Comparative Strategic Analyses: Select a competitor to the organization you analyzed in Unit Six. Provide a written comparative strategic analysis of the two organizations with regard to the following: Product/brand/service portfolios Pricing strategies

CircleMapping1
 

Comparative Strategic Analyses:  Select a competitor to the organization you analyzed in Unit Six. Provide a written comparative strategic analysis of the two organizations with regard to the following:

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  • Product/brand/service portfolios
  • Pricing strategies
  • Distribution channels and major channel partners
  • Marketing communications; major communication channels; core promotional messages
  • Major strengths and weaknesses regarding 4 Ps
  • Degree of innovativeness and factors driving innovativeness

Can you explain the relative market performance of these organizations based on the results of your analysis? What are the takeaways? What did you learn about the industry? What does it take to be successful in this industry? Were you able to identify any unserved gaps in the market?

0007-6813/$ — see front matter # 2017 Kelley School of Business, Indiana University. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bushor.2017.11.010

Copyright 2017 by Kelley School of Business, Indiana University. For reprints, call HBS Publishing at (800) 545-7685. BH888

Business Horizons (2018) 61, 285—296

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  • Circle mapping your firm’s growth strategy
  • Vincent Bruni-Bossio *, Norman T. Sheehan, Chelsea R. Willness

    Edwards School of Business, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon SK S7N 5A7, Canada

    * Corresponding author
    E-mail addresses: bruni-bossio@edwards.usask.ca

    (V. Bruni-Bossio), sheehan@edwards.usask.ca (N.T. Sheehan),
    willness@edwards.usask.ca (C.R. Willness)

    KEYWORDS
    Growth strategy;
    Knowledge
    visualization;
    Value proposition;
    Customer segments;
    Resources and
    capabilities

    Abstract This article offers an innovative graphical approach to facilitating an
    interactive discussion about identifying and assessing potential growth opportu-
    nities. Our approach, circle mapping, visually conceptualizes growth as occupying
    space, where market space is defined by a set of concentric circles. The circle
    presently occupied by the firm is defined by its current set of customers and the value
    proposition offered to them, while the outer concentric circles represent growth
    opportunities that are defined by new customers and value propositions. The process
    of circle mapping prompts leadership teams to formulate a growth strategy by
    visually mapping the value proposition for future customers in relation to the firm’s
    capacity to access the resources and capabilities needed to successfully occupy those
    spaces. The model allows leaders to conceptualize growth strategies, such as
    leveraging success in one circle to target consumers in another. It can also allow
    leaders to evaluate the rewards and risks associated with different growth oppor-
    tunities, while the visual aspect of the model assists with overcoming some common
    challenges of applying strategy frameworks to develop new strategies. By having
    leaders visually depict and justify where and why they want to grow, circle mapping
    helps firms conceptualize a profitable future and then confidently move toward that
    space.
    # 2017 Kelley School of Business, Indiana University. Published by Elsevier Inc. All
    rights reserved.

    1. Visualizing growth strategies

    Developing effective growth options for a firm
    is difficult due to the information overload
    associated with evaluating multiple options in

    today’s competitive environment. Generating
    growth strategies involves simultaneously being
    aware of multiple environmental factors and
    trends, competitors, customer value propositions,
    government regulations, etc. The ability to inte-
    grate these into profitable strategy is a daunting
    task for many leaders (Eppler & Platts, 2009). In our
    experience, leaders struggle to assimilate the in-
    formation needed to generate growth options that
    successfully exploit the company’s resources and
    capabilities. This discussion is further complicated D

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    286 V. Bruni-Bossio et al.

    as leaders are typically given large amounts of data
    derived from various strategy frameworks. We
    have witnessed leaders struggling to cope with
    information overload, watching them satisfice by
    only focusing on what they understand. This
    typically results in incremental improvements
    to the firm’s current strategy because it is easier
    to formulate and explain small changes than to
    conceptualize and explain how the firm’s resources
    and capabilities may be leveraged to generate
    growth in tomorrow’s markets.

    To address the challenges of generating
    profitable growth options, we turned to the
    writings by Sun Tzu in The Art of War on occupying
    space. Unlike conventional military strategists,
    Sun Tzu avoided direct confrontation with
    enemies because such confrontations are often
    unpredictable and may result in potentially
    damaging losses. Instead, Sun Tzu promoted the
    idea of overtaking enemies by occupying the
    space around them through a series of small wins
    (Sun Tzu, 1910/2005). By combining Sun Tzu’s
    ideas with the literature on value propositions,
    we developed a conceptual growth-mapping tool
    called circle mapping. Growth in circle mapping is
    not about defeating competitors but rather
    identifying attractive spaces to occupy, where
    the space is defined in terms of new value
    propositions and/or new customers. While Sun
    Tzu speaks of tactically beating back the enemy
    to occupy geographical space, in business we speak
    of beating rivals to occupy the cognitive space of
    target customers. Circle mapping is a visual tool
    that simplifies the ideation process for senior
    management teams when thinking about future
    spaces so that they can develop effective growth
    options. Research shows that visual mapping tools
    lead to generation of higher-quality alternatives
    by mitigating the cognitive and social challenges
    faced by teams of senior leaders, as well as
    enhancing buy-in to the growth strategy that is
    ultimately selected (Eppler & Platts, 2009).

