porters-generic-strategies

Competitive Advantage In A Nutshell

According to Michael Porter, a competitive advantage in a given industry could be pursued in two key ways: low cost (cost leadership) or differentiation. A third generic strategy is a focus. According to Porter, a failure to do so would end up stuck in the middle scenario, where the company will not retain a long-term competitive advantage.

Porter’s five forces

In his book, “Competitive Advantage,” in 1985, Porter tried to conceptualize and break down what determined a competitive advantage for companies within specific marketplaces.

As he explained in the book, “competition is at the core of the success or failure of firms.”

The whole point for Porter was, through competitive strategy, “to establish a profitable and sustainable position against the forces that determine industry competition.”

For Porter, the whole matter of competition lay in understanding what industries carried long-term profitability and what factors determined it.

The company able, through competitive strategy, to grasp those two factors would be able to build a competitive advantage (sustained long-term high profits).

At the same time, in order for a firm to create this competitive advantage, it needed to pick its competitive position.

According to Porter, then, the world of business strategy could be addressed according to two core, dynamic elements:

  • Industry attractiveness.
  • Competitive position change.

In that, the competitive strategy will answer two core questions:

  • What does the business environment look like? And,
  • How can this environment be shaped in the firm’s favor?

Determine the industry’s attractiveness

porter-five-forces
Porter’s Five Forces is a model that helps organizations to gain a better understanding of their industries and competition. Published for the first time by Professor Michael Porter in his book “Competitive Strategy” in the 1980s. The model breaks down industries and markets by analyzing them through five forces

The first step, for Porter, was the analysis of the industry attractiveness. This could be analyzed and understood through Porter’s five forces.

In short:

  • Porter’s five forces helped analyze the industry attractiveness at a broader level.
  • Porter’s generic strategies helped determine its competitive position within that industry.

Competitive positioning and Porter’s generic strategies

For Michael Porter, a competitive advantage would be created as a firm exceeds its costs

There are two basic types of competitive advantage: cost leadership
and differentiation. A third one is a focus.

Let’s break them down.

Cost leadership

According to Porter, there are three core strategies for competitive positioning: cost leadership, differentiation, and focus.

Cost leadership is straightforward, as the player rolling this out will become the lost-cost producer in the industry.

As Porter highlighted, a cost leader has to have a broad scope (and scale). Indeed, the broad scope is a key element of cost leadership in the first place.

A cost leader will simply be able to offer among the lowest-priced products in the industry because it achieves cost leadership.

Therefore, the cost leader isn’t such because it started a price war.

Quite the opposite, the cost leader is such because, thanks to its broad industry reach, efficiency, and scale can sell its products at a lower price and yet make margins.

In short, the low-priced product is the effect of cost leadership.

The cost leader has to keep an eye on differentiation as well. Thus, there isn’t a pure cost leader meant able to be such without differentiation.

A cost leader has to be at least comparable or perceived as such to enable the cost leader to have enough margins for long-term sustained advantage.

Cost leadership can be achieved through things like:

Differentiation strategy

In a differentiation strategy, companies work on being perceived as unique in their industries for buyers.

As the company is able to be perceived as unique, it will be able to charge a premium price.

Porter highlights that differentiation can be different in any industry, and it can be based on the following:

  • Product.
  • Delivery system.
  • Marketing approach.
  • Or other factors combined.

Differentiation will be achieved as a firm will attract buyers based on its unique features or perhaps by how the firm is perceived in the marketplace and industry.

Focus Strategies

Where the cost leadership and differentiation seek a competitive advantage “in a broad range of industry segments,” focus strategies aim at a narrow segment, either through a cost advantage (cost focus) or differentiation (differentiation focus).

The focus strategy can be broken down into two sub-categories:

  • Cost focus.
  • Differentiation focus.

The focuser ‘selects a segment or group of
segments in the industry and tailors its strategy to serving them to
the exclusion of others. By optimizing its strategy for the target seg·
ments, the foeuser seeks to achieve a competitive advantage in its
target segments even though it does not possess a competitive advantage overaLL

Stuck in the middle

Where a company fails in achieving one of the three generic strategies, it falls in a scenario that Porter calls “stuck in the middle.”

In this scenario, the company failed to achieve any competitive advantage, as such it will experience a below-average performance.

That’s because, according to Porter, the companies implementing one of the three generic strategies, will have a competitive advantage, and the company stuck in the middle, therefore, will experience a disadvantage.

