The porter's five competitive forces

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Usefulness of the strategic models

Why are models commonly used in strategic management - what model are, provides, usefulness, strategy making,


Johnson et al. (2005, p. 9): "Strategy is the direction and scope of an organisation over the long term which achieve advantage in a changing environment through its configuration of resources and competences with the aim of fulfilling stakeholder expectation."


Strategic decisions are long term decision based on scope of company's activities made in order to obtain advantage over competition. Johnson et al (2005, p. 10) says that such decision have certain characteristics. They are complex in nature, are made in condition of uncertainty. These decisions have impact on operation decisions. They require integrated approach from managers to deal with strategic problems.

Strategic decisions which are made without previous analysis but as some kind of individual notions or wishful thinking are consider to be vulnerable issue. Identifying the root of strategic analysis is difficult. It does not provide us with prescription of what strategy to implement. Company's strategic decisions are too complex for programming. Thus, author says that helping to understand issues is the aim of strategic analysis not to give answers. Model is the framework for recognizing, understanding and categorising factors applicable to strategic decisions (Grant, 2008, p. 27). Models were developed in order to solve usual problems and challenges in business. The general advantage of model is that they smooth differences between abstraction and real practise. They pose a new way of seeing a particular situation and resolving this situation. The common use of the model can be explained by their characteristic. They are projected to solve exact problems and increase efficiency. On the other hand no model can secure that by their implication solving the problem will be hundred percents successful. They are just framework which gives understanding and options for making right decision and diminish uncertainties (Assen et al, 2009). Theories, analytical tools were not made in order to replace inventiveness or experience. Their significance lies in managing discussion, processing information and opinions and supporting communication and agreements. Managers are more confident and effective in reacting on new circumstances and issues as they use models (Grant, 2008, p. 27).

There are many models in strategic management which were developed on different bases in order to solve different needs. Every model focuses on various factors some are made to look at eternal surrounding of businesses as industry and market. Some models analyse inner capabilities or structure of organisation. Company chooses the models according its specific needs and what problem wants to solve. If the organisation wants to analyse its external environment it can use PESTE analysis. Industry analysis enables managers to understand how external issues influence company's performance and operations. When managers want to look better on company's product range in order to take right step to the future it can use the Boston Matrix for it. This model helps company in situation as decision making about investments to products portfolio. It guides the company what steps to take if the product is in particular stage e.g. if it "star" company should keep it and invest to its promotion (Keler-Silver, 1997, p. 40).

In the case of core competencies model it is advised that company should switch from portfolio planning and evaluation of individual businesses to exploring the collective capacity the whole company has. The model encourages company to stop doing activities which are not its core competencies. The confirmatory activities can be e.g. outsourced. By using this model an organisation can identify and improve the cross-company competencies. Thus it can bring new opportunities for success in the market (Keler-Silver, 1997, p. 50).

Scenario planning is strategy model based on exposing various possibilities which might happen in the future. Thus it represents a context in which managers can make decisions. As they can see a scope of possibilities they are better informed and decision are more likely to be successful. The scenario planning is mostly used for understanding the dynamics of environment, identifying new openings, evaluating strategic alternatives and for taking long-term decisions. Managers can discover and consider the unsure aspects of future (Assen et al, 2009).

One of the models which consider the root of competitive advantage in business is the Kay's distinctive capabilities model. The model presents resource-based theory and sees a company as set of asses and capabilities. The model helps to identify distinctive capabilities which are the core of company's success. This model provides a useful tool when company make decision about redefining its strategy. It is used to widen awareness of the sources which made company competitive and to sustain these sources (Assen et al, 2009, p. 30).

On the other hand Kare-Silver (1997) argues that the competitive environment has changed and the models are insufficient and shortcoming today's management. He says most of them are "too theoretical, superficial and confusing" and they are not enough helpful in today's environment. Further he gives the seventh criteria according to which models should be developed to meet current needs. The criteria are "reflecting the business realities, starting with customers, rooted and immersed in market understanding, practical, specific, encouraging a long-term view and measurable". Author adds that it is crucial for organisation in current changing conditions to rediscover and redefine its strategy. Organisation needs to know direction in which to go and relying on strategy model is not a response.

In conclusion we can say that decision making process is very challenging and requires complex view. Model provide useful tool for simplifying and mainly for making it more effective. However they do not ensure the real effect will be same.

Description of Porter's Five Forces Model of Competitive Strategy

Formulating competitive strategy necessarily needs to analyse company within its environment. The model is based on analysis of company's external environment. However the relevant environment is wide, the model is focus on organisation's surrounding as industry in which it operates. Industry structure has powerful impact on competitive direction thus it is inevitable to analyse it. Five basic competitive forces determine the competition in an industry. The strength of the forces is to drive profit in industry in way of long term return on invested capital (Porter, 1980 p.3, 4). Next Porter says: "The goal of competitive strategy for a business unit in an industry is to find a position where it can best defend itself against these competitive forces or can influence them in its flavour."

