In formulating business strategy, managers must consider the strategies of the firm's competitors. While in highly fragmented commodity industries the moves of any single competitor may be less important, in concentrated industries competitor analysis becomes a vital part of strategic planning.
Competitor analysis has two primary activities, 1) obtaining information about important competitors, and 2) using that information to predict competitor behavior. The goal of competitor analysis is to understand:
Casual knowledge about competitors usually is insufficient in competitor analysis. Rather, competitors should be analyzed systematically, using organized competitor intelligence-gathering to compile a wide array of information so that well informed strategy decisions can be made.
Competitor Analysis Framework
Michael Porter presented a framework for analyzing competitors. This framework is based on the following four key aspects of a competitor:
Objectives and assumptions are what drive the competitor, and strategy and capabilities are what the competitor is doing or is capable of doing. These components can be depicted as shown in the following diagram:
Competitor Analysis Components
A competitor analysis should include the more important existing competitors as well as potential competitors such as those firms that might enter the industry, for example, by extending their present strategy or by vertically integrating.
Competitor's Current Strategy
The two main sources of information about a competitor's strategy is what the competitor says and what it does. What a competitor is saying about its strategy is revealed in:
However, this stated strategy often differs from what the competitor actually is doing. What the competitor is doing is evident in where its cash flow is directed, such as in the following tangible actions:
Knowledge of a competitor's objectives facilitates a better prediction of the competitor's reaction to different competitive moves. For example, a competitor that is focused on reaching short-term financial goals might not be willing to spend much money responding to a competitive attack. Rather, such a competitor might favor focusing on the products that hold positions that better can be defended. On the other hand, a company that has no short term profitability objectives might be willing to participate in destructive price competition in which neither firm earns a profit.
Competitor objectives may be financial or other types. Some examples include growth rate, market share, and technology leadership. Goals may be associated with each hierarchical level of strategy - corporate, business unit, and functional level.
The competitor's organizational structure provides clues as to which functions of the company are deemed to be the more important. For example, those functions that report directly to the chief executive officer are likely to be given priority over those that report to a senior vice president. Other aspects of the competitor that serve as indicators of its objectives include risk tolerance, management incentives, backgrounds of the executives, composition of the board of directors, legal or contractual restrictions, and any additional corporate-level goals that may influence the competing business unit. Whether the competitor is meeting its objectives provides an indication of how likely it is to change its strategy.
The assumptions that a competitor's managers hold about their firm and their industry help to define the moves that they will consider. For example, if in the past the industry introduced a new type of product that failed, the industry executives may assume that there is no market for the product. Such assumptions are not always accurate and if incorrect may present opportunities. For example, new entrants may have the opportunity to introduce a product similar to a previously unsuccessful one without retaliation because incumbant firms may not take their threat seriously. Honda was able to enter the U.S. motorcycle market with a small motorbike because U.S. manufacturers had assumed that there was no market for small bikes based on their past experience.
A competitor's assumptions may be based on a number of factors, including any of the following:
A thorough competitor analysis also would include assumptions that a competitor makes about its own competitors, and whether that assessment is accurate.
Competitor's Resources and Capabilities
Knowledge of the competitor's assumptions, objectives, and current strategy is useful in understanding how the competitor might want to respond to a competitive attack. However, its resources and capabilities determine its ability to respond effectively.
A competitor's capabilities can be analyzed according to its strengths and weaknesses in various functional areas, as is done in a SWOT analysis. The competitor's strengths define its capabilities. The analysis can be taken further to evaluate the competitor's ability to increase its capabilities in certain areas. A financial analysis can be performed to reveal its sustainable growth rate.
Finally, since the competitive environment is dynamic, the competitor's ability to react swiftly to change should be evaluated. Some firms have heavy momentum and may continue for many years in the same direction before adapting. Others are able to mobilize and adapt very quickly. Factors that slow a company down include low cash reserves, large investments in fixed assets, and an organizational structure that hinders quick action.
Competitor Response Profile
Information from an analysis of the competitor's objectives, assumptions, strategy, and capabilities can be compiled into a response profile of possible moves that might be made by the competitor. This profile includes both potential offensive and defensive moves.
The specific moves and their expected strength can be estimated using information gleaned from the analysis. The result of the competitor analysis should be an improved ability to predict the competitor's behavior and even to influence that behavior to the firm's advantage.