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Awareness of the fi ve forces can help a company understand the structure of its industry and stake out a position that is more profi table and less vulnerable to attack.

78 Harvard Business Review | January 2008 |

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P et

er C

ro w

th er

Editor’s Note: In 1979, Harvard Business Review published “How Competitive Forces Shape Strat-

egy” by a young economist and associate professor,

Michael E. Porter. It was his fi rst HBR article, and it

started a revolution in the strategy fi eld. In subsequent

decades, Porter has brought his signature economic

rigor to the study of competitive strategy for corpora-

tions, regions, nations, and, more recently, health care

and philanthropy. “Porter’s fi ve forces” have shaped a

generation of academic research and business practice.

With prodding and assistance from Harvard Business

School Professor Jan Rivkin and longtime colleague

Joan Magretta, Porter here reaffi rms, updates, and

extends the classic work. He also addresses common

misunderstandings, provides practical guidance for

users of the framework, and offers a deeper view of

its implications for strategy today.


by Michael E. Porter | January 2008 | Harvard Business Review 79


IN ESSENCE, the job of the strategist is to under-

STRATEGYSTRATEGY stand and cope with competition. Often, however, managers defi ne competition too narrowly, as if it occurred only among today’s direct competi- tors. Yet competition for profi ts goes beyond es- tablished industry rivals to include four other competitive forces as well: customers, suppliers, potential entrants, and substitute products. The extended rivalry that results from all fi ve forces defi nes an industry’s structure and shapes the nature of competitive interaction within an industry.

As different from one another as industries might appear on the surface, the underlying driv- ers of profi tability are the same. The global auto industry, for instance, appears to have nothing in common with the worldwide market for art masterpieces or the heavily regulated health-care

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LEADERSHIP AND STRATEGY | The Five Competitive Forces That Shape Strategy

80 Harvard Business Review | January 2008 |

delivery industry in Europe. But to under- stand industry competition and profi tabil- ity in each of those three cases, one must analyze the industry’s underlying struc- ture in terms of the fi ve forces. (See the ex- hibit “The Five Forces That Shape Industry Competition.”)

If the forces are intense, as they are in such industries as airlines, textiles, and ho- tels, almost no company earns attractive re- turns on investment. If the forces are benign, as they are in industries such as software, soft drinks, and toiletries, many companies are profi table. Industry structure drives competition and profi tability, not whether an industry produces a product or service, is emerging or mature, high tech or low tech, regulated or unregulated. While a myriad of factors can affect industry profi tability in the short run – including the weather and the business cycle – industry structure, manifested in the competitive forces, sets industry profi tability in the medium and long run. (See the exhibit “Differences in Industry Profi tability.”)

Understanding the competitive forces, and their under- lying causes, reveals the roots of an industry’s current profi t- ability while providing a framework for anticipating and infl uencing competition (and profi tability) over time. A healthy industry structure should be as much a competitive concern to strategists as their company’s own position. Un- derstanding industry structure is also essential to effective strategic positioning. As we will see, defending against the competitive forces and shaping them in a company’s favor are crucial to strategy.

Forces That Shape Competition The confi guration of the fi ve forces differs by industry. In the market for commercial aircraft, fi erce rivalry between dominant producers Airbus and Boeing and the bargain- ing power of the airlines that place huge orders for aircraft are strong, while the threat of entry, the threat of substi- tutes, and the power of suppliers are more benign. In the movie theater industry, the proliferation of substitute forms of entertainment and the power of the movie producers and distributors who supply movies, the critical input, are important.

The strongest competitive force or forces determine the profi tability of an industry and become the most important to strategy formulation. The most salient force, however, is not always obvious.

For example, even though rivalry is often fi erce in com- modity industries, it may not be the factor limiting profi t- ability. Low returns in the photographic fi lm industry, for instance, are the result of a superior substitute product – as Kodak and Fuji, the world’s leading producers of photo- graphic fi lm, learned with the advent of digital photography. In such a situation, coping with the substitute product be- comes the number one strategic priority.

Industry structure grows out of a set of economic and technical characteristics that determine the strength of each competitive force. We will examine these drivers in the pages that follow, taking the perspective of an incumbent, or a company already present in the industry. The analysis can be readily extended to understand the challenges facing a potential entrant.

THREAT OF ENTRY. New entrants to an industry bring new capacity and a desire to gain market share that puts pressure on prices, costs, and the rate of investment nec- essary to compete. Particularly when new entrants are diversifying from other markets, they can leverage exist- ing capabilities and cash fl ows to shake up competition, as Pepsi did when it entered the bottled water industry, Micro- soft did when it began to offer internet browsers, and Apple did when it entered the music distribution business.

Michael E. Porter is the Bishop William Lawrence University Pro-

fessor at Harvard University, based at Harvard Business School in

Boston. He is a six-time McKinsey Award winner, including for his

most recent HBR article, “Strategy and Society,” coauthored with

Mark R. Kramer (December 2006).

The Five Forces That Shape Industry Competition

Bargaining Power of Suppliers

Threat of New


Bargaining Power of Buyers

Threat of Substitute Products or


Rivalry Among Existing


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The threat of entry, therefore, puts a cap on the profi t po- tential of an industry. When the threat is high, incumbents must hold down their prices or boost investment to deter new competitors. In specialty coffee retailing, for example, relatively low entry barriers mean that Starbucks must in- vest aggressively in modernizing stores and menus.

The threat of entry in an industry depends on the height of entry barriers that are present and on the reaction en- trants can expect from incumbents. If entry barriers are low and newcomers expect little retaliation from the entrenched competitors, the threat of entry is high and industry profi t- ability is moderated. It is the threat of entry, not whether entry actually occurs, that holds down profi tability.

Barriers to entry. Entry barriers are advantages that incum- bents have relative to new entrants. There are seven major sources:

1. Supply-side economies of scale. These economies arise when fi rms that produce at larger volumes enjoy lower costs per unit because they can spread fi xed costs over more units, employ more effi cient technology, or command better terms from suppliers. Supply-side scale economies deter entry by forcing the aspiring entrant either to come into the industry on a large scale, which requires dislodging entrenched com- petitors, or to accept a cost disadvantage.

Scale economies can be found in virtually every activity in the value chain; which ones are most important varies by industry.1 In microprocessors, incumbents such as Intel are protected by scale economies in research, chip fabrica- tion, and consumer marketing. For lawn care companies like Scotts Miracle-Gro, the most important scale economies are found in the supply chain and media advertising. In small- package delivery, economies of scale arise in national logisti- cal systems and information technology.

2. Demand-side benefi ts of scale. These benefi ts, also known as network effects, arise in industries where a buyer’s willing- ness to pay for a company’s product increases with the num- ber of other buyers who also patronize the company. Buyers may trust larger companies more for a crucial product: Re- call the old adage that no one ever got fi red for buying from IBM (when it was the dominant computer maker). Buyers may also value being in a “network” with a larger number of fellow customers. For instance, online auction participants are attracted to eBay because it offers the most potential trading partners. Demand-side benefi ts of scale discourage

entry by limiting the willingness of customers to buy from a newcomer and by reducing the price the newcomer can com- mand until it builds up a large base of customers.

