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Economies of Unscale

Futuristic, technology-driven business models are weakening the conventional advantages of Economies of Scale.  Large corporations, founded on Scale, nevertheless have areas that they can exploit if they reposition rapidly.

For the best part of over a century, Economies of Scale—Cost Advantages that businesses achieve owing to their scale of operation—fashioned the corporation into a perfect engine of business.  The economic concept of Economies of Scale was first floated in the Adam Smith era where the idea of obtaining larger production returns through the use of division of labor was introduced.

A technological rush, distinct in history, was observed near the beginning of the 20th century.  These new technologies were accompanied by scale i.e., bulk production and access to huge markets.  The Economies of Scale guided business success—the strong inverse relationship connecting fixed costs and output grew into a basis of Competitive Advantage.

Back then, investments in scale was the most sensible proposition.  Not only did it lower fixed costs but also created a formidable barrier for competitors, denying them entry in the market.  Every type of business spent the 20th century in the quest for scale.

The advent of game-changing new technologies such as mobile devices, social media, and cloud computing, augmented by Artificial Intelligence (AI), is whirling Economies of Scale into Economies of Unscale.

Specifically, rise of Software as a Service (SaaS) and emergence of Product to Platform Transformations—coupled with AI’s ability to customize—overthrows bulk production and mass marketing as a basis of Competitive Advantage.  These progressions have battered the powerful inverse correlation between fixed costs and output that delineated Economies of Scale.

Today, minor, unscaled businesses, leveraging Platform Scaling Strategies while renting SaaS, can hunt in niche markets, effectively contesting big companies that are strained by decades of investment in scale, i.e., in large-scale production, distribution, and marketing.

The triumphant companies in the current tech rush—enabled by Platforms and SaaS—are the ones led by Customer-centric Design, providing each customer precisely what they want, that too while making a profit, and not companies offering everyone uniform products.

Large corporations can remain relevant in this era of niche marketing by taking leverage of their existing infrastructure through astute modifications in their use.  They can deploy 3 key tactics to accomplish this:

  1. Product to Platform Transformation
  2. Absolute Product Focus
  3. Dynamic Rebundling

Let us delve a little deeper into the details of the 3 tactics for leveraging Economies of Unscale.

Product to Platform Transformation

Dynamic corporations have expended decades building scale which is extremely specialized for their industry.  Efficient factories, distribution channels, retail outlets, supply chains, marketing expertise, and global partnerships have been painstakingly developed.  It is time for these corporations to take a decision on whether it is more viable to rent out this capability to other companies or not.

An example of such an approach is that of P&G’s Connect + Develop program that has been running for more than a decade.  

Absolute Product Focus

As corporations become bigger, emphasis on control becomes more pronounced—processes, regulations, stock prices, and a variety of non-core issues take precedence over great product offering.  Niche market focus blurs and attempts are made to make a product that may appeal to the masses in an effort to create Economies of Scale.

In this age of Unscale, the product/customer-focused competitor preys on such weakness.  Large corporations can mitigate the repercussion of such weakness by organizing as a network of small businesses focusing on core function while outsourcing non-core functions.  Each business, completely dedicated to creating a product perfect for its part of the market.

Apple Inc. contracts out manufacturing to Chinese companies while keeping the R&D and innovation—its core function—in the U.S. 

Dynamic Rebundling

Successful companies in this day and age of Unscale are the ones that make every customer feel like a market of one.  A corporation—a compendium of products—can match this by initially understanding its customer, then bundling its products as per each customer’s needs.

A great example is The Honest Co., which in 2012, began selling specialized line of diapers and wipes by subscription.  First year, the company raked in $10 million in revenue by supplying a niche customer, a niche product, dissimilar to mass-market brands.  By 2016 it was making sales exceeding $300 million.

Interested in learning more about the 3 tactics for leveraging Economies of Unscale and how corporations have, in their own way, taken advantage?  You can download an editable PowerPoint on Economies of Unscale here on the Flevy documents marketplace.

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About Mark Bridges

Mark Bridges is a Senior Director of Strategy at Flevy. Flevy is your go-to resource for best practices in business management, covering management topics from Strategic Planning to Operational Excellence to Digital Transformation (view full list here). Learn how the Fortune 100 and global consulting firms do it. Improve the growth and efficiency of your organization by leveraging Flevy's library of best practice methodologies and templates. Prior to Flevy, Mark worked as an Associate at McKinsey & Co. and holds an MBA from the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago. You can connect with Mark on LinkedIn here.

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