    Currently, leaders and practitioners attempting
    to generate growth opportunities use several well-
    known, traditional strategic frameworks to analyze
    their firm’s external environment (e.g., Porter’s
    Five Forces (Porter, 2008), PESTEL (Aguilar, 1967))
    and internal environment (e.g., resource-based
    view (Barney, 1991), value chain analysis (Porter,
    1985)). While these existing frameworks are effec-
    tive for scanning the firm’s internal and external
    landscape, they can be enhanced by using a tool
    that helps to identify growth opportunities. A key
    strength of circle mapping is that it is a strategy
    development tool that builds on and complements
    tools like PESTEL, Porter’s Five Forces, VRIO, and

    value chain analysis, which are strategy analysis
    frameworks.

    By breaking down the analysis of the firm’s
    environment into smaller, manageable parts, tradi-
    tional strategy frameworks help leaders generate
    lists of relevant factors to consider when developing
    a strategy. These frameworks provide the data
    needed to develop effective strategies, but we
    argue this data needs to be placed in a visual tool
    to enable an effective discussion of growth options.
    As we later describe, when leaders use circle map-
    ping to draw concentric circles beyond the one they
    currently occupy, they are building and testing new
    growth strategies with their senior leadership team.

    In the sections that follow, we briefly discuss the
    concept of growth through space and the need to
    link value propositions to the firm’s resources and
    capabilities to create an effective growth strategy.
    We then describe how circle mapping works and why
    it works in terms of leveraging key principles of
    strategy and space, and the benefits of using
    knowledge visualization to conceptually map the
    firm’s growth possibilities. Last, we offer steps for
    applying circle mapping and illustrate with a case
    example from practice. For each step, we also
    provide guiding questions to facilitate the
    leadership team’s progression through the circle
    mapping process.

    2. Circle mapping origins

    2.1. The principle of occupying space

    The idea of occupying space can be traced to early
    Chinese military writings by Sun Tzu (1910/2005) in
    The Art of War. Sun Tzu advocates for winning
    through a series of small encounters with the overall
    goal of occupying space, rather than conquering
    the enemy through one decisive battle. Sun Tzu’s
    idea directly aligns with the Chinese game called
    Go. The objective of Go is to tactically place stones
    on the board with the purpose of occupying as
    much space as possible (Lai, 2004). In contrast,
    traditional Western thinking tends to view warfare
    and strategy like a chess game (Lai, 2004) in which
    the goal is to take out as many opponents as possible
    while moving forward. The idea of occupying space
    is a change in mindset for many senior management
    teams that typically follow a chess-like logic of
    attacking competitors head-on, rather than
    following the logic espoused by Sun Tzu and used
    in the game of Go.

    We analogize Sun Tzu’s concept of fighting for
    geographic space that is occupied by enemy troops
    to businesses fighting for customers’ cognitive D

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    287 Circle mapping your firm’s growth strategy

    space that is occupied by rival offerings. Both
    conceptions of space are fluid. The geographic
    space shifts as the enemy moves and repositions
    its troops, and the customers’ cognitive space shifts
    due to changes in technology and rivals’ actions. In
    business, firms enter consumers’ cognitive space by
    offering a value proposition that includes the
    attributes desired by consumers and must compete
    with rivals offering similar value propositions.
    Customers’ perceptions of the rival offerings
    ultimately shape their decisions about which
    offering they will purchase.

    Sun Tzu’s concept of space empowers CEOs to
    move beyond the idea that growth strategy involves
    moving from the current situation to a defined
    future target, as shown in Figure 1A. We argue that
    successful strategies should include multiple
    pathways to growth, while recognizing that these
    opportunities can only occur if CEOs have a tool that
    encourages a discussion of a full range of options.
    Applying Sun Tzu’s ideas to business prompts
    leaders to view growth as a series of smaller
    conquests, following any number of pathways to
    occupy new customer spaces, as shown in Figure 1B,
    rather than assuming that a company should move
    straight to their future target (Figure 1A).

    To illustrate the concept of growth using multiple
    pathways, we offer the example of 3twenty Modu-
    lar, a company that started in 2009 with the idea of
    building modular houses and offices out of used
    shipping containers. Offering modular construction
    allowed the company to compete on the basis of
    lower price, delivery speed, customization, porta-
    bility, and durability. The founders’ ultimate goal
    when they started the firm1 was to build residential
    units; however, they quickly discovered that the
    residential housing industry was too competitive
    so they focused instead on building work camps
    for the mining sector. The decision to supply modu-
    lar housing to the mining, oil, and gas industries was
    triggered by a customer looking for specific value
    proposition attributes (i.e., portable housing that is
    customizable, inexpensive, and durable).