Key takeaways

  • According to Porter, competitive advantage can be achieved by understanding the industry’s attractiveness and based on that, by applying a competitive positioning.
  • The industry attractiveness can be evaluated, according to Porter, through five forces, which determine the structural anatomy of that industry.
  • Once the industry attractiveness is evaluated, a company will need to apply one of the three generic strategies (cost leadership, differentiation, focus).
  • In cost leadership, the cost leader will create, for instance, through economies of scale, a cost structure able to sustain lower prices within the same industry, and yet be profitable in the long-term.
  • The differentiator, instead, will be able to grab premium prices, thanks to the fact that it is perceived as unique by industry buyers (through product features, marketing, distribution, or a mix of those factors).
  • Contrary to cost leaders and differentiation, which aim at broad markets, the focuser will target a narrow segment of the industry, either by targeting cost or differentiation.
  • In the scenario, a company fails to choose a generic strategy it will fall in a “stuck in the middle scenario,” where according to Porter, it will lose its long-term competitiveness, as it will run at disadvantage.

Key Highlights:

  • Porter’s Competitive Advantage Framework: According to Michael Porter, competitive advantage within an industry can be achieved through two main strategies: low cost (cost leadership) and differentiation. A third strategy involves focusing on a specific segment of the market.
  • Industry Attractiveness and Competitive Position: Porter emphasized that competition is central to a firm’s success or failure. Establishing a profitable and sustainable position against industry competition is the essence of competitive strategy. Companies need to assess industry attractiveness and choose a competitive position to gain a long-term competitive advantage.
  • Porter’s Five Forces Model: Porter’s Five Forces model helps analyze industry attractiveness by considering five key factors: competitive rivalry, supplier power, buyer power, threat of substitutes, and threat of new entrants. These forces shape the competitive landscape of an industry.
  • Generic Strategies: Porter identified three generic strategies for competitive positioning: cost leadership, differentiation, and focus. Cost leadership involves becoming the low-cost producer in the industry, achieving efficiency and scale. Differentiation strategy focuses on being perceived as unique, allowing the company to charge premium prices. Focus strategies target specific market segments either through cost advantage or differentiation.
  • Stuck in the Middle Scenario: Companies that fail to adopt one of the three generic strategies end up in a “stuck in the middle” scenario. This means they lack a competitive advantage and experience below-average performance. Companies successfully implementing one of the generic strategies have a competitive advantage over those stuck in the middle.
  • Key Takeaways:
    • Competitive advantage is achieved by understanding industry attractiveness and applying a suitable competitive positioning strategy.
    • Industry attractiveness can be assessed through Porter’s Five Forces, which analyze the competitive forces shaping an industry.
    • The three generic strategies are cost leadership, differentiation, and focus.
    • Cost leaders achieve low prices through efficiency and scale.
    • Differentiators charge premium prices by being perceived as unique.
    • Focus strategies target specific market segments through cost or differentiation.
    • Companies failing to choose a generic strategy end up with a competitive disadvantage, referred to as “stuck in the middle.”

Other frameworks from Michael Porter

Porter’s Generic Strategies

porters-generic-strategies
In his book, “Competitive Advantage,” in 1985, Porter conceptualized the concept of competitive advantage, by looking at two key aspects. Industry attractiveness, and the company’s strategic positioning. The latter, according to Porter, can be achieved either via cost leadership, differentiation, or focus.

Porter’s Value Chain Model

porters-value-chain-model
In his 1985 book Competitive Advantage, Porter explains that a value chain is a collection of processes that a company performs to create value for its consumers. As a result, he asserts that value chain analysis is directly linked to competitive advantage. Porter’s Value Chain Model is a strategic management tool developed by Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter. The tool analyses a company’s value chain – defined as the combination of processes that the company uses to make money.

Porter’s Diamond Model

porters-diamond-model
Porter’s Diamond Model is a diamond-shaped framework that explains why specific industries in a nation become internationally competitive while those in other nations do not. The model was first published in Michael Porter’s 1990 book The Competitive Advantage of Nations. This framework looks at the firm strategy, structure/rivalry, factor conditions, demand conditions, related and supporting industries.