Johnson et al. (2005, p. 78) refer to five forces as sources of competition which evaluate the attractiveness of industry. Authors give several points which company should take into account when using this model. When organisation has varied activities the framework needs to be used at the level of strategic business unit as for each of unit can be the impact of forces different. Next, it is inevitable to understand relations between five forces as well as macro-environment factors. As forces are not separate changes within one force influence other forces. It is a "dynamic process of shifting source of competition".

According to Luffman et al. (1996) the power of Industry competitor is consider to be the most important force of the model. Industry is in permanent change as every firm wants to success and it looks for opportunities to achieve it. Obviously, not all decisions lead to getting advantages some remain failure. There are many issues which influence the competition between companies as size of the company, industry structure and concentration, product differentiation and variety of rivals. Competitive rivalry is also determined by numbers and qualities of competitors. In situation of many companies in the industry which sell nearly equal product, the firm has a low level of power. Conversely if company's product is unique, it is an enormous strength (Kilde, 2005).

Buyer power poses the rate of influences of costumer on pushing price down. The size or number and concentration of buyers are the most significant determinants of buyer power. Other factors include the level of information or differentiation of competitors (Karagianno et al, 2005). There are situation in which buyer power tent to grow as a low switching cost for buyer to move to another seller, when the product is not differentiated or product failure to perform its primary function. In case of trading with small number of strong buyers they tend to dictate conditions to sellers (Luffman et al, 1996).

The extent to which supplier drive price up, is reflected in Supplier power. The numbers of input suppliers, product specificity or switching cost determine supplier strength. When company has few suppliers or choice of suppliers is narrow, the supplier power is high. Question here is how easy company can change its suppliers. Grant (2005, p. 83) says that suppliers of raw materials or components are mostly small companies so their bargaining power is low while suppliers of commodities enhance their power through cartelization. Same it is with labour union. If there is a high percentage of a unionised employee within an industry their supplier power is high and company's profitability is lowered.

Substitutes are alternatives of product so they decrease demand for product. According to the value they give to consumer their power can be higher or lover. Johnson et al. (2005, p. 78) indicate these forms of substitution; product-for-product substitution, substitution of need when new product or service make previous unneeded and generic substitution means that product competes among others for consumer income to be spent on it. It reduces company's power when its product can be easily substituted.

An attractive industry tempts other companies to enter. Threat of new entry represents the capability of new companies to enter and be able to compete in industry. The process of entering is easier for new companies and consequently it becomes a greater threat for existing companies when there are no economies of scale, industry is not capital intensive, access to distribution channels is open or there is a little protection of technology. On the other hand when there are strong barriers existing companies can keep their position. Difference between new entrants and substitutes is that new entrants when successfully enter industry will offer nearly same product. Thus, it is a bigger threat to company (Luffman et al, 1996).

Thompson et al (2007, p.54) describe the way of using the model for identifying the essence and strength of competitive pressures within an industry. They divided it into three steps. The first step is to recognise particular competitive strengths related to every force from the model. Secondly, evaluation of the pressures takes place. It is essential to find out how strong they are i.e. strong, moderate, and weak. The last step is to decide the contribution of strengths on achieving profits.

Evaluation of strengths and weaknesses of the model

Porter (2008, p.80) says this importance of the model: "Understanding the competitive forces and their underlying causes reveals the roots of an industry's current profitability while providing a framework for anticipating and influencing competition over time." He adds that effective strategic positioning can not be made without knowing industry structures. To avoid a subjective position for evaluation of the model we look at other authors views.

The most significant strength of Michael Porter Five Forces model is that it remains best known and commonly used model in strategic management even after twenty years of it introduction. The simplicity is also consider to be a strength of the Five Forces model as it is easy to use and provides understandable way of market forces analysis (Kare-Silver, 1997, p. 46). According to Brandenburger (2002), the Porter's Five Forces model remains to affect the scope of business strategy both in the education field and also in practise of organisations. He emphasises that the model is certainly the most known and used from competitive strategies. The reason is that it provides an obvious picture of important activities of firms. The model describes all movements from suppliers of resources through company to consumer. The role of company is stressed as it is the unit where value is created. On the other hand, suppliers and customers are consider to be necessary in such chain.