    In 2012, the company diversified its revenue
    stream when it started a rental division to lease
    office trailers and car washes at construction sites.
    Then, in 2013, 3twenty Modular won a major con-
    tract to create large-scale barracks for a Canadian
    military base, which expanded the size of the work
    camps it traditionally supplied to exploration camps

    1 Based on statements by the founders (McCrea & Willoughby,
    2017) in a public presentation about the origin and growth of
    their firm, as well as company information available on their
    website: https://www.3twenty.ca/

    Figure 1A. Conventional approach to growth strategy

    Figure 1B. Occupying new customer spaces

    and mining sites. In 2014, the firm shifted to
    building modular office buildings, portable school
    classrooms, and smaller residential units such as
    cabins. By 2016, non-shipping container work
    accounted for 67% of sales with recurring revenue
    from over 100 rental office trailers and car washes.
    By early 2017, the company was poised to expand
    into full residential housing, thus realizing its origi-
    nal goal using multiple pathways. 3twenty Modular
    achieved its original goal only because it followed a
    process of growing through multiple customer
    spaces. If 3twenty Modular had focused solely on
    targeting the residential housing market space, the
    company most likely would have failed (Figure 2).

    Circle mapping offers leaders the ability to map a
    series of concentric circles where each circle
    defines different sets of attributes that make up
    the value proposition of future customers. Since the
    concept of occupying space involves expanding out-
    ward in any direction, circle mapping offers new
    opportunities to compete against current and fu-
    ture competitors. The above example demonstrates
    that growth between circles typically progresses by
    the introduction of new offerings (e.g., modular
    housing led to demand for rentals and then a full-
    scale modular work camp). Consumers’ cognitive
    spaces can overlap, which creates opportunity for a
    value proposition that may appeal to another set of D

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    288 V. Bruni-Bossio et al.

    Figure 2. Circle maps for 3twenty Modular

    customers (e.g., the attributes of customization,
    durability, and low cost also appeal to buyers of
    modular offices and portable school classrooms).
    This raises the possibility of leveraging resources
    and capabilities to grow from one consumer space
    to another, which we discuss in Section 2.2.

    2.2. Aligning resources and capabilities to
    deliver value propositions

    To successfully deliver a value proposition, leaders
    must identify the attributes of a compelling value
    proposition that are specifically targeted at a size-
    able group of customers who desire them. Leaders
    must also ensure the firm has access to the requisite
    resources (e.g., property, equipment, people,
    financial) and capabilities (e.g., marketing, recruit-
    ing, negotiating) needed to deliver these attributes
    reliably. If any of these components are missing, the
    firm will either fail to deliver the value proposition
    or it will deliver a value proposition that is not
    relevant to the customer segment targeted. Align-
    ment is critical. For example, a firm can have
    resources and capabilities to deliver a value propo-
    sition, but not enough customers who are interested
    in the value proposition. Similarly, if a firm designs a
    value proposition for a group of customers that is
    interested but it lacks the resources and capabili-
    ties to deliver the value proposition, it will again fail
    in its strategy. Success is dependent on alignment
    between attributes of the value proposition for a
    customer group, as well as the firm possessing and
    mobilizing the necessary resources and capabilities.

    Our approach draws on the value proposition
    literature that defines value propositions in terms

    of the key attributes of a product or service that
    drive customer purchases (Lancaster, 1966; see also
    Kim & Mauborgne, 2005). The attributes of a value
    proposition can be functional (e.g., product
    quality) or emotional (e.g., prestige). Separating
    value propositions into their individual attributes is
    useful for assessing whether the firm can access
    the specific resources and capabilities needed to
    deliver each attribute of the new value proposition.

    To understand how forecasting the attributes of
    future value propositions can assist leaders to stra-
    tegically allocate a firm’s future resources and
    capabilities for growth, consider the example of a
    customer who buys a car from a dealership rather
    than a private seller. Customers who prefer shop-
    ping at a dealership may do so because they value
    the interaction with the dealer’s sales staff, the
    ability to test drive the vehicle, and the potential to
    obtain financing, warranties, and service–— these
    are all attributes of the dealer’s customer value
    proposition. Understanding which of these attrib-
    utes this segment of customers values most will
    assist the dealership in understanding how to
    allocate its resources and capabilities. Is it advan-
    tageous for the dealer to invest more in training
    high-level sales staff, or should it provide different
    financing options? Customers who value the
    relationship with sales staff may be very different
    from customers who see financing as a critical part
    of the deal.

    2.3. How circle mapping was developed

    We developed circle mapping to meet specific
    business challenges around growth through a series
    of consulting engagements in for-profit, nonprofit,
    economic development, and public sector organiza-
    tions over a period of 5 years. It emerged because
    we discovered that conventional approaches to
    strategic analysis, which typically analyze the
    current state of the firm’s internal and external
    landscape, can be enhanced with a visual tool that
    can synthesize information for discussing growth
    opportunities. To examine its resonance and effec-
    tiveness, we used a case-based approach of creating
    meaning by listening to participants’ descriptions of
    their reality and observing their actions (Baxter &
    Jack, 2008; see also Lather, 1992). This provides
    practical, concrete knowledge that retains a
    nuanced depiction of a reality (Flyvbjerg, 2006).

    In the initial stages of its refinement and testing,
    circle mapping received very positive feedback
    from senior managers and directors because it
    was visual, easy to understand, and promoted
    an in-depth discussion of growth opportunities.
    Managers also felt that conceptualizing growth by D

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    289 Circle mapping your firm’s growth strategy

    comparing future value propositions with needed
    resources and capabilities promoted an intuitive
    understanding of what was required to grow
    successfully. Through practice, we revised the
    framework to articulate the concentric logic to best
    elicit effective discussions for planning a growth
    strategy, and subsequently streamlined the identi-
    fiers of each circle (e.g., current customers, next
    customers, and future growth customers) to reflect
    this progression. Figure 3 shows the relationship
    between each circle and the progression.

