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PORTERS 4 GENERIC STRATEGIES

PORTERS 4 GENERIC STRATEGIES

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PORTERS 4 GENERIC STRATEGIES - January 26th, 2010

Porter's Four Generic Competitive Strategies

He argues that a business needs to make two fundamental decisions in establishing its competitive advantage: (a) whether to compete primarily on price (he says "cost," which is necessary to sustain competitive prices, but price is what the customer responds to) or to compete through providing some distinctive points of differentiation that justify higher prices, and (b) how broad a market target it will aim at (its competitive scope). These two choices define the following four generic competitive strategies. which he argues cover the fundamental range of choices. A fifth strategy alternative (best-cost provider) is added by some sources, although not by Porter, and is included below:
1. Overall Price (Cost) Leadership: appealing to a broad cross-section of the market by providing products or services at the lowest price. This requires being the overall low-cost provider of the products or services (e.g., Costco, among retail stores, and Hyundai, among automobile manufacturers). Implementing this strategy successfully requires continual, exceptional efforts to reduce costs -- without excluding product features and services that buyers consider essential. It also requires achieving cost advantages in ways that are hard for competitors to copy or match. Some conditions that tend to make this strategy an attractive choice are:
* The industry's product is much the same from seller to seller
* The marketplace is dominated by price competition, with highly price-sensitive buyers
* There are few ways to achieve product differentiation that have much value to buyers
* Most buyers use product in same ways -- common user requirements
* Switching costs for buyers are low
* Buyers are large and have significant bargaining power

2. Differentiation: appealing to a broad cross-section of the market through offering differentiating features that make customers willing to pay premium prices, e.g., superior technology, quality, prestige, special features, service, convenience (examples are Nordstrom and Lexus). Success with this type of strategy requires differentiation features that are hard or expensive for competitors to duplicate. Sustainable differentiation usually comes from advantages in core competencies, unique company resources or capabilities, and superior management of value chain activities. Some conditions that tend to favor differentiation strategies are:
* There are multiple ways to differentiate the product/service that buyers think have substantial value
* Buyers have different needs or uses of the product/service
* Product innovations and technological change are rapid and competition emphasizes the latest product features
* Not many rivals are following a similar differentiation strategy

3. Price (Cost) Focus: a market niche strategy, concentrating on a narrow customer segment and competing with lowest prices, which, again, requires having lower cost structure than competitors (e.g., a single, small shop on a side-street in a town, in which they will order electronic equipment at low prices, or the cheapest automobile made in the former Bulgaria). Some conditions that tend to favor focus (either price or differentiation focus) are:
* The business is new and/or has modest resources
* The company lacks the capability to go after a wider part of the total market
* Buyers' needs or uses of the item are diverse; there are many different niches and segments in the industry
* Buyer segments differ widely in size, growth rate, profitability, and intensity in the five competitive forces, making some segments more attractive than others
* Industry leaders don't see the niche as crucial to their own success
* Few or no other rivals are attempting to specialize in the same target segment

4. Differentiation Focus: a second market niche strategy, concentrating on a narrow customer segment and competing through differentiating features (e.g., a high-fashion women's clothing boutique in Paris, or Ferrari).

Best-Cost Provider Strategy: (although not one of Porter's basic four strategies, this strategy is mentioned by a number of other writers.) This is a strategy of trying to give customers the best cost/value combination, by incorporating key good-or-better product characteristics at a lower cost than competitors. This strategy is a mixture or hybrid of low-price and differentiation, and targets a segment of value-conscious buyers that is usually larger than a market niche, but smaller than a broad market. Successful implementation of this strategy requires the company to have the resources, skills, capabilities (and possibly luck) to incorporate up-scale features at lower cost than competitors.
This strategy could be attractive in markets that have both variety in buyer needs that make differentiation common and where large numbers of buyers are sensitive to both price and value.
Porter might argue that this strategy is often temporary, and that a business should choose and achieve one of the four generic competitive strategies above. Otherwise, the business is stuck in the middle of the competitive marketplace and will be out-performed by competitors who choose and excel in one of the fundamental strategies. His argument is analogous to the threats to a tennis player who is standing at the service line, rather than near the baseline or getting to the net. However, others present examples of companies (e.g., Honda and Toyota) who seem to be able to pursue successfully a best-cost provider strategy, with stability.
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