3. Customer switching costs. Switching costs are fi xed costs that buyers face when they change suppliers. Such costs may arise because a buyer who switches vendors must, for ex- ample, alter product specifi cations, retrain employees to use a new product, or modify processes or information systems. The larger the switching costs, the harder it will be for an en- trant to gain customers. Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software is an example of a product with very high switching costs. Once a company has installed SAP’s ERP system, for ex- ample, the costs of moving to a new vendor are astronomical

because of embedded data, the fact that internal processes have been adapted to SAP, major retraining needs, and the mission-critical nature of the applications.

4. Capital requirements. The need to invest large fi nan- cial resources in order to compete can deter new entrants. Capital may be necessary not only for fi xed facilities but also to extend customer credit, build inventories, and fund start- up losses. The barrier is particularly great if the capital is required for unrecoverable and therefore harder-to-fi nance expenditures, such as up-front advertising or research and development. While major corporations have the fi nancial resources to invade almost any industry, the huge capital requirements in certain fi elds limit the pool of likely en- trants. Conversely, in such fi elds as tax preparation services or short-haul trucking, capital requirements are minimal and potential entrants plentiful.

It is important not to overstate the degree to which capital requirements alone deter entry. If industry returns are at- tractive and are expected to remain so, and if capital markets are effi cient, investors will provide entrants with the funds they need. For aspiring air carriers, for instance, fi nancing is available to purchase expensive aircraft because of their high resale value, one reason why there have been numer- ous new airlines in almost every region.

5. Incumbency advantages independent of size. No matter what their size, incumbents may have cost or quality advan- tages not available to potential rivals. These advantages can stem from such sources as proprietary technology, preferen- tial access to the best raw material sources, preemption of the most favorable geographic locations, established brand identities, or cumulative experience that has allowed incum-

Industry structure drives competition and profi tability, not whether an industry is emerging or mature, high tech or low tech, regulated or unregulated.

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LEADERSHIP AND STRATEGY | The Five Competitive Forces That Shape Strategy

82 Harvard Business Review | January 2008 |

bents to learn how to produce more effi ciently. Entrants try to bypass such advantages. Upstart discounters such as Tar- get and Wal-Mart, for example, have located stores in free- standing sites rather than regional shopping centers where established department stores were well entrenched.

6. Unequal access to distribution channels. The new en- trant must, of course, secure distribution of its product or service. A new food item, for example, must displace others from the supermarket shelf via price breaks, promotions, intense selling efforts, or some other means. The more lim- ited the wholesale or retail channels are and the more that existing competitors have tied them up, the tougher entry into an industry will be. Sometimes access to distribution is so high a barrier that new entrants must bypass distribu- tion channels altogether or create their own. Thus, upstart low-cost airlines have avoided distribution through travel agents (who tend to favor established higher-fare carriers) and have encouraged passengers to book their own fl ights on the internet.

7. Restrictive government policy. Government policy can hinder or aid new entry directly, as well as amplify (or nul- lify) the other entry barriers. Government directly limits or even forecloses entry into industries through, for instance, licensing requirements and restrictions on foreign invest- ment. Regulated industries like liquor retailing, taxi services, and airlines are visible examples. Government policy can heighten other entry barriers through such means as ex- pansive patenting rules that protect proprietary technol- ogy from imitation or environmental or safety regulations that raise scale economies facing newcomers. Of course, government policies may also make entry easier – directly through subsidies, for instance, or indirectly by funding ba- sic research and making it available to all fi rms, new and old, reducing scale economies.

Entry barriers should be assessed relative to the capa- bilities of potential entrants, which may be start-ups, foreign fi rms, or companies in related industries. And, as some of our examples illustrate, the strategist must be mindful of the creative ways newcomers might fi nd to circumvent appar- ent barriers.

Expected retaliation. How potential entrants believe in- cumbents may react will also infl uence their decision to enter or stay out of an industry. If reaction is vigorous and protracted enough, the profi t potential of participating in the industry can fall below the cost of capital. Incumbents often use public statements and responses to one entrant to send a message to other prospective entrants about their commitment to defending market share.

Newcomers are likely to fear expected retaliation if: Incumbents have previously responded vigorously to

new entrants. Incumbents possess substantial resources to fi ght back,

including excess cash and unused borrowing power, avail-

able productive capacity, or clout with distribution channels and customers.

Incumbents seem likely to cut prices because they are committed to retaining market share at all costs or because the industry has high fi xed costs, which create a strong mo- tivation to drop prices to fi ll excess capacity.

Industry growth is slow so newcomers can gain volume only by taking it from incumbents.

An analysis of barriers to entry and expected retaliation is obviously crucial for any company contemplating entry into a new industry. The challenge is to fi nd ways to surmount the entry barriers without nullifying, through heavy invest- ment, the profi tability of participating in the industry.

THE POWER OF SUPPLIERS. Powerful suppliers capture more of the value for themselves by charging higher prices, limiting quality or services, or shifting costs to industry par- ticipants. Powerful suppliers, including suppliers of labor, can squeeze profi tability out of an industry that is unable to pass on cost increases in its own prices. Microsoft, for in- stance, has contributed to the erosion of profi tability among personal computer makers by raising prices on operating systems. PC makers, competing fi ercely for customers who can easily switch among them, have limited freedom to raise their prices accordingly.

Companies depend on a wide range of different supplier groups for inputs. A supplier group is powerful if:

It is more concentrated than the industry it sells to. Microsoft’s near monopoly in operating systems, coupled with the fragmentation of PC assemblers, exemplifi es this situation.

The supplier group does not depend heavily on the in- dustry for its revenues. Suppliers serving many industries will not hesitate to extract maximum profi ts from each one. If a particular industry accounts for a large portion of a sup- plier group’s volume or profi t, however, suppliers will want to protect the industry through reasonable pricing and as- sist in activities such as R&D and lobbying.

Industry participants face switching costs in changing suppliers. For example, shifting suppliers is diffi cult if com- panies have invested heavily in specialized ancillary equip-

Differences in Industry Profi tability

The average return on invested capital varies markedly from industry to industry. Between 1992 and 2006, for example, average return on invested capital in U.S. industries ranged as low as zero or even negative to more than 50%. At the high end are industries like soft drinks and prepackaged software, which have been almost six times more profi table than the airline industry over the period.

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ment or in learning how to operate a supplier’s equipment (as with Bloomberg terminals used by fi nancial profession- als). Or fi rms may have located their production lines adja- cent to a supplier’s manufacturing facilities (as in the case of some beverage companies and container manufacturers). When switching costs are high, industry participants fi nd it hard to play suppliers off against one another. (Note that suppliers may have switching costs as well. This limits their power.)

Suppliers offer products that are differentiated. Phar- maceutical companies that offer patented drugs with dis- tinctive medical benefi ts have more power over hospitals, health maintenance organizations, and other drug buyers, for example, than drug companies offering me-too or ge- neric products.