Porter’s Four Corners Analysis 

four-corners-analysis
Developed by American academic Michael Porter, the Four Corners Analysis helps a business understand its particular competitive landscape. The analysis is a form of competitive intelligence where a business determines its future strategy by assessing its competitors’ strategy, looking at four elements: drivers, current strategy, management assumptions, and capabilities.

Five Forces Model

porter-five-forces
Porter’s Five Forces is a model that helps organizations to gain a better understanding of their industries and competition. Published for the first time by Professor Michael Porter in his book “Competitive Strategy” in the 1980s. The model breaks down industries and markets by analyzing them through five forces

Six Forces Model

six-forces-models
The Six Forces Model is a variation of Porter’s Five Forces. The sixth force, according to this model, is the complementary products. In short, the six forces model is an adaptation especially used in the tech business world to assess the change of the context, based on new market entrants and whether those can play out initially as complementary products and in the long-term substitutes.

Connected Strategy Frameworks

ADKAR Model

adkar-model
The ADKAR model is a management tool designed to assist employees and businesses in transitioning through organizational change. To maximize the chances of employees embracing change, the ADKAR model was developed by author and engineer Jeff Hiatt in 2003. The model seeks to guide people through the change process and importantly, ensure that people do not revert to habitual ways of operating after some time has passed.

Ansoff Matrix

ansoff-matrix
You can use the Ansoff Matrix as a strategic framework to understand what growth strategy is more suited based on the market context. Developed by mathematician and business manager Igor Ansoff, it assumes a growth strategy can be derived from whether the market is new or existing, and whether the product is new or existing.

Business Model Canvas

business-model-canvas
The business model canvas is a framework proposed by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur in Busines Model Generation enabling the design of business models through nine building blocks comprising: key partners, key activities, value propositions, customer relationships, customer segments, critical resources, channels, cost structure, and revenue streams.

Lean Startup Canvas

lean-startup-canvas
The lean startup canvas is an adaptation by Ash Maurya of the business model canvas by Alexander Osterwalder, which adds a layer that focuses on problems, solutions, key metrics, unfair advantage based, and a unique value proposition. Thus, starting from mastering the problem rather than the solution.

Blitzscaling Canvas

blitzscaling-business-model-innovation-canvas
The Blitzscaling business model canvas is a model based on the concept of Blitzscaling, which is a particular process of massive growth under uncertainty, and that prioritizes speed over efficiency and focuses on market domination to create a first-scaler advantage in a scenario of uncertainty.

Blue Ocean Strategy

blue-ocean-strategy
A blue ocean is a strategy where the boundaries of existing markets are redefined, and new uncontested markets are created. At its core, there is value innovation, for which uncontested markets are created, where competition is made irrelevant. And the cost-value trade-off is broken. Thus, companies following a blue ocean strategy offer much more value at a lower cost for the end customers.

Business Analysis Framework

business-analysis
Business analysis is a research discipline that helps driving change within an organization by identifying the key elements and processes that drive value. Business analysis can also be used in Identifying new business opportunities or how to take advantage of existing business opportunities to grow your business in the marketplace.

BCG Matrix

bcg-matrix
In the 1970s, Bruce D. Henderson, founder of the Boston Consulting Group, came up with The Product Portfolio (aka BCG Matrix, or Growth-share Matrix), which would look at a successful business product portfolio based on potential growth and market shares. It divided products into four main categories: cash cows, pets (dogs), question marks, and stars.

Balanced Scorecard

balanced-scorecard
First proposed by accounting academic Robert Kaplan, the balanced scorecard is a management system that allows an organization to focus on big-picture strategic goals. The four perspectives of the balanced scorecard include financial, customer, business process, and organizational capacity. From there, according to the balanced scorecard, it’s possible to have a holistic view of the business.

Blue Ocean Strategy 

blue-ocean-strategy
A blue ocean is a strategy where the boundaries of existing markets are redefined, and new uncontested markets are created. At its core, there is value innovation, for which uncontested markets are created, where competition is made irrelevant. And the cost-value trade-off is broken. Thus, companies following a blue ocean strategy offer much more value at a lower cost for the end customers.

GAP Analysis

gap-analysis
A gap analysis helps an organization assess its alignment with strategic objectives to determine whether the current execution is in line with the company’s mission and long-term vision. Gap analyses then help reach a target performance by assisting organizations to use their resources better. A good gap analysis is a powerful tool to improve execution.