    3. Elements of circle mapping: The
    three circles

    3.1. The first circle: Current customers

    The process of circle mapping examines the feasi-
    bility of growth by delineating a set of concentric
    circles that are each defined by different value
    propositions. The first circle identifies the current
    customers as those the firm is already successfully
    targeting with its current value proposition using
    existing resources and capabilities. The mapping
    process requires that a firm articulate the specific
    attributes of a value proposition offered to the
    customers in this circle, and the current resources
    and capabilities used to deliver this value proposi-
    tion. Returning to the car dealership example,
    current customers would be those who prefer a
    value proposition that includes attributes such as
    interacting with a sales person, test driving the car,
    negotiating, consulting on financing options, and
    driving home with a new vehicle.

    3.2. The second circle: Next customers

    The circle mapping process then identifies the next
    customers as those who desire a value proposition
    similar to that being offered to the current customer

    but with meaningful differences in the level and/or
    type of attributes. For the car dealership, this
    might include those customers who want to research
    vehicle options and prices online, but still prefer to
    test drive the car and speak with a sales person
    face-to-face. In assessing this circle, the dealership
    must assess whether it has the online capabilities to
    meet this demand and whether investing in these
    capabilities is worth the return these potential (next)
    customers might bring. In recent years, many car
    companies have tried to attract this type of customer
    with website capabilities that allow customization
    of vehicle orders with particular specifications and
    add-on features (e.g., Toyota’s build and price
    interface).

    3.3. Outer circles: Future growth
    customers

    Circle mapping identifies future growth customers
    as those desiring a value proposition that requires
    significant adaptation or addition to the firm’s
    current set of resources and capabilities in order
    to deliver this new customer value proposition.
    Entering this circle represents a significant
    investment in resources, but may also yield
    significant rewards. The car dealership may want
    to offer electric or hydrogen fuel cell cars, which
    include a value proposition that is related to,
    but different from, conventional fuel-powered
    vehicles. Movement to this circle would require
    updating the dealership’s parts and service
    capabilities, changes to marketing and communi-
    cations with customers, and potentially new
    salespeople who understand the product. The
    company may also need to provide after-purchase
    assistance beyond what is needed for a traditional
    car, or lobby the government to provide abundant
    vehicle charging/fueling stations and tax relief
    when purchasing electric/hydrogen vehicles. Again,
    the dealer would need to assess the risk and return

    Figure 3. Circle maps of current, next, and future growth customers

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    290 V. Bruni-Bossio et al.

    of allocating resources and capabilities to this
    emerging customer segment.

    4. Benefits of circle mapping

    By asking leaders to conceptualize growth as
    occupying space, circle mapping promotes a
    strategic discussion of how to adapt a firm’s
    business to offer new value propositions to new
    target customers. Conventionally, a growth strategy
    to enter new markets involves offering new
    products to existing customers (i.e., market
    development) or new products to new customers
    (i.e., diversification) (Ansoff, 1965). Inherent in this
    type of growth strategy is the need to expand a
    firm’s core business to target the needs of new
    customer segments (Zook & Allen, 2003). Circle
    mapping assists leaders with strategy formulation
    by visually prompting a discussion of the different
    pathways toward which resources and capabilities
    can be directed to deliver future value propositions.
    Below we outline how knowledge visualization is
    integral to overcoming cognitive blinders and other
    challenges faced by leaders when discussing
    strategy. We also provide an explanation for how
    aligning resources and capabilities to occupy a
    future space assists leaders engaged in the process
    of growth strategy formulation. The overall result is
    that circle mapping stimulates an interactive
    discussion about strategic options in terms of their
    desirability, feasibility, riskiness, and profitability.

    4.1. Leveraging knowledge visualization
    with circle mapping

    The strategy development process can be plagued
    by information overload (Eppler & Platts, 2009) as
    leaders must simultaneously assess their resources
    and capabilities, macro trends, rivals’ strategies,
    performance data, and more. Eppler and Platts
    (2009) identify three specific types of challenges
    that occur in the strategic planning process:
    cognitive challenges (i.e., how managers think
    about strategy), social challenges (i.e., the need
    to communicate and coordinate strategy in
    organizations that involve complex networks and
    perspectives), and emotional challenges (i.e., the
    struggle to motivate people at different levels and
    ensure engagement throughout the organization).

    Ultimately, strategy tools need to provide
    decision-relevant information that can be “ sampled,
    retrieved, and integrated” (Oppenheimer & Kelso,
    2015, p. 283). Knowledge visualization improves
    the effectiveness of strategy tools as it enhances

    the ability to “ create, assess, reference or transfer
    insights, experiences, attitudes, values, expecta-
    tions, perspectives, opinions, and predictions”
    (Eppler & Burkhard, 2007, pp. 112— 113). Knowledge
    visualization assists with the creation of new and
    innovative ideas, and can be particularly useful in
    strategy because it enables recall, reconstruction,
    and application of information (Eppler & Burkhard,
    2007).