There is no substitute for what the supplier group pro- vides. Pilots’ unions, for example, exercise considerable sup- plier power over airlines partly because there is no good alternative to a well-trained pilot in the cockpit.

The supplier group can credibly threaten to integrate for- ward into the industry. In that case, if industry participants make too much money relative to suppliers, they will induce suppliers to enter the market.

THE POWER OF BUYERS. Powerful customers – the fl ip side of powerful suppliers – can capture more value by forc- ing down prices, demanding better quality or more service (thereby driving up costs), and generally playing industry participants off against one another, all at the expense of industry profi tability. Buyers are powerful if they have nego- tiating leverage relative to industry participants, especially if they are price sensitive, using their clout primarily to pres- sure price reductions.

As with suppliers, there may be distinct groups of custom- ers who differ in bargaining power. A customer group has negotiating leverage if:

There are few buyers, or each one purchases in volumes that are large relative to the size of a single vendor. Large- volume buyers are particularly powerful in industries with high fi xed costs, such as telecommunications equipment, off- shore drilling, and bulk chemicals. High fi xed costs and low marginal costs amplify the pressure on rivals to keep capac- ity fi lled through discounting.

The industry’s products are standardized or undifferenti- ated. If buyers believe they can always fi nd an equivalent product, they tend to play one vendor against another.

Buyers face few switching costs in changing vendors.

Profi tability of Selected U.S. Industries Average ROIC, 1992–2006

N um

be r

of In

du st

rie s


0% 5% 10% 15% 20% 25% 30% 35%







10th percentile 7.0%

25th percentile


Median: 14.3%

75th percentile 18.6%

90th percentile 25.3%

or higheror lower

Average Return on Invested Capital in U.S. Industries, 1992–2006

Security Brokers and Dealers

Soft Drinks

Prepackaged Software


Perfume, Cosmetics, Toiletries

Advertising Agencies

Distilled Spirits


Medical Instruments

Men’s and Boys’ Clothing


Household Appliances

Malt Beverages

Child Day Care Services

Household Furniture

Drug Stores

Grocery Stores

Iron and Steel Foundries

Cookies and Crackers

Mobile Homes

Wine and Brandy

Bakery Products

Engines and Turbines

Book Publishing

Laboratory Equipment

Oil and Gas Machinery

Soft Drink Bottling

Knitting Mills


Catalog, Mail-Order Houses


Return on invested capital (ROIC) is the appropriate measure of profi tability for strategy formulation, not to mention for equity investors. Return on sales or the growth rate of profi ts fail to account for the capital required to compete in the industry. Here, we utilize earnings before interest and taxes divided by average invested capital less excess cash as the measure of ROIC. This measure controls for idiosyncratic differences in capital structure and tax rates across companies and industries. Source: Standard & Poor’s, Compustat, and author’s calculations

Average industry ROIC in the U.S. 14.9%

40.9% 37.6% 37.6%

31.7% 28.6%

27.3% 26.4%

21.3% 21.0%

19.5% 19.5% 19.2% 19.0% 17.6%

17.0% 16.5%

16.0% 15.6%

15.4% 15.0% 13.9%

13.8% 13.7%

13.4% 13.4% 12.6%

11.7% 10.5% 10.4%

5.9% 5.9%

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LEADERSHIP AND STRATEGY | The Five Competitive Forces That Shape Strategy

84 Harvard Business Review | January 2008 |

Buyers can credibly threaten to integrate backward and produce the industry’s product themselves if vendors are too profi table. Producers of soft drinks and beer have long controlled the power of packaging manufacturers by threat- ening to make, and at times actually making, packaging ma- terials themselves.

A buyer group is price sensitive if: The product it purchases from the industry represents

a signifi cant fraction of its cost structure or procurement budget. Here buyers are likely to shop around and bargain hard, as consumers do for home mortgages. Where the prod- uct sold by an industry is a small fraction of buyers’ costs or expenditures, buyers are usually less price sensitive.

The buyer group earns low profi ts, is strapped for cash, or is otherwise under pressure to trim its purchasing costs. Highly profi table or cash-rich customers, in contrast, are gen- erally less price sensitive (that is, of course, if the item does not represent a large fraction of their costs).

The quality of buyers’ products or services is little af- fected by the industry’s product. Where quality is very much affected by the industry’s product, buyers are generally less price sensitive. When purchasing or renting production qual- ity cameras, for instance, makers of major motion pictures opt for highly reliable equipment with the latest features. They pay limited attention to price.

The industry’s product has little effect on the buyer’s other costs. Here, buyers focus on price. Conversely, where an industry’s product or service can pay for itself many times over by improving performance or reducing labor, material, or other costs, buyers are usually more interested in quality than in price. Examples include products and services like tax accounting or well logging (which measures below-ground conditions of oil wells) that can save or even make the buyer money. Similarly, buyers tend not to be price sensitive in ser- vices such as investment banking, where poor performance can be costly and embarrassing.

Most sources of buyer power apply equally to consum- ers and to business-to-business customers. Like industrial customers, consumers tend to be more price sensitive if they are purchasing products that are undifferentiated, expensive relative to their incomes, and of a sort where product perfor- mance has limited consequences. The major difference with consumers is that their needs can be more intangible and harder to quantify.

Intermediate customers, or customers who purchase the product but are not the end user (such as assemblers or distri- bution channels), can be analyzed the same way as other buy- ers, with one important addition. Intermediate customers gain signifi cant bargaining power when they can infl uence the purchasing decisions of customers downstream. Con- sumer electronics retailers, jewelry retailers, and agricultural- equipment distributors are examples of distribution chan- nels that exert a strong infl uence on end customers.

Producers often attempt to diminish channel clout through exclusive arrangements with particular distributors or retailers or by marketing directly to end users. Compo- nent manufacturers seek to develop power over assemblers by creating preferences for their components with down- stream customers. Such is the case with bicycle parts and with sweeteners. DuPont has created enormous clout by advertising its Stainmaster brand of carpet fi bers not only to the carpet manufacturers that actually buy them but also to downstream consumers. Many consumers request Stainmaster carpet even though DuPont is not a carpet manufacturer.

THE THREAT OF SUBSTITUTES. A substitute performs the same or a similar function as an industry’s product by a different means. Videoconferencing is a substitute for travel. Plastic is a substitute for aluminum. E-mail is a substitute for express mail. Sometimes, the threat of substitution is downstream or indirect, when a substitute replaces a buyer industry’s product. For example, lawn-care products and ser- vices are threatened when multifamily homes in urban areas substitute for single-family homes in the suburbs. Software sold to agents is threatened when airline and travel websites substitute for travel agents.

Substitutes are always present, but they are easy to over- look because they may appear to be very different from the industry’s product: To someone searching for a Father’s Day gift, neckties and power tools may be substitutes. It is a sub- stitute to do without, to purchase a used product rather than a new one, or to do it yourself (bring the service or product in-house).

