November 15, 2023

Learning from the leaders: key insights into business ecosystems from the new DAX companies

In the ever-evolving world of business, we often marvel at the agility and innovation of startups. But what about established giants?

Key Insights indo DAX Business Ecosystems

Learning from the leaders: key insights into business ecosystems from the new DAX companies

In today's fast-paced tech world, the focus often centers on the agility, innovation, and disruption brought forth by startups. How do established companies, especially those recently elevated to the DAX - such as Airbus, Brenntag, Hannover Rück, HelloFresh, Puma, Qiagen, Sartorius, Siemens Healthineers, Symrise, Zalando - fare in Germany's leading stock market index? In this vast expanse, the new DAX companies are not just ships; they are giant vessels, each with a unique strategy, navigating the intricate web of corporate ecosystems. These companies don't just compete based on their products; they also navigate complex business ecosystems to compete on a whole new level. They must understand the challenges of competing with established players and provide the expertise to not only survive, but thrive. 

This blog post is a journey through the strategic maneuvers of the “new kids on the block” in the DAX index, exploring how they thrive amidst the waves of change. It explores key insights from analyzing the business ecosystems of these companies, breaking down their secrets and how they compare to the global business ecosystem giants.

What you will learn reading this article:
  • Importance of business ecosystems: The blog post highlights the paramount importance of business ecosystems for a company's success. It exemplifies how notable corporations such as Airbus, Brenntag, HelloFresh, Puma, and Siemens Healthineers operate within their respective ecosystems by creating alliances, promoting innovation, and taking on diverse roles within these ecosystems.
  • Emphasis on customer experience: Currently, many successful companies have made their way from a product-centric to a customer-centric focus. HelloFresh and Puma are prime examples of how prioritizing the customer experience results in increased customer retention. The significance of a customer-centric approach is emphasized, which entails comprehending customer needs, ensuring satisfaction, and cultivating loyalty.
  • Power of strategic innovation: Companies like Airbus or Brenntag demonstrate that innovation and digital transformation are critical in achieving market leadership. Combining innovation with technology and developing strategic partnerships within their ecosystems can offer a competitive advantage. streamlines operations and improves customer experiences, resulting in efficient service delivery within an evolving market.

Let's look at the the different new DAX players and their portfolio by using the Ecosystem Strategy Map:

Airbus: soaring high with ecosystem partnerships

Navigating the complex realm of aerospace, Airbus, with a staggering 2022 annual revenue of 58.8 billion euros, has not only excelled in the skies but also within its business ecosystem. Unlike Boeing, which faced turbulence with its 737 Max, Airbus has strategically navigated through sustainability and innovation, forging partnerships with tech firms to improve aircraft efficiency. This approach has not only provided Airbus with a technological advantage but also enabled it to adeptly navigate various roles within its ecosystem, including serving as an Enabler and Orchestrator in the Life Area Mobility. 

In the role of an Enabler, Airbus is most prominently involved, offering communication solutions for public safety, such as the SmarTWISP-Apps-Ecosystem, which serves as a communication tool for police, fire departments, hospitals, and more in the Life Area Living. They also provide training in cyber-security in the Life Area Education and engage in research for climate protection in aviation in partnership with research associations like DLR. 

As an Orchestrator, Airbus operates, for instance, in the Life Area Mobility with their Pre-Owned Helicopters platform, facilitating the purchase and sale of helicopters. By expanding its operations into various Life Areas such as Living and Work, Airbus broadens its impact and influence within its ecosystem. 

In the Life Area Living, they serve as Enablers, offering comprehensive security solutions for maritime activities and managing crisis situations effectively. In the Life Area Work, Airbus continues to act as an Enabler, providing vital cyber and security solutions to governments, defense institutions, critical infrastructure, and businesses, further solidifying its role as a key player in these domains. This has resulted in a constant growth in the global aerospace industry, despite the competitive and demanding nature of the market.

Brenntag: the digital supply chain maestro

Brenntag, a worldwide front-runner in chemical distribution, has strategically navigated its business ecosystem, distinguishing itself from its competitors. While both firms supply essential chemicals and ingredients to a variety of industries, Brenntag goes beyond by embracing digital transformation and creating a robust digital supply chain. Unlike other players such as Univar, Brenntag has embraced a multifaceted role as a Super Enabler across various Life Areas while also expanding into digital realms to provide streamlined, efficient, and innovative solutions for its diverse clientele.

