SkyMall catalog and web site.” If you’re not familiar with SkyMall, get thee to their website and check it out. You might even find something you need (who doesn’t need a cat box disguised as a potted plant or a home neck-traction system?).

As far as innovation goes, the product lines they feature (most often from other companies’ catalogs) vary widely in how innovative they are- I’ll let you judge for yourselves. (CEO Christine Aguilera believes the products they feature are innovative, as you can see in this article when she says “What is recession resistant is innovation.”) SkyMall itself, however, serves as both an innovation and a market for fermentation to occur.

According to their website, their catalog, distributed primarily in the seat-backs of airplanes, “is seen by approximately 88% of all domestic air passengers reaching more than 650 million air travelers annually." That’s a lot of potential customers viewing your product, and each and every one of those people is strapped in for the duration. This potential customer base is the source of both their ability to be a so-called “Blue Ocean” innovation and a market in which fermentation can occur.

In order to best understand how SkyMall is a Blue Ocean innovation, we have to focus not on the products they offer, but rather on the catalog itself as a part of the direct marketing industry, with product developers as its customer (buying advertising space in the magazine). Traditional direct marketing products (catalogs, “junk mail” advertisements, etc), focus on the mail as their primary distribution method. By opening up delivery to the captive audience of air travelers, SkyMall has succeeded in creating what Kim and Mauborgne refer to as a “value innovation” for its customers, and therefore creating a new and specific market within the direct marketing industry.

Likewise, they may also be providing an opportunity for product testing and ferment. In the New York Times article linked above, it is mentioned that the product selection changes with each issue of the catalog (issued four times per year). Some items, those that sell the best, may remain from issue to issue. This allows companies to expose a broad range of customers to each product they develop and judge which one sells best. Additionally, you may see similar products made by different manufacturers listed in the same catalog, which allows them to compete against one another, creating an environment hospitable to the ferment process by which potentially disruptive innovations emerge.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, I'm a dork, but I love getting into my seat and opening up the SkyMall to see what new products are available. I'm personally not a fan of the traditional direct marketing methods and standing at the mailbox with an armful of junkmail always irritates me. I think Skymall has been able to capitalize on it's captive audience, by providing innovative products in a controlled fashion. I think this magazine has tapped into a BlueOcean type strategy, as the products in Skymall always look more appealing, and keep my attention for longer given the fact that I'm en route to my destination. I've even looked it over twice out of boredom. If others are like me then the combination of personal boredom and the creative products listed seem like a combination for success in this niche market.