When the threat of substitutes is high, industry profi tabil- ity suffers. Substitute products or services limit an industry’s profi t potential by placing a ceiling on prices. If an industry does not distance itself from substitutes through product performance, marketing, or other means, it will suffer in terms of profi tability – and often growth potential.

Substitutes not only limit profi ts in normal times, they also reduce the bonanza an industry can reap in good times. In emerging economies, for example, the surge in demand for wired telephone lines has been capped as many con- sumers opt to make a mobile telephone their fi rst and only phone line.

The threat of a substitute is high if: It offers an attractive price-performance trade-off to the

industry’s product. The better the relative value of the sub- stitute, the tighter is the lid on an industry’s profi t poten- tial. For example, conventional providers of long-distance telephone service have suffered from the advent of inex- pensive internet-based phone services such as Vonage and Skype. Similarly, video rental outlets are struggling with the emergence of cable and satellite video-on-demand services, online video rental services such as Netfl ix, and the rise of internet video sites like Google’s YouTube.

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The buyer’s cost of switching to the substitute is low. Switching from a proprietary, branded drug to a generic drug usually involves minimal costs, for example, which is why the shift to generics (and the fall in prices) is so substan- tial and rapid.

Strategists should be particularly alert to changes in other industries that may make them attractive substitutes when they were not before. Improvements in plastic materials, for example, allowed them to substitute for steel in many au- tomobile components. In this way, technological changes

or competitive discontinuities in seemingly unrelated busi- nesses can have major impacts on industry profi tability. Of course the substitution threat can also shift in favor of an industry, which bodes well for its future profi tability and growth potential.

RIVALRY AMONG EXISTING COMPETITORS. Rivalry among existing competitors takes many familiar forms, in- cluding price discounting, new product introductions, ad- vertising campaigns, and service improvements. High rivalry limits the profi tability of an industry. The degree to which ri- valry drives down an industry’s profi t potential depends, fi rst, on the intensity with which companies compete and, second, on the basis on which they compete.

The intensity of rivalry is greatest if: Competitors are numerous or are roughly equal in size

and power. In such situations, rivals fi nd it hard to avoid poaching business. Without an industry leader, practices de- sirable for the industry as a whole go unenforced.

Industry growth is slow. Slow growth precipitates fi ghts for market share.

Exit barriers are high. Exit barriers, the fl ip side of entry barriers, arise because of such things as highly specialized assets or management’s devotion to a particular business. These barriers keep companies in the market even though they may be earning low or negative returns. Excess capacity remains in use, and the profi tability of healthy competitors suffers as the sick ones hang on.

Rivals are highly committed to the business and have aspirations for leadership, especially if they have goals that go beyond economic performance in the particular industry. High commitment to a business arises for a variety of reasons. For example, state-owned competitors may have goals that include employment or prestige. Units of larger companies

may participate in an industry for image reasons or to offer a full line. Clashes of personality and ego have sometimes exaggerated rivalry to the detriment of profi tability in fi elds such as the media and high technology.

Firms cannot read each other’s signals well because of lack of familiarity with one another, diverse approaches to competing, or differing goals.

The strength of rivalry refl ects not just the intensity of competition but also the basis of competition. The dimen- sions on which competition takes place, and whether rivals

converge to compete on the same dimensions, have a major infl uence on profi tability.

Rivalry is especially destructive to profi tability if it gravi- tates solely to price because price competition transfers prof- its directly from an industry to its customers. Price cuts are usually easy for competitors to see and match, making suc- cessive rounds of retaliation likely. Sustained price competi- tion also trains customers to pay less attention to product features and service.

Price competition is most liable to occur if: Products or services of rivals are nearly identical and

there are few switching costs for buyers. This encourages competitors to cut prices to win new customers. Years of air- line price wars refl ect these circumstances in that industry.

Fixed costs are high and marginal costs are low. This creates intense pressure for competitors to cut prices below their average costs, even close to their marginal costs, to steal incremental customers while still making some contribution to covering fi xed costs. Many basic-materials businesses, such as paper and aluminum, suffer from this problem, especially if demand is not growing. So do delivery companies with fi xed networks of routes that must be served regardless of volume.

Capacity must be expanded in large increments to be effi cient. The need for large capacity expansions, as in the polyvinyl chloride business, disrupts the industry’s supply- demand balance and often leads to long and recurring peri- ods of overcapacity and price cutting.

The product is perishable. Perishability creates a strong temptation to cut prices and sell a product while it still has value. More products and services are perishable than is commonly thought. Just as tomatoes are perishable because they rot, models of computers are perishable because they

Rivalry is especially destructive to profi tability if it gravitates solely to price because price competition transfers profi ts directly from an industry to its customers.

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LEADERSHIP AND STRATEGY | The Five Competitive Forces That Shape Strategy

86 Harvard Business Review | January 2008 |

soon become obsolete, and information may be perishable if it diffuses rapidly or becomes outdated, thereby losing its value. Services such as hotel accommodations are perishable in the sense that unused capacity can never be recovered.

Competition on dimensions other than price – on product features, support services, delivery time, or brand image, for instance – is less likely to erode profi tability because it im- proves customer value and can support higher prices. Also, rivalry focused on such dimensions can improve value rela- tive to substitutes or raise the barriers facing new entrants. While nonprice rivalry sometimes escalates to levels that undermine industry profi tability, this is less likely to occur than it is with price rivalry.

As important as the dimensions of rivalry is whether ri- vals compete on the same dimensions. When all or many competitors aim to meet the same needs or compete on the same attributes, the result is zero-sum competition. Here, one fi rm’s gain is often another’s loss, driving down profi t- ability. While price competition runs a stronger risk than nonprice competition of becoming zero sum, this may not happen if companies take care to segment their markets, targeting their low-price offerings to different customers.

Rivalry can be positive sum, or actually increase the aver- age profi tability of an industry, when each competitor aims to serve the needs of different customer segments, with dif- ferent mixes of price, products, services, features, or brand identities. Such competition can not only support higher av- erage profi tability but also expand the industry, as the needs of more customer groups are better met. The opportunity for positive-sum competition will be greater in industries serving diverse customer groups. With a clear understand- ing of the structural underpinnings of rivalry, strategists can sometimes take steps to shift the nature of competition in a more positive direction.

Factors, Not Forces Industry structure, as manifested in the strength of the fi ve competitive forces, determines the industry’s long-run profi t potential because it determines how the economic value created by the industry is divided – how much is retained by companies in the industry versus bargained away by cus- tomers and suppliers, limited by substitutes, or constrained by potential new entrants. By considering all fi ve forces, a strategist keeps overall structure in mind instead of gravitat- ing to any one element. In addition, the strategist’s atten- tion remains focused on structural conditions rather than on fl eeting factors.