    Using knowledge visualization in a group
    process can be enhanced by using templates and
    sketches (Eppler, Hoffmann, & Bresciani, 2011;
    Suthers, 2001). Eppler and Platts (2009, pp. 44)
    demonstrate that visual representation of data is
    superior to verbal or written data for overcoming
    “ paralyses by analyses” and evaluation biases,
    and it can also increase participants’ creativity.
    This is supported by research showing that
    teams using a combination of visual sketches
    with other tools are particularly effective in
    achieving a higher level of objectivity and creativity
    (Eppler et al., 2011).

    Circle mapping exemplifies knowledge visualiza-
    tion by integrating multiple levels of knowledge in a
    graphic–— essentially creating what Eppler and
    Platts (2009) describe as a conceptual map–— that
    enables complex transfers of nuanced information
    (Eppler & Burkhard, 2007). As a method of knowl-
    edge visualization, circle mapping mitigates the
    cognitive challenges of strategy by encouraging
    leaders to jointly create a visual articulation of
    their future strategy. Leaders use a discussion for-
    mat to both identify value propositions in each
    circle and the resources and capabilities needed
    to occupy each circle. This places leaders and their
    executive teams in the active role of developing the
    visual frame, which enhances creativity and buy-in
    across the team.

    Circle mapping can also help to address social
    challenges, including divergent views, incomplete
    communication, and difficulty coordinating action
    steps (Eppler & Platts, 2009). By facilitating a
    discussion of possible future growth strategies,
    circle mapping provides a platform for fleshing
    out different perspectives and arriving at mutual
    understanding of both the future challenges
    and the possible strategies–— all of which are
    demonstrated benefits of conceptual maps
    (Eppler & Platts, 2009). For so-called emotional
    challenges or issues of employee engagement,
    circle mapping provides a more active platform
    for engaging multiple stakeholders in the strategy
    development process, and creates a visual
    representation of the strategy that is both
    informational and motivational (Eppler & Platts,
    2009). D

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    291 Circle mapping your firm’s growth strategy

    4.2. Strategic advantages of aligning
    strategy and space

    Traditionally, the customer value proposition has
    been considered an exchange of value between
    a firm and its targeted customers for a price
    (Anderson & Narus, 1998). A company’s growth
    strategy involves developing compelling value
    propositions that are attractive to customer
    segments in future market spaces. The concept of
    circle mapping evolves this thinking to align with a
    service-dominant logic, where customers decide if
    they desire the offering (Vargo, Maglio, & Akaka,
    2008). This changes a leader’s perspective from
    “Here is our product, will customers buy it?” to
    “What do our customers need and can we provide
    it?” In order to successfully develop compelling
    value propositions for a future market, circle map-
    ping combines customer centricity (Sheth, Sisodia,
    & Sharma, 2000) with a market-driven approach
    whereby companies define the space they are en-
    tering in terms of meeting the customers’ needs
    with the firm’s new value propositions (Gnecchi,
    2009). A value proposition delivery system outlines
    the resources and capabilities needed to efficiently
    and effectively create value for customers (Vargo
    et al., 2008). Circle mapping expands on this by
    incorporating the notion of adapting resources and
    capabilities to meet the value expectations of the
    customers targeted within the new market space.
    This component answers a vital question: “Can we
    provide it?”

    The process of circle mapping ensures that the
    decision to target future customers involves a
    strategic assessment by leaders of how well the
    firm can align or adapt resources and capabilities
    to meet the expectations of these future custom-
    ers. This requires forecasting both the future needs
    of customers and the future resources and capabili-
    ties of a firm to profitably meet those needs. The
    resource-based view (RBV) assesses the company’s
    resources and capabilities relative to those of
    current competitors to determine whether a
    competitive advantage exists (Barney, 1991). The
    RBV does not assess, however, whether the firm’s
    resources and capabilities would be successful in
    new market spaces (Priem & Butler, 2001). Circle
    mapping extends RBV by asking whether the
    firm’s current resources and capabilities can be
    leveraged to produce new value propositions to
    serve customers in new circles.

    A common framework to identify growth
    opportunities using value propositions is Kim and
    Mauborgne’s (2005) Blue Ocean Strategy. The goal
    of Blue Ocean Strategy is to make the competition
    irrelevant by using visual tools, such as a strategy

    canvas, as part of a four-step process to identify
    new or revised versions of products/services that
    can be introduced into markets where there are not
    any direct rivals. Circle mapping extends Blue
    Ocean Strategy in three ways:

    1. Blue Ocean Strategy only focuses on competing
    where there are no competitors, while circle
    mapping allows managers to consider entering
    market spaces where there are competitors.

    2. It addresses a critique by Kraaijenbrink (2012),
    who argues that Blue Ocean Strategy encourages
    managers to ‘swim too far’ and misjudge their
    firm’s strengths or weaknesses as represented by
    the current set of resources and capabilities.
    Circle mapping addresses this shortcoming by
    evaluating the ability of the firm’s resources
    and capabilities to deliver new value proposi-
    tions.

    3. We have found that circle mapping is easier to
    explain and use with leaders than Blue Ocean’s
    four-step process.

