What Is the Buyer Utility Map

Buyer utility map is a tool from the Blue Ocean Strategy that allows you to visually map out the entire buyer’s journey against certain criteria.

It “…helps to get managers thinking from a demand-side perspective [aka buyer side vs company side]. It outlines all the levers companies can pull to deliver exceptional utility to buyers as well as the various experiences buyers can have with a product or service.”

It’s composed of two axis: along the horizontal axis is the buyer experience cycle, and the along the vertical axis are the utility levers. I’ll go over this in a bit.

Here’s how it looks like…

The biggest benefit of using this tool is after completing the buyer utility map for your product/service, you will easily see areas where the industry is focusing on — and ignoring, which you can capitalize on.

“Few industries or organizations realize how many utility spaces they could explore or, on the flip side, the narrowness of their current focus.”

Blue Ocean

Here’s an example of the buyer utility map for the French fryer ActiFry.

From the image above, you can see the areas along the buyer experience where the industry is focusing on— use and customer productivity cell (the one with the O).

And if you look at the other “cells” in the map, you’d see that there are a lot of areas improvements to be made (the X’s), AND a lot more where the industry is choosing to ignore (all the blank spaces).

I’ll discuss more about this in some future posts. If you want to learn more about how to use the buyer utility map for your organization or how to implement a blue ocean strategy, let me know in the comments below.

But for now, let’s define the different components of the buyer utility map.

Two Components of the Buyer Utility Map

There are two dimensions in the buyer utility map: buyer experience cycle and the utility levers.

Buyer Experience Cycle

The Buyer Experience Cycle is “a buyer’s experience can usually be broken into a cycle of six stages, running more or less sequentially from purchase to disposal.”

These six stages are as follows:

  1. Purchase
  2. Delivery
  3. Use
  4. Supplements
  5. Maintenance
  6. Disposal

Questions to answer at each stage

  • Purchase
    • How long does it take to find the product you need?
    • Is the place of purchase attractive and accessible?
    • How secure is the transaction environment?
    • How rapidly can you make a purchase?
  • Delivery
    • How long does it take to get the product delivered?
    • How different is it to unpack and install the new product?
    • Do buyers have to arrange delivery themselves?
      • If yes, how costly and how difficult is this?
  • Use
    • Does the product require training or expert assistance?
    • Is the product easy to store when not in use?
    • How effective are the products features and functions?
    • Does the product or service deliver far more power or options than required by the average user? Is it over-charged with bells and whistles?
  • Supplements
    • Do you need other products and services to make this product work?
    • If so, how costly are they?
    • How much time do they take?
    • How much pain do they cause?
  • Maintenance
    • Does the product require external maintenance?
    • How easy is it to upgrade and maintain the product?
    • How costly is maintenance?
  • Disposal
    • Does use of the product create waste items?
    • How easy is it to dispose of the product?
    • Are there legal or environmental issues in disposing of the product safely?
    • How costly is disposal?

You probably noticed that the questions in the supplements section were the big revelation about the creation of the ActiFry.

“Do you need other products/services to make this work?”

That is the main question ActiFry sought to solve.

Fryers often require oil to cook the food. Lots of it. But by asking the question and realizing that it’s a major pain point for the normal consumer, they went back to designing a new kind of product.

Which questions strike you the most? Did you see some of the more well-known companies apply the same questions to modify their own offering? Apple, Amazon, Google?

Utility Levers

The Utility Levers are “the ways in which companies unlock utility for their customers.”

These levers are as follows:

  1. Customer Productivity
  2. Simplicity
  3. Convenience
  4. Risk
  5. Fun and Image
  6. Environmental Friendliness

Each of these levers are self-explanatory.

Questions to ask for each lever

You ask the following question for each utility lever:

“What are the biggest blocks to (insert utility lever here)?”

Most often, products/services are full of “fluff” that consumers don’t care about. This is backed by the fact that most companies fail because they don’t have a product-market fit. Meaning, what they created was technologically innovative but doesn’t add real value to consumers.

Remember, value innovation is not the same as technology innovation.

So, What Are You Going to Do Next

The main goal of going through the buyer utility map is to determine if your offering genuinely create new and exceptional utility.

If your offering doesn’t eliminate these blocks for customers and non customers, chances are, your offering is innovation for innovation’s sake or a revision of existing offers.

Now that you’ve learned the basics of the buyer utility map, it’s now time for you to take advantage of this tool so you can get ahead of your competition.

Complete the buyer utility map for your product or industry. Once you’re done, with that, you’ll be able to see where the industry is focusing on — what you and your competitors are investing heavily on.

Once you realized how much of the buyer experience cycle or the utility levers the industry is taking for granted, you can use this knowledge to address those gaps. You can either develop an entirely new offering or use that to upgrade your existing offering.

Have you ever tried using the buyer utility map before? Or need help completing the map for your company? I’d love to help. Let me know in the comments below.

Also published on Medium.

Ariel Lim

Management consultant / MBA / Inbound marketer who helps startups generate leads, create and execute strategies.