It is especially important to avoid the common pitfall of mistaking certain visible attributes of an industry for its un- derlying structure. Consider the following:

Industry growth rate. A common mistake is to assume that fast-growing industries are always attractive. Growth does tend to mute rivalry, because an expanding pie offers

opportunities for all competitors. But fast growth can put suppliers in a powerful position, and high growth with low entry barriers will draw in entrants. Even without new en- trants, a high growth rate will not guarantee profi tability if customers are powerful or substitutes are attractive. Indeed, some fast-growth businesses, such as personal computers, have been among the least profi table industries in recent years. A narrow focus on growth is one of the major causes of bad strategy decisions.

Technology and innovation. Advanced technology or in- novations are not by themselves enough to make an indus- try structurally attractive (or unattractive). Mundane, low- technology industries with price-insensitive buyers, high switching costs, or high entry barriers arising from scale economies are often far more profi table than sexy indus- tries, such as software and internet technologies, that attract competitors.2

Government. Government is not best understood as a sixth force because government involvement is neither in- herently good nor bad for industry profi tability. The best way to understand the infl uence of government on competi- tion is to analyze how specifi c government policies affect the fi ve competitive forces. For instance, patents raise barriers to entry, boosting industry profi t potential. Conversely, gov- ernment policies favoring unions may raise supplier power and diminish profi t potential. Bankruptcy rules that allow failing companies to reorganize rather than exit can lead to excess capacity and intense rivalry. Government operates at multiple levels and through many different policies, each of which will affect structure in different ways.

Complementary products and services. Complements are products or services used together with an industry’s product. Complements arise when the customer benefi t of two products combined is greater than the sum of each product’s value in isolation. Computer hardware and soft- ware, for instance, are valuable together and worthless when separated.

In recent years, strategy researchers have highlighted the role of complements, especially in high-technology indus- tries where they are most obvious.3 By no means, however, do complements appear only there. The value of a car, for ex- ample, is greater when the driver also has access to gasoline stations, roadside assistance, and auto insurance.

Complements can be important when they affect the overall demand for an industry’s product. However, like government policy, complements are not a sixth force de- termining industry profi tability since the presence of strong complements is not necessarily bad (or good) for industry profi tability. Complements affect profi tability through the way they infl uence the fi ve forces.

The strategist must trace the positive or negative infl uence of complements on all fi ve forces to ascertain their impact on profi tability. The presence of complements can raise or lower

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barriers to entry. In application software, for example, barri- ers to entry were lowered when producers of complemen- tary operating system software, notably Microsoft, provided tool sets making it easier to write applications. Conversely, the need to attract producers of complements can raise bar- riers to entry, as it does in video game hardware.

The presence of complements can also affect the threat of substitutes. For instance, the need for appropriate fueling stations makes it diffi cult for cars using alternative fuels to substitute for conventional vehicles. But complements can also make substitution easier. For example, Apple’s iTunes hastened the substitution from CDs to digital music.

Complements can factor into industry rivalry either posi- tively (as when they raise switching costs) or negatively (as when they neutralize product differentiation). Similar analy- ses can be done for buyer and supplier power. Sometimes companies compete by altering conditions in complemen- tary industries in their favor, such as when videocassette- recorder producer JVC persuaded movie studios to favor its standard in issuing prerecorded tapes even though ri- val Sony’s standard was probably superior from a technical standpoint.

Identifying complements is part of the analyst’s work. As with government policies or important technologies, the strategic signifi cance of complements will be best under- stood through the lens of the fi ve forces.

Changes in Industry Structure So far, we have discussed the competitive forces at a single point in time. Industry structure proves to be relatively sta- ble, and industry profi tability differences are remarkably persistent over time in practice. However, industry structure is constantly undergoing modest adjustment – and occasion- ally it can change abruptly.

Shifts in structure may emanate from outside an industry or from within. They can boost the industry’s profi t potential or reduce it. They may be caused by changes in technology, changes in customer needs, or other events. The fi ve com- petitive forces provide a framework for identifying the most important industry developments and for anticipating their impact on industry attractiveness.

Shifting threat of new entry. Changes to any of the seven barriers described above can raise or lower the threat of new entry. The expiration of a patent, for instance, may unleash new entrants. On the day that Merck’s patents for the cho- lesterol reducer Zocor expired, three pharmaceutical mak- ers entered the market for the drug. Conversely, the prolif- eration of products in the ice cream industry has gradually fi lled up the limited freezer space in grocery stores, making it harder for new ice cream makers to gain access to distribu- tion in North America and Europe.

Strategic decisions of leading competitors often have a major impact on the threat of entry. Starting in the 1970s, for

Industry Analysis in Practice

Good industry analysis looks rigorously at the structural underpinnings of profi tability. A fi rst step is to understand the appropriate time horizon. One of the essential tasks in industry analysis is to distinguish temporary or cyclical changes from structural changes. A good guideline for the appropriate time horizon is the full business cycle for the particular industry. For most industries, a three- to-fi ve-year horizon is appropriate, although in some industries with long lead times, such as mining, the appropriate horizon might be a decade or more. It is average profi tability over this period, not profi tability in any particular year, that should be the focus of analysis.

The point of industry analysis is not to declare the industry attractive or unattractive but to understand the underpinnings of competition and the root causes of profi tability. As much as possible, analysts should look at industry structure quantitatively, rather than be satisfi ed with lists of qualitative factors. Many elements of the fi ve forces can be quantifi ed: the percentage of the buyer’s total cost accounted for by the industry’s product (to understand buyer price sensitivity); the percentage of industry sales required to fi ll a plant or operate a logis- tical network of effi cient scale (to help assess barriers to entry); the buyer’s switching cost (determining the inducement an entrant or rival must offer customers).

The strength of the competitive forces affects prices, costs, and the investment required to compete; thus the forces are directly tied to the income statements and balance sheets of industry participants. Industry structure defi nes the gap between revenues and costs. For example, intense rivalry drives down prices or elevates the costs of marketing, R&D, or customer service, reducing margins. How much? Strong suppliers drive up input costs. How much? Buyer power lowers prices or elevates the costs of meeting buyers’ demands, such as the requirement to hold more inventory or provide fi nancing. How much? Low barriers to entry or close substitutes limit the level of sustainable prices. How much? It is these economic relationships that sharpen the strategist’s understanding of industry competition.

Finally, good industry analysis does not just list pluses and minuses but sees an industry in over- all, systemic terms. Which forces are underpinning (or constraining) today’s profi tability? How might shifts in one competitive force trigger reactions in others? Answering such questions is often the source of true strategic insights.

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example, retailers such as Wal-Mart, Kmart, and Toys “R” Us began to adopt new procurement, distribution, and inven- tory control technologies with large fi xed costs, including automated distribution centers, bar coding, and point-of-sale terminals. These investments increased the economies of scale and made it more diffi cult for small retailers to enter the business (and for existing small players to survive).

Changing supplier or buyer power. As the factors under- lying the power of suppliers and buyers change with time, their clout rises or declines. In the global appliance industry, for instance, competitors including Electrolux, General Elec- tric, and Whirlpool have been squeezed by the consolidation of retail channels (the decline of appliance specialty stores, for instance, and the rise of big-box retailers like Best Buy and Home Depot in the United States). Another example is travel agents, who depend on airlines as a key supplier. When the internet allowed airlines to sell tickets directly to cus- tomers, this signifi cantly increased their power to bargain down agents’ commissions.

