Sustaining Competitive Advantage – Part 1

This is Part 1/3 of this article


A competitive advantage could simply be defined as the advantage or ability a firm has over its rivals in the industry; or the ability a firm has to outperform its industry rivals.

A firm is said to have a competitive advantage when it has the capabilities or means to push out its rivals in striving for the favour of customers. This applies internationally or locally as well as to both services and products.Thus, a sustainable competitive advantage is the persistence the firm applies despite efforts by competitors or potential entrants to copy or overtake it. Sustainability therefore, requires that strategic assets are not easily available to others and imperfectly mobile. This will be considered later.

Porter (1990) states that, though not all nations are in the forefront of competition, the home nation which shapes the competitive advantage is the starting point for a firm’s competitive advantage and also from which it must be sustained. However, in whatever field of endeavor, competitive advantage creation must be a choice of management and it must really fit to achieve results. It must be noted here that competitive advantage can normally be traced to one of three roots:

Superior resources, superior skills and superior positions.

Competitive strategy is one of the ways in which a business relates to its environment by competing with other firms who are also trying to adapt within the operating environment. It is with this aspect- the competitive strategy which if appropriately chosen and implemented appropriately give the firm a competitive advantage over its rivals.


It must be noted here that the prescriptive view of strategic planning emphasizes the importance of the organizational environment as a source of threats and opportunities and the need for effective responses by the organization if survival was to be assured and the success achieved.

The response is later formulated into plan which formulates major decisions about entry into new markets or development of new products and services guided by set goals. Under the influence of Porter’s writings in the 1980s the emphasis shifted from the plan to the selection of an appropriate generic strategy to position the business unit in its competitive environment. Porter, arguing that the environment poses threats and brings opportunities than with trends and events, suggested that the environment could be analyzed using the five forces analysis to identify the issues which affect the level of competition in an industry; after which a strategy is formulated to combat it.


The resultant strategy, which he referred to as generic, distinguished some strategic options the firm can possess:

Cost leadership: the business could position itself as offering a low cost product as a standard price i.e. cost leadership strategy. Costs are reduced at every element of the value chain. Producers can exploit the benefits of a bigger margin than the competitors. Toyota is a good example of an organization that produces quality cars at low price coupled with a brand and marketing skills to use a premium pricing policy.

It could offer a product that was different from that offered by rivals. I.e. differentiation. This allows companies to make prices less sensitive and focus on value that generates a comparatively higher price and a better margin. Even though additional costs will be incurred pursuing differentiation, it is possible that this will be offset by the increased revenue generated by the sales.

By focusing on a small but well-defined part of the market, for instance a particular buying group or product area or geographical area. Also known as niche, this is usually suitable for a small company i.e. focus strategy.

Generic Competitive strategy, usually used after competitive analysis or as a response to competitors advantage, is defined as the basis on which a strategic business unit (SBU) might achieve or counter competitive advantage in its market. (Johnson and Scholes, 5th Edition.)


Building on Porter’s (1980) generic competitive strategies, Bowman et al argues that organizations achieve competitive advantage by providing their customers with what they want, or need better or more effectively than competitors and making it difficult for competitors to imitate. This was later developed into five generic strategies which would be used in this discussion. Thus, the generic competitive strategies are the fundamental activities on which an SBU seeks to achieve a lasting advantageous position in its environment and gaining the favor of stakeholders by meeting the expectations of buyers, users or other stakeholders

The following are Bowman’s five-generic competitive strategy options and examples of organizations who applied them to gain competitive advantage: no frills strategy, low price strategy, hybrid strategy, focused differentiation strategy and added value or differentiation strategy.


Continue to Part 2/3






Source by John Whonderr-Arthur, Ph.D. Esq

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