The model provides useful information for three issues of company's planning, according to Recklies (2001). Firstly, it enables to determine the attractiveness of an industry. Consequently the model helps to make decision about entering or leaving industry. Further, its usefulness lies in comparison the impact of the competitive forces on the organization with the impact on rivals. Secondly, when company knows about the power and intensity of model's forces it is able to come up with possibilities for improving its competitive position e.g. differentiation, strategic partnership. Thirdly, the author says that the model with combination with PESTE analysis which influences changes in the industries, the Five Forces model can indicates the trends within the industry. Hill and Jones (2007, p. 66) also talk about importance of microenvironment. Forces in the model are not constant because they are determined by wider macro-environment as economic, politic, social and technological forces. These have evident impact on the model forces and consecutively on the whole industry. The role of macro environment is important but it is the subject of the PESTE analysis and we will not discuss it closer.

According Lynch (2000, p.131) the model presents effective way of analysing the environment and it is recommended to use it as the firs step of company strategy development. He points out its real relevance as results are presented in logical and structured way. Hill and Jones (2001, p.97) see the model as very useful as it can be used to analyse character of competition within industry and for recognising opportunities and threats. Opportunities and treats represent the external part of SWOT analysis so we can see the clear connection of Five Forces model with another model.

Another advantage of the model is that it looks on organization and industry through a wide range of aspects which are included in the model's five forces. Thus, it is systematic approach for analysing the current situation of business and plan strategy (Oliva, 2002).

For better picture of the model and to underline its strengths we look at an example of bank sector and examine the impact of launching the Internet banking in Five Forces model context (Siaw, Yu, 2004). In the terms of threat of entry force, the Internet banking enables small banks to enter the industry. Scale benefits are removed and network of branch is less important as there is direct access to customer in more suitable way. Bargaining power of buyers increases as they have more choices. Switching cost decrease because product has become more undifferentiated and standardised. As far as rivalry is concern, the differences between banks are smoothed as size of a bank is less important. Further providing services through the Internet is cheaper than using traditional distribution channels. Internet banking increased supplier power. Banks acted as supplier before. Now they pose intermediaries which enables access to range of products and delivery channels. Switching costs are high for bank if it is dealing with "big" customers. Such analysis helps manager to understand how the Internet influences five competitive forces. Existing banks using the analysis periodically can evaluate changes within the industry. Potential entrants can assess if the enter into industry will be profitable for them. Overall the analysis is useful in competitive strategy formulating (Siaw, Yu, 2004).

Besides numbers of advantages the model is subject of many critiques. According Grant (2002, p. 89), the theoretical bases of the Porter's Five Forces model are the most criticised by economists. Furthermore doubtful theoretical foundation, there are limitations because of static character of the model. Industry structures are considered to be stable and determinate by external forces. Grant (2002, p. 89) says that: "Industry structure drives intensity of competition, which in returns determines the level of industry profitability." Therefore industry structures cannot remain unchanged in dynamic process of competition. Another issue which Grant points out is missing empirical evidence of importance of industry environment for company profitability. Faulkner and Campbell (2003, p. 249) also criticise static character of the Five Forces model saying that industry structures are continuously changing because of competition between firms and strategies adoped by companies within the industry. Static character of the model is also pointed out by Lynch (2000, p. 131), he says that forces are constantly changing and the moves could be more rapid than the model explain. Next critic which Lynch expresses is about the buyer power. The model assumes that this aspect is as equal as others factors while he argues that buyers should be got greater importance. According to the model, the environment is viewed as a threat to a company however some organisations see co-operation with others, especially with suppliers, very beneficial. Faulkner and Campbell (2003, p. 249) express their view to this question, too. They criticise Porter's view on rivalry and competition between companies to be more essential than possible interaction as joint ventures or alliances. Lynch also questions the fact if it is sufficient for company to create its corporate strategy just after applying the Five Forces model. Further critics of model presented by Lynch consider its ignorance of human aspect of strategy. The model overlooks features as country cultures or management skills. The presumption that company's own interests are primary might not be correct for some charitable and government institutions. Hill and Jones (2001, p. 97) reveal two weaknesses of the five forces model. The first is, as the other authors say, about its static character however they enhance their critique to disregarding the role of innovation. Innovations represent driven force of competition within the industry. As any company comes up with new product, technology or process it can gain great competitive advantage and earn profit. Another function of innovation lies in converting industry competition. As the production costs could be cut down due to e.g. new technologies, the barriers to entering the industry are removed and small companies can also access the competition. They provide example of the steel industry where after introducing technology as electric arc furnaces, the characteristic oligopoly industry became more price competitive and fragmented industry and smaller companies can also compete. Porter (2008, p.86) does not see innovation itself as a strong factor which can make industry profitable. He argues that often industries with low technology, high switching costs or price intensive buyers are more profitably than attractive software or information technologies ones.