Shifting threat of substitution. The most common reason substitutes become more or less threatening over time is that advances in technology create new substitutes or shift price-performance comparisons in one direction or the other. The earliest microwave ovens, for example, were large and priced above $2,000, making them poor substitutes for con- ventional ovens. With technological advances, they became serious substitutes. Flash computer memory has improved enough recently to become a meaningful substitute for low- capacity hard-disk drives. Trends in the availability or per- formance of complementary producers also shift the threat of substitutes.

New bases of rivalry. Rivalry often intensifi es naturally over time. As an industry matures, growth slows. Competi- tors become more alike as industry conventions emerge, technology diffuses, and consumer tastes converge. Industry profi tability falls, and weaker competitors are driven from

the business. This story has played out in industry after in- dustry; televisions, snowmobiles, and telecommunications equipment are just a few examples.

A trend toward intensifying price competition and other forms of rivalry, however, is by no means inevitable. For ex- ample, there has been enormous competitive activity in the U.S. casino industry in recent decades, but most of it has been positive-sum competition directed toward new niches

and geographic segments (such as riverboats, trophy proper- ties, Native American reservations, international expansion, and novel customer groups like families). Head-to-head ri- valry that lowers prices or boosts the payouts to winners has been limited.

The nature of rivalry in an industry is altered by mergers and acquisitions that introduce new capabilities and ways of competing. Or, technological innovation can reshape rivalry. In the retail brokerage industry, the advent of the internet lowered marginal costs and reduced differentiation, trigger- ing far more intense competition on commissions and fees than in the past.

In some industries, companies turn to mergers and con- solidation not to improve cost and quality but to attempt to stop intense competition. Eliminating rivals is a risky strat- egy, however. The fi ve competitive forces tell us that a profi t windfall from removing today’s competitors often attracts new competitors and backlash from customers and suppli- ers. In New York banking, for example, the 1980s and 1990s saw escalating consolidations of commercial and savings banks, including Manufacturers Hanover, Chemical, Chase, and Dime Savings. But today the retail-banking landscape of Manhattan is as diverse as ever, as new entrants such as Wachovia, Bank of America, and Washington Mutual have entered the market.

Implications for Strategy Understanding the forces that shape industry competition is the starting point for developing strategy. Every company should already know what the average profi tability of its industry is and how that has been changing over time. The fi ve forces reveal why industry profi tability is what it is. Only then can a company incorporate industry conditions into strategy.

The forces reveal the most signifi cant aspects of the com- petitive environment. They also provide a baseline for sizing

up a company’s strengths and weaknesses: Where does the company stand versus buyers, suppliers, entrants, rivals, and substitutes? Most importantly, an understanding of industry structure guides managers toward fruitful possibilities for strategic action, which may include any or all of the follow- ing: positioning the company to better cope with the current competitive forces; anticipating and exploiting shifts in the forces; and shaping the balance of forces to create a new in-

Eliminating rivals is a risky strategy. A profi t windfall from removing today’s competitors often attracts new competitors and backlash from customers and suppliers.

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dustry structure that is more favorable to the company. The best strategies exploit more than one of these possibilities.

Positioning the company. Strategy can be viewed as build- ing defenses against the competitive forces or fi nding a posi- tion in the industry where the forces are weakest. Consider, for instance, the position of Paccar in the market for heavy trucks. The heavy-truck industry is structurally challenging. Many buyers operate large fl eets or are large leasing com- panies, with both the leverage and the motivation to drive down the price of one of their largest purchases. Most trucks are built to regulated standards and offer similar features, so price competition is rampant. Capital intensity causes rivalry to be fi erce, especially during the recurring cyclical down- turns. Unions exercise considerable supplier power. Though there are few direct substitutes for an 18-wheeler, truck buy- ers face important substitutes for their services, such as cargo delivery by rail.

In this setting, Paccar, a Bellevue, Washington–based com- pany with about 20% of the North American heavy-truck market, has chosen to focus on one group of customers: owner-operators – drivers who own their trucks and contract directly with shippers or serve as subcontractors to larger trucking companies. Such small operators have limited clout as truck buyers. They are also less price sensitive because of their strong emotional ties to and economic dependence on the product. They take great pride in their trucks, in which they spend most of their time.

Paccar has invested heavily to develop an array of fea- tures with owner-operators in mind: luxurious sleeper cabins, plush leather seats, noise-insulated cabins, sleek exterior styl- ing, and so on. At the company’s extensive network of dealers, prospective buyers use software to select among thousands of options to put their personal signature on their trucks. These customized trucks are built to order, not to stock, and delivered in six to eight weeks. Paccar’s trucks also have aero- dynamic designs that reduce fuel consumption, and they maintain their resale value better than other trucks. Paccar’s roadside assistance program and IT-supported system for dis- tributing spare parts reduce the time a truck is out of service. All these are crucial considerations for an owner-operator. Customers pay Paccar a 10% premium, and its Kenworth and Peterbilt brands are considered status symbols at truck stops.

Paccar illustrates the principles of positioning a company within a given industry structure. The fi rm has found a por- tion of its industry where the competitive forces are weaker – where it can avoid buyer power and price-based rivalry. And it

has tailored every single part of the value chain to cope well with the forces in its segment. As a result, Paccar has been profi table for 68 years straight and has earned a long-run return on equity above 20%.

In addition to revealing positioning opportunities within an existing industry, the fi ve forces framework allows com- panies to rigorously analyze entry and exit. Both depend on answering the diffi cult question: “What is the potential of this business?” Exit is indicated when industry structure is poor or declining and the company has no prospect of a su- perior positioning. In considering entry into a new industry, creative strategists can use the framework to spot an indus- try with a good future before this good future is refl ected in the prices of acquisition candidates. Five forces analysis may also reveal industries that are not necessarily attractive for the average entrant but in which a company has good reason to believe it can surmount entry barriers at lower cost than most fi rms or has a unique ability to cope with the industry’s competitive forces.

Exploiting industry change. Industry changes bring the opportunity to spot and claim promising new strategic posi- tions if the strategist has a sophisticated understanding of the competitive forces and their underpinnings. Consider, for instance, the evolution of the music industry during the past decade. With the advent of the internet and the digital distribution of music, some analysts predicted the birth of thousands of music labels (that is, record companies that develop artists and bring their music to market). This, the analysts argued, would break a pattern that had held since Edison invented the phonograph: Between three and six major record companies had always dominated the industry. The internet would, they predicted, remove distribution as a barrier to entry, unleashing a fl ood of new players into the music industry.

