When people talk about exploring white space in innovation, often they refer externally to unserved markets or businesses that are outside their core. It is basically where unmet and unarticulated needs are uncovered to create innovation opportunities. White space is where products and services don’t currently exist based on the present understanding of values.
White space is also a tool that allows us to look at the landscape with new lenses. White space can moreover be defined as a unique set of attributes, identifying new openings where your competitors currently aren’t focusing or it is being part of what is traditionally considered a remotely different industry.
White space is also an important outcome of a customer inquiry and discovery process that leads to new profit growth opportunities by defining potential gaps in existing markets. This process can be used to identify entirely new markets. It can also be used to map incremental innovation in products or services - new source of customer value that can be translated to economic value.
Many are reluctant to enter any white space because of the unknowns. Some can cannibalize existing products or services and some require a very different business models. And some require extensive system design and support. As a result, no one wants to take any risks and naturally retreated to their core and close adjacencies. Deciding what’s the core is an art and then deciding what’s considered adjacencies is another art. Do we look at the core from competencies, brand or assets?
How do we use white space mapping? The first step in the white space mapping process is to determine if you will approach it from an internal or external perspective.
Externally focused, the process begins with mapping the market, products or services based on whether these markets are currently served, underserved or unserved. The goal is to find gaps in existing markets, product or service lines that represent opportunities for your business. Some of these gaps may be opportunities with little or no competition. Others may identify non-consumers. Still others may uncover an entirely new market space that has the potential to transform your industry.
Internally focused, white space mapping becomes an inward looking tool to map your company’s ability to address new opportunities or threats and how efficiently and effectively it can react to these opportunities from a process, systems and structural perspective. In this scenario, white space mapping becomes an instrument to identify barriers to your company that inhibit it from pursuing new products, new markets or threats unless a new business model is developed.
As markets mature, competition intensifies, new technologies are invented and new consumer behaviors are constantly emerging. As such, white space mapping is becoming an important strategic exercise for organizational learning and strategic planning as organizations actively look for new sources of differentiation. For a company to remain relevant over the long term, it must respond to these shifting conditions intelligently and white space mapping needs to be part of their strategic planning efforts.