GE McKinsey Model

ge-mckinsey-matrix
The GE McKinsey Matrix was developed in the 1970s after General Electric asked its consultant McKinsey to develop a portfolio management model. This matrix is a strategy tool that provides guidance on how a corporation should prioritize its investments among its business units, leading to three possible scenarios: invest, protect, harvest, and divest.

McKinsey 7-S Model

mckinsey-7-s-model
The McKinsey 7-S Model was developed in the late 1970s by Robert Waterman and Thomas Peters, who were consultants at McKinsey & Company. Waterman and Peters created seven key internal elements that inform a business of how well positioned it is to achieve its goals, based on three hard elements and four soft elements.

McKinsey’s Seven Degrees

mckinseys-seven-degrees
McKinsey’s Seven Degrees of Freedom for Growth is a strategy tool. Developed by partners at McKinsey and Company, the tool helps businesses understand which opportunities will contribute to expansion, and therefore it helps to prioritize those initiatives.

McKinsey Horizon Model

mckinsey-horizon-model
The McKinsey Horizon Model helps a business focus on innovation and growth. The model is a strategy framework divided into three broad categories, otherwise known as horizons. Thus, the framework is sometimes referred to as McKinsey’s Three Horizons of Growth.

Porter’s Five Forces

porter-five-forces
Porter’s Five Forces is a model that helps organizations to gain a better understanding of their industries and competition. Published for the first time by Professor Michael Porter in his book “Competitive Strategy” in the 1980s. The model breaks down industries and markets by analyzing them through five forces.

Porter’s Generic Strategies

competitive-advantage
According to Michael Porter, a competitive advantage, in a given industry could be pursued in two key ways: low cost (cost leadership), or differentiation. A third generic strategy is focus. According to Porter a failure to do so would end up stuck in the middle scenario, where the company will not retain a long-term competitive advantage.

Porter’s Value Chain Model

porters-value-chain-model
In his 1985 book Competitive Advantage, Porter explains that a value chain is a collection of processes that a company performs to create value for its consumers. As a result, he asserts that value chain analysis is directly linked to competitive advantage. Porter’s Value Chain Model is a strategic management tool developed by Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter. The tool analyses a company’s value chain – defined as the combination of processes that the company uses to make money.

Porter’s Diamond Model

porters-diamond-model
Porter’s Diamond Model is a diamond-shaped framework that explains why specific industries in a nation become internationally competitive while those in other nations do not. The model was first published in Michael Porter’s 1990 book The Competitive Advantage of Nations. This framework looks at the firm strategy, structure/rivalry, factor conditions, demand conditions, related and supporting industries.

SWOT Analysis

swot-analysis
A SWOT Analysis is a framework used for evaluating the business‘s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. It can aid in identifying the problematic areas of your business so that you can maximize your opportunities. It will also alert you to the challenges your organization might face in the future.

PESTEL Analysis

pestel-analysis

Scenario Planning

scenario-planning
Businesses use scenario planning to make assumptions on future events and how their respective business environments may change in response to those future events. Therefore, scenario planning identifies specific uncertainties – or different realities and how they might affect future business operations. Scenario planning attempts at better strategic decision making by avoiding two pitfalls: underprediction, and overprediction.

STEEPLE Analysis

steeple-analysis
The STEEPLE analysis is a variation of the STEEP analysis. Where the step analysis comprises socio-cultural, technological, economic, environmental/ecological, and political factors as the base of the analysis. The STEEPLE analysis adds other two factors such as Legal and Ethical.

SWOT Analysis

swot-analysis
A SWOT Analysis is a framework used for evaluating the business’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. It can aid in identifying the problematic areas of your business so that you can maximize your opportunities. It will also alert you to the challenges your organization might face in the future.

Related Strategy Concepts: Go-To-Market StrategyMarketing StrategyBusiness ModelsTech Business ModelsJobs-To-Be DoneDesign ThinkingLean Startup CanvasValue ChainValue Proposition CanvasBalanced ScorecardBusiness Model CanvasSWOT AnalysisGrowth HackingBundlingUnbundlingBootstrappingVenture CapitalPorter’s Five ForcesPorter’s Generic StrategiesPorter’s Five ForcesPESTEL AnalysisSWOTPorter’s Diamond ModelAnsoffTechnology Adoption CurveTOWSSOARBalanced ScorecardOKRAgile MethodologyValue PropositionVTDF

Main Free Guides:

About The Author

Scroll to Top
FourWeekMBA