A careful analysis, however, would have revealed that physical distribution was not the crucial barrier to entry. Rather, entry was barred by other benefi ts that large music labels enjoyed. Large labels could pool the risks of develop- ing new artists over many bets, cushioning the impact of inevitable failures. Even more important, they had advan- tages in breaking through the clutter and getting their new artists heard. To do so, they could promise radio stations and record stores access to well-known artists in exchange for promotion of new artists. New labels would fi nd this nearly impossible to match. The major labels stayed the course, and new music labels have been rare.

Using the fi ve forces framework, creative strategists may be able to spot an industry with a good future before this good future is refl ected in the prices of acquisition candidates.

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This is not to say that the music industry is structurally unchanged by digital distribution. Unauthorized download- ing created an illegal but potent substitute. The labels tried for years to develop technical platforms for digital distribu- tion themselves, but major companies hesitated to sell their music through a platform owned by a rival. Into this vacuum

stepped Apple with its iTunes music store, launched in 2003 to support its iPod music player. By permitting the creation of a powerful new gatekeeper, the major labels allowed in- dustry structure to shift against them. The number of major record companies has actually declined – from six in 1997 to four today – as companies struggled to cope with the digital phenomenon.

When industry structure is in fl ux, new and promising competitive positions may appear. Structural changes open up new needs and new ways to serve existing needs. Estab- lished leaders may overlook these or be constrained by past strategies from pursuing them. Smaller competitors in the industry can capitalize on such changes, or the void may well be fi lled by new entrants.

Shaping industry structure. When a company exploits structural change, it is recognizing, and reacting to, the in- evitable. However, companies also have the ability to shape industry structure. A fi rm can lead its industry toward new ways of competing that alter the fi ve forces for the better. In reshaping structure, a company wants its competitors to follow so that the entire industry will be transformed. While many industry participants may benefi t in the process, the innovator can benefi t most if it can shift competition in directions where it can excel.

An industry’s structure can be reshaped in two ways: by re- dividing profi tability in favor of incumbents or by expanding the overall profi t pool. Redividing the industry pie aims to increase the share of profi ts to industry competitors instead of to suppliers, buyers, substitutes, and keeping out potential entrants. Expanding the profi t pool involves increasing the overall pool of economic value generated by the industry in which rivals, buyers, and suppliers can all share.

Redividing profi tability. To capture more profi ts for indus- try rivals, the starting point is to determine which force or forces are currently constraining industry profi tability and address them. A company can potentially infl uence all of the competitive forces. The strategist’s goal here is to reduce the

share of profi ts that leak to suppliers, buyers, and substitutes or are sacrifi ced to deter entrants.

To neutralize supplier power, for example, a fi rm can stan- dardize specifi cations for parts to make it easier to switch among suppliers. It can cultivate additional vendors, or alter technology to avoid a powerful supplier group altogether.

To counter customer power, companies may expand services that raise buyers’ switching costs or fi nd alternative means of reaching customers to neutralize powerful channels. To temper profi t-eroding price rivalry, companies can invest more heavily in unique products, as pharmaceutical fi rms have done, or expand support services to customers. To scare off entrants, incumbents can elevate the fi xed cost of com- peting – for instance, by escalating their R&D or marketing expenditures. To limit the threat of substitutes, companies can offer better value through new features or wider product accessibility. When soft-drink producers introduced vending machines and convenience store channels, for example, they dramatically improved the availability of soft drinks relative to other beverages.

Sysco, the largest food-service distributor in North Amer- ica, offers a revealing example of how an industry leader can change the structure of an industry for the better. Food- service distributors purchase food and related items from farmers and food processors. They then warehouse and de- liver these items to restaurants, hospitals, employer cafete- rias, schools, and other food-service institutions. Given low barriers to entry, the food-service distribution industry has historically been highly fragmented, with numerous local competitors. While rivals try to cultivate customer relation- ships, buyers are price sensitive because food represents a large share of their costs. Buyers can also choose the substi- tute approaches of purchasing directly from manufacturers or using retail sources, avoiding distributors altogether. Sup- pliers wield bargaining power: They are often large com- panies with strong brand names that food preparers and consumers recognize. Average profi tability in the industry has been modest.

Sysco recognized that, given its size and national reach, it might change this state of affairs. It led the move to intro- duce private-label distributor brands with specifi cations tai- lored to the food-service market, moderating supplier power. Sysco emphasized value-added services to buyers such as

Faced with pressures to gain market share or enamored with innovation for its own sake, managers can spark new kinds of competition that no incumbent can win.

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credit, menu planning, and inventory management to shift the basis of competition away from just price. These moves, together with stepped-up investments in information tech- nology and regional distribution centers, substantially raised the bar for new entrants while making the substitutes less attractive. Not surprisingly, the industry has been consolidat- ing, and industry profi tability appears to be rising.

Industry leaders have a special responsibility for improv- ing industry structure. Doing so often requires resources that only large players possess. Moreover, an improved industry structure is a public good because it benefi ts every fi rm in the industry, not just the company that initiated the im-

provement. Often, it is more in the interests of an industry leader than any other participant to invest for the common good because leaders will usually benefi t the most. Indeed, improving the industry may be a leader’s most profi table strategic opportunity, in part because attempts to gain fur- ther market share can trigger strong reactions from rivals, customers, and even suppliers.

There is a dark side to shaping industry structure that is equally important to understand. Ill-advised changes in com- petitive positioning and operating practices can undermine industry structure. Faced with pressures to gain market share or enamored with innovation for its own sake, managers may

Defi ning the industry in which competi- tion actually takes place is important for good industry analysis, not to mention for developing strategy and setting business unit boundaries. Many strategy errors emanate from mistak- ing the relevant industry, defi ning it too broadly or too narrowly. Defi ning the industry too broadly obscures differ- ences among products, customers, or geographic regions that are important to competition, strategic positioning, and profi tability. Defi ning the industry too narrowly overlooks commonalities and linkages across related products or geographic markets that are crucial to competitive advantage. Also, strate- gists must be sensitive to the possibil- ity that industry boundaries can shift.

The boundaries of an industry con- sist of two primary dimensions. First is the scope of products or services. For example, is motor oil used in cars part of the same industry as motor oil used in heavy trucks and stationary engines, or are these different industries? The second dimension is geographic scope. Most industries are present in many parts of the world. However, is com- petition contained within each state, or is it national? Does competition take place within regions such as Europe or North America, or is there a single global industry?

The fi ve forces are the basic tool to resolve these questions. If industry structure for two products is the same or very similar (that is, if they have the same buyers, suppliers, barriers to en- try, and so forth), then the products are best treated as being part of the same industry. If industry structure differs markedly, however, the two products may be best understood as separate industries.

In lubricants, the oil used in cars is similar or even identical to the oil used in trucks, but the similarity largely ends there. Automotive motor oil is sold to fragmented, generally unsophisticated customers through numerous and of- ten powerful channels, using extensive advertising. Products are packaged in small containers and logistical costs are high, necessitating local production. Truck and power generation lubricants are sold to entirely different buyers in entirely different ways using a separate supply chain. Industry structure (buyer power, barriers to entry, and so forth) is substantially different. Automotive oil is thus a distinct industry from oil for truck and stationary engine uses. Industry profi tability will differ in these two cases, and a lubricant company will need a separate strategy for com- peting in each area.