Because the model is static, all changes, which arise in the industry, cannot be recorded. Hill and Jones (2007, p. 66) conclude: "The Five Forces model is of limited value because it represents no more than snapshots of a constantly changing situation. Thus, managers must constantly repeat industry analysis and pay attention to changes in the forces of competition." As far as the second critic is consider, same as Grant (2002, p. 89), Hill and Jones (2001, p. 97) talk about overrating the role of industry. Industry is given too much importance as the determinant of organisation profit while the differences between individual companies are neglected. Companies profit within industry varies and it has been detected that only 10% to 20% of differences is explained by industry structure. Consequently, we can say that company's own capacity and resources are more significant for profitability than industry in which it operates. None of company will be successful just because it is in the attractive industry. Company's strategic resources as intangible assets, brand name are critical for analysis and strategy making (Crook at all, 2003). Other authors who agree that the Porter's model is completely focus on external environment rather than internal resources of a company are Faulkner and Campbell (2003, p. 249). They criticise Porter's view on outside environment as a root of firm's success. Their another critique consider the application of industry analysis to individual company. This might not be as successful as first thought. In spite of critics authors admit that the Porter's model of industry analysis stays as one of the most significant model of strategic management even though it has been introduced twenty years ago.

Further shortcoming of the Porter's model is that it was meant for industrial companies g.e. Coca-Cola, Ford Motors or Dell, not for knowledge based firms in field of advertising, consulting or legal. Manager of these companies bear some risk by using this tool and it is recommended to alter the model according to needs of such firms (Sheehan, 2005).

Recklies in her article "Porter's 5 Forces" (2001) indicates various criticisms. Besides acknowledgement that the model is static and it does not take into account co-operation between companies, the author gives also other critiques. As the model supposes perfect market, it has limited application in more regulated industries. The model fits the best to analyse simple market structures. In the case of complex industries with numbers of interrelations it is very complicated to analyse all five forces. On the other hand the author alerts that too narrow look on one segment in such industry can cause oversight of important factors. She concludes, as well as others authors, that the Five Forces model present a tool for managers to view the current situation of the industry in easy and understandable way and it is a good beginning for additional analysis.

Recklies in her another article (2001) says that one of the reason for critics are today's changed economic circumstances. The model is found on the situation in the eighties. Cyclical developments, steady market structures and strong competition are typical for this time. Nowadays, technologies, the Internet and e-business application are seen in all industries and it transforms industry structures. This is the reason why the model cannot be used to explicate today dynamic changes and she adds: "It is not advisable, if not to say impossible, to develop strategy solely on basis of Porters model."

Downes realised the same trend and in the article "Beyond Porter" (1997) he introduces three new forces - digitalization, globalization and deregulation as current issues which influence businesses. The new forces are seen in business activities as they are moving from physical world to computerised networks. According to Downes new strategic framework and analytical tools are essential to apply. Digitalization enables firms to gain access to greatly more information than before on the other hand it pose the treat of unfamiliar and unpredictable competition. Due to Globalization even local companies are able to become global as logistic and communication improved. Deregulation also opens up new possibility for company e.g. restructuring, more open international market.

More others authors argue that the model should be extended about another force. They have various views on what it should be. Hill and Jones (2007, p. 57) see the sixth force as complementors. Complements are considered to be determinant of demand for products thus having a satisfactory supplier affects company's profit. Attractive complementary products create value and opportunity for company within an industry. On the other hand inefficient complementors pose threat and they are cause of slow industry development and low profitability. Also Grant (2005, p. 103) see complementors as significant impact on companies competitiveness and refer to them as to the sixth force. In the case of close complements of products, products have low value separately as consumer wants the whole. Question is how the value is divided between producers. The most common the supplier with stronger market position who is able to lower the value of other complements, gets much of profits.

Karen-Silver (1997, p. 46) argues while current competitive environment calls for new forces to be consider, the original core i.e. five forces stays the most powerful.

Porter (2008, p. 86) agrees that there are other important issue within an industry but he refers to them as to factors not forces. He presents factors like industry growth rate, technology and innovation, Government, complementary products and services. In addition he says: "It is especially important to avoid the common pitfall of mistaking certain visible attributes of an industry for its underlying structure."

In summary, Michael Porters models do not have the influence they used to have any more. New economic laws came up and other drivers stared to transform markets. Nevertheless, that does not mean that Porters theories became invalid. All we have to do is to apply them with the knowledge of their limitations in mind and to use them as a part of a larger framework of management tools, techniques and theories. This approach, however, is advisable for the application of every business model - brand-new or old, from Porter or from somebody else, and in every economy


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