The shift of Bridgestone: looking beyond the black donut
- In a nutshell: Shifting from product to service is crucial to keep up with today’s customer’s needs and wishes. The story of Bridgestone teaches us how to turn a monumental shift into a competitive advantage.
- For who? People & companies with a daring mindset, willing to rethink their business model in order to stay relevant in today’s & tomorrow's digital age.
It’s no secret that we like to surround ourselves with inspiring people and use cases, especially when industries start shifting. Right now, we see monumental changes in the automotive sector with the rise of autonomous driving, connected vehicles, shared mobility and the digitization of automotive retail. We reserved a special seat at our table for Johan Van Langendonck, Head of Solutions Strategy at Bridgestone EMIA. He shares how they are turning these shifts to their advantage by transforming from a premium tire manufacturer into a provider of advanced solutions and sustainable mobility.
Finding opportunity in a blue ocean
It seems that Bridgestone has been anticipating this shift in its move from a tire manufacturer to a provider of advanced solutions and sustainable mobility. How do you perceive these changes in the automotive industry?
"It’s true that mobility is going through quite some changes as the way it operates today isn’t quite sustainable. Autonomous and electric vehicles, shared mobility and further digitization… they all come with a lot of challenges, but we rather look at them as opportunities. These key trends allow us to shape a better mobility for the future."
"At Bridgestone, we believe that mobility will be redefined in 3 ways. It will become increasingly context-specific, multimodal and fleet-driven. We already see a lot of initiatives like Uber, carsharing or e-scooters, but there are still some missing pieces of the puzzle. What everybody seems to be forgetting is that these new mobility vehicles need to run as efficiently as possible and will need frequent servicing. That happens to be a unique opportunity for Bridgestone."
Could you elaborate on that opportunity?
"As a tire company, we can bring efficiency and maximize up-time to drivers and fleets with our tires and with our vast network of vehicle service points. However, if we want to take things to the next level, then we need to bring data into the picture. It’s impossible for us and our customers to have people check every vehicle every day. It’s about tapping into the trend of connectivity to understand remotely and in real-time what’s going on with our customers’ vehicles. This allows us to give proactive advice and alerts on upcoming problems to increase the efficiency and up-time of a vehicle."
"If we want to take things to the next level, then we need to bring data into the picture."
"In essence, it’s about leveraging the strengths of our company. We’re not reinventing the wheel; we simply want to become a better company for our customers and society. Transformation is about the caterpillar becoming the butterfly. You don’t want to become a different animal. We know tires, we know maintenance and we have a vast network of servicing points, but we lack the data to send advice and close the loop. Building that missing link allows us to gradually become a leader in sustainable mobility and advanced solutions."
From vision to acquisition
Finding opportunity is one thing, acting on it is another. Which steps has Bridgestone taken to become that better company?
"The start of our journey was all about getting our vision right. Why are we here and who do we want to become? We spent 6 to 9 months getting that right. You can come up with a lot of innovative ideas and try them all out, but that’s serendipity: it’s guessing and waiting for something to come out of it. Therefore, it was crucial for us to first shape a shared vision. A vision, or purpose, that fits with the company’s identity and that everyone supports."
"We no longer wanted to just deliver a big black donut, but we wanted to bring service, convenience, efficiency and predictability to our customers."
"So, we started thinking: what can we do beyond tires? We quickly realised that people aren’t necessarily waiting for just a tire service, but are more interested in a holistic mobility service. It’s about getting from A to B as efficiently and safely as possible. We decided that we no longer wanted to just deliver a big black donut, but we wanted to bring service, convenience, efficiency and predictability to our customers."
How did you bring that vision into practice?
"With our vision in mind, we started experimenting with a number of digital solutions across some of our customer segments. One of these ideas, for example, was to offer our customers a subscription for tire- and maintenance-services, meaning they pay a fixed amount each month and whenever they need service or new tires, they get it. This shift from a transaction-based model to a subscription-based business model found traction, and the idea is still going strong under the Mobox brand."
