If the primary determinant of a firm's profitability is the attractiveness of the industry in which it operates, an important secondary determinant is its position within that industry. Even though an industry may have below-average profitability, a firm that is optimally positioned can generate superior returns. A firm positions itself by leveraging its strengths. Michael Porter has argued that a firm's strengths ultimately fall into one of two headings: cost advantage and differentiation. By applying these strengths in either a broad or narrow scope, three generic strategies result: cost leadership, differentiation, and focus. These strategies are applied at the business unit level. They are called generic strategies because they are not firm or industry dependent. The following table illustrates Porter's generic strategies:
Porter's Generic Strategies
|Target Scope |Advantage | | |Low Cost |Product Uniqueness | | |Cost Leadership |Differentiation | |Broad |Strategy |Strategy | |(Industry Wide) | | | | |Focus |Focus | |Narrow |Strategy |Strategy | |(Market Segment) |(low cost) |(differentiation) |
Cost Leadership Strategy
This generic strategy calls for being the low cost producer in an industry for a given level of quality. The firm sells its products either at average industry prices to earn a profit higher than that of rivals, or below the average industry prices to gain market share. In the event of a price war, the firm can maintain some profitability while the competition suffers losses. Even without a price war, as the industry matures and prices decline, the firms that can produce more cheaply will remain profitable for a longer period of time. The cost leadership strategy usually targets a broad market. Some of the ways that firms acquire cost advantages are by improving process efficiencies, gaining unique access to a large source of lower cost materials, making optimal outsourcing and vertical integration decisions, or avoiding some costs altogether. If competing firms are unable to lower their costs by a similar amount, the firm may be able to sustain a competitive advantage based on cost leadership. Firms that succeed in cost leadership often have the following internal strengths: • Access to the capital required to make a significant investment in production assets; this investment represents a barrier to entry that many firms may not overcome. • Skill in designing products for efficient manufacturing, for example, having a small component count to shorten the assembly process. • High level of expertise in manufacturing process engineering. • Efficient distribution channels.
Each generic strategy has its risks, including the low-cost strategy. For example, other firms may be able to lower their costs as well. As technology improves, the competition may be able to leapfrog the production capabilities, thus eliminating the competitive advantage. Additionally, several firms following a focus strategy and targeting various narrow markets may be able to achieve an even lower cost within their segments and as a group gain significant market share.
A differentiation strategy calls for the development of a product or service...