    By prompting the assessment of how a firm’s future
    resources and capabilities can be leveraged strate-
    gically over time to successfully deliver new value
    propositions, circle mapping provides a roadmap
    for growth. Firm resources, such as specialized
    knowledge, patents, and manufacturing plants,
    along with capabilities such as communications
    and marketing, can all be leveraged from one circle
    to focus on targeting new customers in the next
    circle. Circle mapping enables an intuitive compar-
    ison of the firm’s current situation with its future
    aspirations, which further promotes discussion of
    the various options for achieving long-term growth
    and the associated risks. The visual cost-benefit
    analysis demonstrates that the greater rewards
    associated with movement into the outer circles
    also come with the cost of committing more re-
    sources and capabilities. This discussion highlights
    the firm’s readiness for growth by reflecting on
    different strategic options and determining
    whether allocation of resources to a specific
    circle offers a strategic platform to compare the
    cost-benefit of each proposed growth option.

    5. Circle mapping steps: How to use
    this tool

    We outline a step-by-step approach to circle
    mapping using an example from a small consulting
    firm. Although the firm had developed a good D

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    292 V. Bruni-Bossio et al.

    reputation for providing training and consulting
    services to local businesses and organizations, it
    wanted to significantly grow its revenues. Circle
    mapping was used by the firm’s leaders to create
    a growth strategy to increase revenues and
    profitability by selling a greater proportion of
    high-margin consulting services (see Figure 4).
    For each step below, we describe the circle mapping
    process and outline how circle mapping was applied
    to generate growth effectively in the consulting
    firm. We then provide guiding questions that leaders
    may use to facilitate a discussion through each step.

    5.1. Step 1: Determine value propositions
    of different customer circles

    The first step of circle mapping involves preparing
    the leadership team to think differently about
    strategic growth. Rather than using goals and
    targets to represent future growth and asking
    managers to achieve these, circle mapping offers
    a visual and spatial frame to ignite a discussion of
    growth options. To achieve this, the leadership
    team first needs to define the value propositions
    offered to current and future customers. In our
    consulting work, we have found that leaders are
    an ideal source to identify the value propositions
    and customers in the circles because, as experts,
    they can ask and answer significant questions: Who
    are the right customers to target and what
    attributes do these customers want? Once the
    current and future customers and their associated
    value propositions are identified, they should be
    placed onto the circle map. The future customers

    and value propositions that are characterized by
    greater rewards (offering better returns with higher
    risk) should be placed in the outer circle(s). Each
    circle should also include a label. Since a firm’s
    leadership team has its own understanding of the
    industry in which it operates, it is best suited to
    assign meaningful labels to customer types that are
    relevant to their industry. Consumer data and
    industry experts can assist leaders in determining
    the attributes of value propositions for current
    customer groups while forecasting tools, such as
    a strategy canvas (Kim & Mauborgne, 2005) or stra-
    tegic value curve analysis (Sheehan & Bruni-Bossio,
    2015) can assist with developing future value
    propositions (see Table 1 for questions that can
    guide the team through Step 1).

    In our case example, during Step 1 of the process,
    the leaders of the consulting firm determined
    the value proposition (current and future) for
    customers in each circle and placed them according
    to their current and potential rewards. The circle
    map developed for the company included labeling
    each type of customer with a title that made sense
    to the leaders illustrating a progression of rewards
    (shown in Figure 4).

    Figure 4. Circle maps for consulting firm

    5.2. Step 2: Identify future resources and
    capabilities needed to deliver future
    value propositions

    Step 1 concludes with a visual representation of the
    firm’s current and future value propositions and
    customers, and the team must now determine what
    is needed to deliver the value proposition to these
    customers and whether the firm is capable of
    delivering it. To do this, the firm’s leaders must
    discern whether the current resources and capabil-
    ities can be adapted to deliver the attributes of the
    new value proposition in an outer circle. This should
    also involve a discussion around feasibility and the
    trade-offs of targeting one circle over another.
    Using the circle map, the leadership team must
    co-create a visual outline that lists the key
    resources and capabilities needed for each circle,
    and assess whether they can feasibly adapt the
    resources and capabilities over time (see Table 2).

    Returning to our case example, leaders of the
    consulting firm used the circle map as a guide during
    growth brainstorming discussions and generated a
    list of key resources (e.g., trainers, consultants,
    intellectual property) and capabilities (e.g.,
    marketing, sales, proposal writing) needed to
    target each circle. When considering how to match
    resources and capabilities with customer types in
    the outer circles (e.g., national firms), a recruit-
    ment plan was devised to ensure the firm had access D

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    293 Circle mapping your firm’s growth strategy

    Table 1. Example questions for circle mapping: Step 1

    Questions

    1. What customer(s) do you rely on most for revenue
    generation today?

    2. What are the attributes of the value proposition
    demanded by these customers?

    3. What label describes the common thread among these
    customers and value propositions?

    4. What customer(s) would you want to target as the
    next step in the evolution of this business?

    5. What are the attributes of the value proposition of
    this next customer?

    6. What label describes the common thread among these
    customers and their value propositions?

    7. Which customer(s) would you want to target as the
    long-term goal of this business?

    8. What are the attributes of the value proposition of
    this future customer?

    9. What label describes the common thread among these
    customers and their value propositions?

    Sample Answers

    Small organizations looking to grow revenues and
    enhance efficiencies

    Tools, training, explanation, ‘handholding through the
    change process’

    Not-for-profit organizations and small businesses

    Larger organizations focused on growth or experiencing
    threats from new competitors

    More sophisticated analysis, ongoing client
    relationships, state-of-the-art solutions