In the Life Area Mobility, they offer a wide range of products including degreasers, alkylate gasoline, windshield wash fluids, cleaners, paint strippers, acids, and alkalis, while also producing chemicals for the maritime industry. In the Life Area Health, they serve as an Enabler by supplying ingredients for pharmaceuticals. In the Life Area Consumption, Brenntag provides body care ingredients for cosmetics and products such as exfoliants, essential oils, and preservatives. Additionally, in the Life Area Work, they offer industrial chemicals like alcohols, salts, and ketones, as well as emission control chemicals, establishing themselves as essential Enablers across this Life Area.

This digital proficiency, combined with a strategic approach to managing its business ecosystem, allows Brenntag not only to maintain its market leadership but also to continue innovating and thriving in an ever-evolving global market.

HelloFresh: cooking up an ecosystem

In the meal kit delivery industry, HelloFresh stands out as a Realizer. In the Life Area Consumption, they offer meal kits with fresh ingredients, create their recipes (including collaborations with chefs such as Jamie Oliver), and operate the HelloFresh Market, providing a range of smaller snacks, breakfast items, and fast-to-prepare meals for delivery. Additionally, in the Life Area Education, they serve as Realizers by offering "HelloFresh - The Cookbook," further expanding their presence and offerings in the culinary world. While competitors like Blue Apron have faced issues with customer retention, HelloFresh has prioritized sustainability and enhanced the overall customer experience.

Through partnerships with local farmers and logistics companies, they have established an ecosystem that ensures continued customer loyalty. Berlin-based firm HelloFresh has impressively grown its presence in 17 nations while boosting its revenue, demonstrating competence in navigating the global marketplace. While both companies prioritize healthful and eco-friendly meal choices, HelloFresh has also expanded into the realm of Holistic Wellness by offering preventative health measures via nourishing recipes and dietary plans.

HelloFresh's strategic focus on core offerings and meticulous expansion into international markets, all while maintaining a robust business ecosystem, has positioned them as an essential player in the meal-kit industry.

Puma: sprinting ahead with niche focus

Puma, while sprinting through the competitive sportswear landscape, has meticulously woven its business ecosystem, ensuring it doesn’t merely stay in the race but leads in its unique way. In particular, Puma has strategically diversified into various Life Areas, such as Work and Entertainment.

In the Life Area Work, they offer workwear and safety shoes as a Realizer, meeting the needs of professionals. In the Life Area Entertainment, Puma also acts as a Realizer by offering augmented reality shoes and an associated app, and as an Enabler, they provide motorsport clothing, partner with sports events, and sponsor teams such as Borussia Dortmund, AC Milan, and Manchester City. Furthermore, they play a Realizer role in the Life Area Health with their Puma Smart Watches and serve as an Orchestrator in the Life Area Recreation with their UMATRAC APP, offering workouts with trainers and celebrities, catering to a diverse range of lifestyle needs and preferences.

Puma provides workwear and aligns itself with motorsport teams to create brand recognition. This diversification enables Puma to access diverse consumer groups and establish numerous touch points within its ecosystem. Moreover, the Pumatrac App, its digital innovation, functions not only as a fitness platform but also as a data-gathering hub, supplying information on user behavior and preferences.

This allows for more customized customer interactions and product development. Puma's ecosystem intertwines the brand with consumers' daily lives, from their work to their leisure and fitness activities, extending beyond mere sportswear. It's not just a supply chain; it's a carefully crafted network. This strategic ecosystem approach not only fortifies its market position but also enables Puma to innovate and adapt, ensuring sustained growth and relevance in a fiercely competitive market.

Siemens Healthineers: the healthcare innovator

Siemens Healthineers operates primarily in the Life Area Health, in addition to Education and Socialize, where it takes on roles as Enabler and Realizer. As an Enabler, they provide a wide range of offerings, including medical imaging systems (radiology) for angiography systems like X-ray and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), their PEPconnect platform for eLearning, webinars, job aids in medical imaging and therapy, laboratory diagnostics, POC, and other healthcare topics and computed tomography systems for 3D X-ray imaging, and organ imaging. In their role as a Realizer, they offer a laboratory and diagnostics app with access to laboratory-specific reference information. Additionally, they host workshops, lectures, and webinars focused on healthcare topics. With their Teamplay Digital Health platform, they take on the role of both Enabler and Realizer. The platform enables collaboration and communication between patients, healthcare professionals and institutions, and engages patients in the healthcare process. This achievement is the result of a partnership with IBM.

Through strategic acquisitions, such as Varian, and embedding itself in a network of research institutions, healthcare providers, and technology developers, Siemens Healthineers fortifies its innovative edge and nurtures an ecosystem that promotes pioneering advancements in healthcare technology and patient solutions. The company's focus on building a strong network allows them to stay ahead in the healthcare industry.