"Next to that, we also experimented with data and predictive maintenance under the name MySpeedy. This idea was not as much of a success as we hoped for. The solution was desirable, it was feasible, but it wasn’t scalable at that time. A hard but valuable lesson. Finally, we also looked into the commercial fleet world with a small venture called Fleetpulse. This start-up offered a digital checklist to our professional customers to protect the health of their fleet."
"These 3 small ventures mainly brought us good visibility and a lot of learnings. But we realised: if we want to take the lead in the market, it won’t go organically, as that would take us too long. We had the vision and the ideas, but we missed some of the data and analytic capabilities to make it happen at scale."
That’s something a lot of ‘traditional’ manufacturers struggle with. How did you manage to cross that digital gap?
"We understood that a player in the field of telematics, a fleet management service provider, was the missing link. That’s why we set our mind on TomTom Telematics and brought them on board, early 2019. They bring the skills, the experience and the credibility we need to truly become that leader in advanced solutions and sustainable mobility."
"Bold moves are crucial for manufacturers to really make the shift towards digital, otherwise it will always be a gimmick."
"These are the kind of bold moves you only do when everyone is on the same page, when the vision is right. Such moves are crucial for manufacturers to really make the shift towards digital, otherwise it will always be a gimmick or it will be led by an external company. I see a lot of companies that experiment with start-up ideas, but they often get stuck in the pilot phase or have some other company run it for them. This will get you at par, but it’s unlikely going to bring you in the lead."
Bridgestone’s transformation is grounded on strategic partnerships and ecosystem thinking; what is the recipe for success to set up a successful collaboration?
"When we brought the two companies together, we initially said we didn’t want to disrupt their daily business. At first, we let them operate on their own and then we gradually started building the bridges. Since last year, both companies fully understand why this acquisition happened and what added value it brings to both sides. Soon, we and our customers will start seeing that one plus one equals three."
As a digital product studio, user centricity plays a huge role in our products. Is that also the case with the ‘new’ Bridgestone?
"Before the acquisition, we had a mantra: focus on the boss. A lot of manufacturers are still technology-driven, not asking themselves if their products are really what the end user wants. I’m really proud to see that we’ve built and still have this customer-centric reflex at Bridgestone. It really helps when you’re going through a digital transformation."
"When you do something new, you also need to admit that you’ve never done it before. It would be very foolish to think you’re going to be right the first time. That’s why going out there very early-on, even when it’s just a snippet of an idea and, asking for user feedback is a great thing to do. Otherwise, it’s just not going to work."
About speedboats and tankers
A range of Bridgestone’s initiatives involved a shift to a service model. This requires an entirely different set of capabilities and skills. How did you deal with this shift on an organisational level? Did you manage to ‘change the course of the big tanker’?
"We built a dedicated team that brings together all the necessary skills. This allows us to swiftly iterate our ideas. As a matter of fact, they have to iterate. We have the room to try out new things and see if they work. This way, gradually, we’ll get the formula right and scale it to the whole organisation."
"You can’t change the course of the tanker 180 degrees from one day to another."
"You can’t change the course of the tanker 180 degrees from one day to another. Innovation is like the speedboat around a big tanker: it’s doing new, exciting things, going fast and testing new headings. The speedboat is a sort of lighthouse for the tanker: it shows you what’s the right course to follow, allowing the tanker to steadily and safely alter course."
When it comes to digital transformation, we see tech giants also investing in start-ups across the automotive and mobility landscape. How does Bridgestone look at this evolution?
"Positively. Competition is always healthy. I also believe that mobility won’t be solved by a single company. Mobility, by nature, is an ecosystem play and that won’t change. It’ll be more about how to strengthen one another; where to compete and where to complement each other. Competition is going to keep us sharp and motivate us to keep doing better. The game is on."
Shifting from a product-based model to a service-based model is a bold but necesessary move. Don't hesitate to reach out to one of our industry experts to help you embrace digital products into your business model. We're happy to help.
On the lookout for more inspiring content about mobility? We'll take the liberty to suggest our Shift 2020 panel discussion on the future of mobility or to read about prediction of energy consumption.