    Economic development agencies and government-
    owned corporations

    Large for-profit companies and government-owned
    corporations looking to enhance current success

    State-of-the-art solutions, timely service, and high-level
    reporting

    National and international corporations

    Note: Sample answers are provided using the consulting firm in our case example to illustrate.

    to people with the capabilities needed to serve the
    new target customers. This involved recruiting
    consultants and trainers with specialized expertise
    and writers with experience writing consulting
    project proposals for these larger customers. These
    individuals were recruited months before there
    were consulting engagements for them to work
    on. Since there was a considerable lag time in
    getting contracts, sales calls were targeted at
    future customers concurrently with networking
    for experienced professionals to ensure work would
    be available once customers were on board. At the
    same time, a new marketing strategy was imple-
    mented that involved creating sales brochures,
    contacts, and initiatives that could apply to winning
    projects from clients across multiple circles.

    5.3. Step 3: Select the most favorable
    growth scenario

    This step involves engaging the team in a discussion
    of the risks and rewards of each growth option
    (e.g., stay in the current circle, move to the next
    circle, or move to a circle further out). Rewards are
    determined using forecasting and other analytics,
    while risks represent the assessment by leaders of
    how much adaptation of resources and capabilities
    is needed along with the tangible and intangible
    costs of resource allocation. Staying in the current
    circle could be considered a low risk, low reward
    growth strategy. Successfully targeting a new

    customer segment in the next circle requires
    successful alignment of resources and capabilities
    to deliver the attributes of that customer’s
    value proposition. Longer-term growth strategy
    includes assessing the true feasibility of targeting
    customers in outer circles against potential
    rewards. Leaders must assess if customers in a
    given circle add enough value to be targeted with
    future resources and capabilities. We recommend
    examining the risks and rewards of each circle as a
    standalone process in a brainstorming discussion.
    Once each circle (and the customer/value
    proposition and resources and capabilities within
    it) has been considered, the risk and reward analysis
    can be expanded by juxtaposing the allocation of
    resources and capabilities between circles. The
    concentric logic assists in this analysis because
    outer circles are potentially more risky, more costly,
    and more rewarding than those closer to the center
    (see Table 3).

    In the case example, the consulting firm’s leaders
    compared possible combinations of customers in
    the future against the resources and capabilities
    needed to serve these customers. Discussion
    revealed that the best course of action was to
    continue serving nonprofit and small business
    clients (i.e., current customers) with limited
    resource allocation for the purpose of generating
    cash flow. Capital, time, and resources were then
    directed at occupying the space of economic
    development agencies and small corporations D

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    294 V. Bruni-Bossio et al.

    Table 2. Example questions for circle mapping: Step 2

    Questions Sample Answers

    1. For each circle, what resources and For not-for-profit organizations and small businesses
    capabilities are needed to deliver the value
    proposition? � Trainers and consultants with basic consulting skills and knowledge of

    management tools

    Economic development agencies and government-owned corpora-
    tions

    � Experienced consultants with an MBA or other credentials, proposal writing
    skills, enhanced marketing knowledge

    Create a new marketing campaign to reach these clients

    National and international firms

    � High-level marketing to these clients, consultants with national reputa-
    tions, and ability to build and maintain high-level relationships with clients

    2. Does our firm have these resources and Non-profits and small businesses
    capabilities? � Yes, no need for additional resources or capabilities

    Economic development agencies and government-owned corporations

    � No, the firm needs to acquire and/or develop these
    National and international firms

    � No, the firm needs to acquire and/or develop these
    3. If not, what fi would our rm have to do to Simultaneously develop and execute a plan to do the following:
    acquire


    or develop these resources a. and continue to serve current customers

    capabilities, and how long would this take? b. create marketing materials targeted at firms identified in the growth
    areas

    c. perform business development in the growth areas and win contracts
    from firms in these areas

    d. recruit consultants that support the expanded scope of clients

    Note: Sample answers are provided using the consulting firm in our case example to illustrate.

    (i.e., next customers), and winning contracts
    from government-owned corporations (i.e., future
    growth customers).

    This process focused on leveraging success in the
    inner circles (small firms and economic agencies) to
    win consulting contracts from firms in the outer
    circles (national and international firms). Circle
    mapping assisted with the realization that once
    government-owned corporations were successfully
    targeted, the same consultants, trainers, and
    proposal writers could be used to target national
    and international firms. In other words, growth in
    the outer circles would not need to focus on
    recruitment, but rather on refinement of the
    processes used by the consultants, trainers, and
    proposal writers.

    The successful implementation of a growth
    strategy in the consulting firm increased revenues

    by 300% over a 3-year period. Many government-
    owned corporations had been successfully targeted
    and resources were already being deployed toward
    winning jobs from national and international firms.
    The consulting firm’s leaders agreed that circle
    mapping was beneficial as it allowed them to
    map a feasible path to profitable growth for two
    primary reasons. First, it helped them generate
    ideas and provided a path to access new
    opportunities, and second, it facilitated creativity
    in planning and developing the strategy. The
    leaders remarked about the simplicity of the
    mapping process and how it made it easier to
    conceptualize opportunities that they might not
    otherwise have considered. Perhaps most
    importantly, they felt it put them ‘in the driver’s
    seat’ in the strategic process versus reacting to
    their competitors passively. D

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    295 Circle mapping your firm’s growth strategy

    Table 3. Example questions for circle mapping: Step 3

    Questions Sample Answers

    1. What are the potential risks and rewards
    associated with each circle?

    For not-for-profit organizations and small businesses

    � Stagnation and inability to meet partners’ growth objectives
    Economic development agencies and government-owned
    corporations; national and international firms

    � The biggest risk is the opportunity cost from the time and effort
    spent recruiting new consultants and developing relationships with
    growth area clients. Other threats include reputational risk if we
    win business but are unable to deliver what we promised to the
    clients.