Future-proofing your business: an ecosystem-centric approach

These examples of the new DAX players demonstrate the development towards more and more ecosystem-driven business models. Moreover, by analyzing the portfolio with the Ecosystem Strategy Map you can find out how (these and other) companies position their offerings in a broader context with a human-centric rather than a traditional narrow industry perspective. In the future, every company should take this thinking into consideration when further developing its offering portfolio. 

To be successful with this in the market you also have to make sure that the organization is ready for the ecosystem game. Thus, the ultimate aim for any company should be to integrate its ecosystem activities throughout the entire organization. By embedding an ecosystem-centric approach (including the mindset to do so), a company doesn’t merely operate in isolation with its own products and services but becomes part of a larger, interconnected network of entities, including suppliers, partners, and customers. This interconnectedness facilitates a seamless flow of information, innovation, and value, both within the organization and throughout its external networks. Aligning the ecosystem activities with the firm's digital strategy not only enhances operational efficiency but also ensures the business is scalable and resilient against the backdrop of technological and market shifts. This strategic alignment enables the company to leverage external capabilities, foster innovation, and navigate through future challenges, ensuring sustained growth and relevance in the evolving business landscape that works more and more with ecosystem mechanisms.

These are the key learnings of this post:
  • The strategic imperative of business ecosystems: In today's competitive landscape, understanding and participating in business ecosystems is not just a buzzword but a strategic necessity for success. Utilizing business ecosystems, as seen across all companies, enables them to enhance their value propositions, innovate, and access new markets, showcasing the importance of integrated and interactive business environments.
  • Experience-driven brand strategy and customer retention: The fusion of experience-driven business models with strategic brand positioning, as demonstrated by Airbus, Brenntag, and Puma, not only promotes the creation of exceptional customer experiences over the mere delivery of singular products or services, but also strengthens brand presence and competitiveness by aligning unique value propositions with enriched customer interactions. Companies such as HelloFresh and Puma demonstrate that a customer-centric approach that focuses on understanding and meeting customer needs not only drives customer satisfaction and loyalty, but also leads to higher retention rates.
  • The power of strategic partnerships: Companies like Airbus, Brenntag and Siemens Healthineers have demonstrated that forming strategic partnerships within their ecosystems can provide a competitive edge. It can drive innovation and expand offerings, providing a competitive edge and facilitating access to new markets.
  • Harnessing innovation and digital transformation for market leadership: Siemens Healthineers showcases that an innovation-centric approach can carve out a competitive edge and secure market leadership. Meanwhile, Brenntag's digital transformation journey underscores that intertwining innovation with technology not only optimizes operations but also enhances customer experiences and ensures efficient service delivery, thereby solidifying a robust position in the evolving market landscape. This amalgamation of continual innovation and digital adaptation becomes a pivotal strategy to navigate through the dynamic market challenges and customer expectations. Innovation and digital transformation are also one of the key drivers for ecosystem business models. 
  • Market capitalization and ecosystem diversification: A discernible relationship exists between a company's market capitalization and its ecosystem activities across various Life Areas and roles. Firms with elevated market capitalization often exhibit a propensity to diversify their roles and penetrate new Life Areas, suggesting that a robust financial position potentially fuels the capacity and willingness to explore, innovate, and expand into varied segments of the market ecosystem, thereby enhancing their operational and strategic agility in the industry. This strategic diversification not only provides additional revenue streams but also fortifies the company’s presence across different market segments and customer bases.

As we wrap up, it's clear that the key to long-term success is not just having a groundbreaking product but a well-thought-out ecosystem strategy including new and additional offerings together with partners. Whether you're a startup or an established player, understanding your business ecosystem is crucial. The new DAX companies offer some helpful approaches on how to do this effectively, showing that with the right strategy, you can not only survive but thrive in today's complex business landscape.

How can you start the journey to ecosystem thinking?

In our practical work we see three relevant steps to take:

  • First, you need to establish a user-centered view that puts human needs at the center and life areas instead of industries as a broader perspective to your portfolio. 
  • Second, you need to identify your appropriate scope and particular topics for your offerings (e.g. which combination of products, value-added services, platforms and ecosystems you establish) to create integrated experiences. 
  • Third and finally, you have to continuously create and sustain distinct lock-in effects that bind customers and increase customer lifetime value.  

So, are you ready to embark on your ecosystem journey? 

To help with all of this, we have developed a set of management tools that can help you get started on your ecosystem journey. If you would like to find out more, you can find more information and free downloads on our website:

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