Analysis of the External Environment of Business 1

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Analysis of the External Environment of Business

In today's highly competitive market, businesses must be aware of the environment in which they operate and the external factors that influence them. These factors can affect the main internal factors of the business and its objectives or marketing strategies. The external environment is rarely stable and many of the external forces can change quickly and dramatically and are usually beyond a firm's control. Although some external factors can pose a threat to a business, they can also create new opportunities. In order to assess their environment, a business may use a PEST analysis structure to evaluate the external influences or macroenvironmental factors that could affect the strategic development of the business under four areas; political factors often look at areas such as tax policy, employment laws, environmental regulations, trade restrictions and tariffs and political stability. The economic factors include economic growth, interest rates, exchange rates and inflation rate. Social factors are concerned with the cultural aspects and include health consciousness, population growth rate, age distribution, career attitudes and emphasis on safety. The technological factors involve ecological and environmental aspects and can determine the barriers to entry, minimum efficient production level and influence outsourcing decisions. It looks at elements such as research and development activity, automation, technology incentives and the rate of technological change.

I am going to concentrate on the social dimension as the focus of this essay. Consumer markets of the social environment can be roughly segmented into several areas; demographic factors such as age, gender, religion, ethnic group, family size and family life cycle stage, can influence businesses involved in children's products or retirement homes, for example. Socio-economic factors such as social class, income or occupation, can have an effect on the luxury product market or discount goods. Geographic features, like country, region, urban or rural areas, town or city and climate may affect businesses concerned with country clothing or regional specialties, for instance. Psychographic factors such as lifestyles, values and personality can influence health or cosmetic businesses & mediagraphic factors involve media habits, such as newspapers people read. Finally, behavioural characteristics, for instance the occasion of purchases, brand loyalty or attitudes towards products can affect businesses involved in greetings cards, for example.

Due to the varying nature of the social dimension, it is important for businesses to carry out appropriate marketing strategies regularly, relevant to each external factor to give their product or service competitive advantage for their target market. For example, between 1971 and 2003, household spending on alcohol and tobacco decreased, whereas spending on healthcare doubled, according to research by ONS1. Social changes may provide a necessity for businesses to diversify their product portfolio to keep up with the changes in trends and consumer behaviour. The increase in health awareness has caused a change in consumer lifestyle and therefore an increase in products and services that follow this trend, for example, organic products on the market, health club and gym memberships and healthier food, such as ‘good for you' ranges in supermarkets.

Soft drinks giant, Coca-Cola, was knocked off the carbonated drinks market leader top spot in 2004 by rival PepsiCo due to Coca-Cola's slow acceptance of the changing market landscape. PepsiCo had already begun to profit from their healthier products, such a fruit juice, whereas Coca-Cola was still only producing their fizzy drink products2. Now, however, not only does Coca-Cola produce fizzy drinks, but also fruit juices, sports drinks, bottled water, energy drinks, tea and coffee, milk...
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