    � Rewards include more engaging projects, increased reputation of
    the firm, higher-value contracts, and revenue diversification.

    2. Are there any circles that offer rewards that Yes, all of the outer circles:
    outweigh the risks? � Economic development agencies

    � Government-owned corporations
    � National and international firms

    3. Can we allocate resources and capabilities to Balance opportunities with recruitment: make sure new
    these circles while still ensuring we can serve our consultants are ready and available when the contracts are
    current customers? If so, how long will this take? won.

    4. Which circle should we target as the next step Economic development agencies
    for growth?

    5. Are there circles we want to prepare to occupy Leverage success with economic development agencies to
    in the future by starting to develop resources and pursue government-owned corporations, followed by national
    capabilities? and international firms.

    Note: Sample answers are provided using the consulting firm in our case example to illustrate.

    6. Potential obstacles in circle
    mapping

    Circle mapping is a strategy visualization tool that
    facilitates a process for generating high-reward
    growth possibilities in the outer circles. The tool
    is appropriate for firms in all industries where
    customers have preferences beyond just paying
    the lowest price. If the battle for consumers is
    based solely on having a basic offering at the lowest
    price, then the tool is not applicable. However, if
    there is a significant set of customers who are
    willing to pay for a differentiated offering, then
    circle mapping is an appropriate tool to generate
    growth options. Firms that offer more than one
    value proposition are a special case. These types
    of firms need to prepare circle maps for each value
    proposition offered as the discussion of each
    value proposition will lead to generating different
    opportunities for growth.

    Ambitious leaders are cautioned against
    attempting to grow too quickly or to occupy too
    many circles at the same time, either of which may

    strain their firm’s resources and capabilities.
    Successful growth involves a tradeoff of scope
    and reach (Burgelman & Doz, 2001), sustaining
    the firm’s current performance while leveraging
    the resources and capabilities in new market
    spaces. Circle mapping can help identify the risks
    and opportunities involved in moving into new
    spaces, but leaders must avoid focusing only on
    opportunities while ignoring risks.

    A limitation of circle mapping is its reliance on
    the amount and quality of data available to the
    senior management team regarding the potential
    of its resources and capabilities to produce new
    offerings, and preferences of consumers and rivals’
    value propositions in the outer circles. Like all
    strategy formulation tools, circle mapping is only
    as effective as the assumptions that are brought to
    the table. The process must be accompanied by
    due diligence to ensure that assumptions about
    the target market, attributes of the customer value
    proposition, and the resources and capabilities
    needed to deliver the value proposition are well
    understood. Last, the firm must be able to fund the D

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    growth initiatives and have the requisite organiza-
    tion structure and reporting systems to effectively
    implement them.

    7. A new tool for development

    Circle mapping assists leaders with the difficult
    task of generating and evaluating growth
    opportunities by combining Sun Tzu’s idea of
    occupying space with marketing and strategy
    literature on value propositions. Circle mapping
    engages knowledge visualization to mitigate
    cognitive challenges when formulating strategy
    by generating multiple potential pathways for
    growth. As a conceptual map, it mitigates social
    challenges by promoting multiple perspectives in
    the strategy, and it reduces emotional challenges
    by assisting with communication and information
    sharing.

    By prompting leaders to think about growth as
    occupying space, circle mapping conceptualizes
    growth as aligning future value propositions
    with the firm’s future resources and capabilities.
    Circle mapping ignites strategy development by
    simplifying a long-term growth strategy into an
    intuitive diagram that leaders can use to generate
    strategic decisions about how to grow. By having
    leaders visually depict and justify where and why
    they want to grow, circle mapping helps firms
    conceptualize a profitable future and then
    confidently move toward it.

    Acknowledgment

    The authors would like to thank Dr. Marjorie
    Delbaere and Ed Pas for their insights and
    suggestions.

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      Circle mapping your firm’s growth strategy
      1. Visualizing growth strategies
      2. Circle mapping origins
      2.1. The principle of occupying space
      2.2. Aligning resources and capabilities to deliver value propositions
      2.3. How circle mapping was developed
      3. Elements of circle mapping: The three circles
      3.1. The first circle: Current customers
      3.2. The second circle: Next customers
      3.3. Outer circles: Future growth customers
      4. Benefits of circle mapping
      4.1. Leveraging knowledge visualization with circle mapping
      4.2. Strategic advantages of aligning strategy and space
      5. Circle mapping steps: How to use this tool
      5.1. Step 1: Determine value propositions of different customer circles
      5.2. Step 2: Identify future resources and capabilities needed to deliver future value propositions
      5.3. Step 3: Select the most favorable growth scenario
      6. Potential obstacles in circle mapping
      7. A new tool for development
      References

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