Differences in the fi ve competi- tive forces also reveal the geographic scope of competition. If an industry

has a similar structure in every country (rivals, buyers, and so on), the pre- sumption is that competition is global, and the fi ve forces analyzed from a global perspective will set average profi tability. A single global strategy is needed. If an industry has quite differ- ent structures in different geographic regions, however, each region may well be a distinct industry. Otherwise, competition would have leveled the dif- ferences. The fi ve forces analyzed for each region will set profi tability there.

The extent of differences in the fi ve forces for related products or across geographic areas is a matter of degree, making industry defi nition often a mat- ter of judgment. A rule of thumb is that where the differences in any one force are large, and where the differences involve more than one force, distinct industries may well be present.

Fortunately, however, even if indus- try boundaries are drawn incorrectly, careful fi ve forces analysis should reveal important competitive threats. A closely related product omitted from the industry defi nition will show up as a substitute, for example, or competitors overlooked as rivals will be recognized as potential entrants. At the same time, the fi ve forces analysis should reveal major differences within overly broad industries that will indicate the need to adjust industry boundaries or strategies.

Defi ning the Relevant Industry

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trigger new kinds of competition that no incumbent can win. When taking actions to improve their own company’s com- petitive advantage, then, strategists should ask whether they are setting in motion dynamics that will undermine industry structure in the long run. In the early days of the personal computer industry, for instance, IBM tried to make up for its late entry by offering an open architecture that would set industry standards and attract complementary makers of application software and peripherals. In the process, it ceded ownership of the critical components of the PC – the operating system and the microprocessor – to Microsoft and Intel. By standardizing PCs, it encouraged price-based rivalry and shifted power to suppliers. Consequently, IBM became the temporarily dominant fi rm in an industry with an endur- ingly unattractive structure.

Expanding the profi t pool. When overall demand grows, the industry’s quality level rises, intrinsic costs are reduced, or waste is eliminated, the pie expands. The total pool of value available to competitors, suppliers, and buyers grows. The total profi t pool expands, for example, when channels become more competitive or when an industry discovers latent buyers for its product that are not currently being served. When soft-drink producers rationalized their inde- pendent bottler networks to make them more effi cient and effective, both the soft-drink companies and the bottlers benefi ted. Overall value can also expand when fi rms work collaboratively with suppliers to improve coordination and limit unnecessary costs incurred in the supply chain. This lowers the inherent cost structure of the industry, allowing higher profi t, greater demand through lower prices, or both. Or, agreeing on quality standards can bring up industrywide quality and service levels, and hence prices, benefi ting rivals, suppliers, and customers.

Expanding the overall profi t pool creates win-win oppor- tunities for multiple industry participants. It can also reduce the risk of destructive rivalry that arises when incumbents attempt to shift bargaining power or capture more mar- ket share. However, expanding the pie does not reduce the importance of industry structure. How the expanded pie is divided will ultimately be determined by the fi ve forces. The most successful companies are those that expand the industry profi t pool in ways that allow them to share dispro- portionately in the benefi ts.

Defi ning the industry. The fi ve competitive forces also hold the key to defi ning the relevant industry (or industries) in which a company competes. Drawing industry boundaries correctly, around the arena in which competition actually takes place, will clarify the causes of profi tability and the ap- propriate unit for setting strategy. A company needs a sepa- rate strategy for each distinct industry. Mistakes in industry defi nition made by competitors present opportunities for staking out superior strategic positions. (See the sidebar

“Defi ning the Relevant Industry.”)

Typical Steps in Industry Analysis

Defi ne the relevant industry: ■ What products are in it? Which ones are part of

another distinct industry? ■ What is the geographic scope of competition?

Identify the participants and segment them into

groups, if appropriate:

Who are ■ the buyers and buyer groups? ■ the suppliers and supplier groups? ■ the competitors? ■ the substitutes? ■ the potential entrants?

Assess the underlying drivers of each competitive

force to determine which forces are strong and which

are weak and why.

Determine overall industry structure, and test the

analysis for consistency: ■ Why is the level of profi tability what it is? ■ Which are the controlling forces for profi tability? ■ Is the industry analysis consistent with actual

long-run profi tability? ■ Are more-profi table players better positioned in

relation to the fi ve forces?

Analyze recent and likely future changes in each

force, both positive and negative.

Identify aspects of industry structure that might be

infl uenced by competitors, by new entrants, or by

your company.

Common Pitfalls

In conducting the analysis avoid the following com-

mon mistakes: ■ Defi ning the industry too broadly or too narrowly. ■ Making lists instead of engaging in rigorous

analysis. ■ Paying equal attention to all of the forces rather than

digging deeply into the most important ones. ■ Confusing effect (price sensitivity) with cause

(buyer economics). ■ Using static analysis that ignores industry trends. ■ Confusing cyclical or transient changes with true

structural changes. ■ Using the framework to declare an industry attractive

or unattractive rather than using it to guide strategic choices.

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Competition and Value The competitive forces reveal the drivers of industry compe- tition. A company strategist who understands that competi- tion extends well beyond existing rivals will detect wider competitive threats and be better equipped to address them. At the same time, thinking comprehensively about an in- dustry’s structure can uncover opportunities: differences in customers, suppliers, substitutes, potential entrants, and ri- vals that can become the basis for distinct strategies yielding superior performance. In a world of more open competition and relentless change, it is more important than ever to think structurally about competition.

Understanding industry structure is equally important for investors as for managers. The fi ve competitive forces reveal whether an industry is truly attractive, and they help investors anticipate positive or negative shifts in industry structure before they are obvious. The fi ve forces distinguish short-term blips from structural changes and allow investors to take advantage of undue pessimism or optimism. Those companies whose strategies have industry-transforming potential become far clearer. This deeper thinking about competition is a more powerful way to achieve genuine

investment success than the fi nancial projections and trend extrapolation that dominate today’s investment analysis.

If both executives and investors looked at competition this way, capital markets would be a far more effective force for company success and economic prosperity. Executives and investors would both be focused on the same funda- mentals that drive sustained profi tability. The conversation between investors and executives would focus on the struc- tural, not the transient. Imagine the improvement in com- pany performance – and in the economy as a whole – if all the energy expended in “pleasing the Street” were redirected toward the factors that create true economic value.

1. For a discussion of the value chain framework, see Michael E. Porter, Com- petitive Advantage: Creating and Sustaining Superior Performance (The Free Press, 1998).

2. For a discussion of how internet technology improves the attractiveness of some industries while eroding the profi tability of others, see Michael E. Porter,

“Strategy and the Internet” (HBR, March 2001).

3. See, for instance, Adam M. Brandenburger and Barry J. Nalebuff, Co-opetition (Currency Doubleday, 1996).

Reprint R0801E

To order, see page 139.

“Do you have to barge into my offi ce every day and talk about work?”

P. C

. V ey

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