Porter’s Five Forces analysis is a powerful and widely used framework for evaluating the competitive landscape of an industry. Developed by Harvard Business School professor Michael E. Porter in 1979, it allows businesses to identify the core competitive forces that shape their industry and develop strategies accordingly.
This detailed guide will provide everything you need to know about Porter’s Five Forces, including:
Table of Contents
What is Porter’s Five Forces Analysis?
Porter’s Five Forces analysis examines the competitive forces that affect the profitability of an industry. It looks at the bargaining power of suppliers and buyers, the threat of new entrants and substitute products, and the competitive rivalry among existing firms.
By analyzing these forces, businesses can gain valuable insights into the attractiveness of an industry in terms of its profit potential. They can identify opportunities to improve their competitive position and defend against threats.
The five forces are:
- Competitive Rivalry
- Threat of New Entrants
- Bargaining Power of Suppliers
- Bargaining Power of Buyers
- Threat of Substitute Products
Porter argued that these forces determine an industry’s structure and shape the nature of competitive interaction within an industry. The stronger each force is, the more limited a company’s ability to raise prices and earn higher profits.
Therefore, the Five Forces analysis is essential for understanding the profitability and competitiveness of an industry. It allows businesses to judge their position versus competitors and modify strategy accordingly.
Understanding the 5 Forces
To conduct a Five Forces analysis, you must understand each competitive force and how it impacts industry competition and profitability.
1. Competitive Rivalry
This force examines how intense the competition currently is among existing companies in the industry. Industries where competition is more intense see lower profitability as rivals compete aggressively for market share.
Factors that influence competitive rivalry include:
- Number of competitors – more competitors leads to higher rivalry
- Industry growth rate – slow growth intensifies competition
- Product differentiation – unique products face less direct competition
- Switching costs – higher costs reduce rivalry
- Diversity of rivals – broad range of competitors creates varied threats
A highly competitive market with many rivals fighting for share will decrease profit potential for all firms. Companies will need to cut prices or increase spending to attract customers, reducing margins.
2. Threat of New Entrants
The easier it is for new competitors to enter an industry, the greater the threat. New entrants bring additional production capacity, desire market share, and often access to new technologies or ideas that can threaten existing players.
Factors influencing the threat of new entrants:
- Economies of scale – higher volumes and lower costs for existing firms makes entry harder
- Capital requirements – high startup and investment costs deter new entrants
- Switching costs – high costs to switch suppliers for buyers
- Distribution channels – existing players control the distribution chain
- Government policy – licenses, regulations or tariffs may deter new entrants
When the threat of new entrants is high, existing players must hold down prices or boost investments to discourage new competitors. This lowers industry profitability.
3. Bargaining Power of Suppliers
Powerful suppliers can exert pressure on firms in an industry by raising prices or reducing the quality of goods and services. Suppliers hold power when:
- There are few substitute supplier options
- Switching suppliers is difficult or expensive
- Suppliers offer highly differentiated products
- There is a threat of forward integration into the industry by suppliers
When suppliers hold strong bargaining power, they are able to capture more value by charging higher prices, limiting quality or shifting costs to industry participants. This reduces profitability.
4. Bargaining Power of Buyers
Buyers include both customers purchasing a company’s products and services, and companies buying components for production.
Strong buyer power means buyers can force down prices, demand better quality or more service, and play competitors off each other. Buyer power is higher when:
- There are few buyers but many sellers in the industry
- Buyers purchase in large volumes
- Switching to another supplier is easy
- Buyers can easily integrate backwards and produce the product themselves
- The product is not extremely important to the buyer’s business
Powerful buyers pressure companies to cut prices, provide maximum service, and shape products to their exact needs. This decreases industry profitability.
5. Threat of Substitute Products
This force considers the likelihood that customers will switch to alternative products or services that can fulfill the same need. When the threat of substitutes is high, industry profitability suffers.
Substitute threats rise when:
- Product switching costs are low
- Substitutes offer attractive price-performance tradeoffs
- Customers face no penalty or loss in functionality for substituting
To prevent substitution, firms may need to lower prices or increase differentiation. But this reduces their profitability.
Real World Examples of Porter’s Five Forces
Let’s take a look at some real-world examples of how Porter’s Five Forces applies for businesses and industries:
Porter’s Five Forces Analysis on 4 Companies: Apple, OpenAI, Google, and Amazon
- Competitive Rivalry: High rivalry in the smartphone market from Samsung, Xiaomi, Oppo, Vivo. High rivalry in personal computers from Dell, HP, Lenovo. Moderate rivalry in smartwatches from Samsung, Fitbit.
- Threat of New Entrants: Moderate threats from new smartphone makers taking share in developing markets. Low threats in PCs and smartwatches due to brand loyalty and high switching costs.
- Bargaining Power of Suppliers: Moderate supplier power since Apple sources components from many suppliers. But relies on some key suppliers like Foxconn for manufacturing.
- Bargaining Power of Buyers: Low buyer power since Apple caters to a fragmented consumer base. Retail partners like mobile carriers have some influence over product promotions.
- Threat of Substitutes: Moderate risk of consumers switching to Android-based mobile devices. Low risk in Macs and iPads which have sticky ecosystem.
- Competitive Rivalry: High rivalry in artificial intelligence from Google, Microsoft, IBM, Facebook. Many tech giants investing heavily in AI research.
- Threat of New Entrants: Moderate threats from well-funded AI startups. High talent requirements and massive computing needs hinder new entrants somewhat.
- Bargaining Power of Suppliers: Low supplier power. OpenAI relies on cloud infrastructure suppliers like Azure and AWS but can easily switch between them. Leverage over AI talent pool.
- Bargaining Power of Buyers: Low buyer power currently. Main customers are developers accessing APIs. Could increase if they start monetizing enterprise AI applications.
- Threat of Substitutes: Low threat of alternatives to core artificial general intelligence research focus. But other approaches like neuro-symbolic AI could emerge as substitutes.
- Competitive Rivalry: High rivalry in search from Bing, Yahoo. Fierce competition in digital ads from Facebook, Amazon. Intense rivalry in mobile OS from Apple.
- Threat of New Entrants: Low threats – the scale, data access, and brand power of Google is virtually impossible to replicate.
- Bargaining Power of Suppliers: Low supplier power since Google dominates the digital ad market. Many partners depend on Google for traffic.
- Bargaining Power of Buyers: Moderate buyer power from major corporate advertisers who get volume discounts. Individual buyers have little influence over Google.
- Threat of Substitutes: Low risks in core search and YouTube. Some threat of alternative OS for Android. Ad blockers erode some ad revenue.
- Competitive Rivalry: High rivalry in ecommerce from Walmart, Target, eBay. Intense competition in cloud from Microsoft, Google. Faces rivals in other segments.
- Threat of New Entrants: Low entry barriers in retail ecommerce but Prime loyalty and logistics prevent serious threats. Higher barriers protecting AWS cloud dominance.
- Bargaining Power of Suppliers: Massive size gives Amazon negotiating leverage over most suppliers. Reliance on some third-party sellers and publishers limits power.
- Bargaining Power of Buyers: Individual buyers have little influence. AWS customers like Netflix have more leverage to negotiate based on volume.
- Threat of Substitutes: Low for established Prime ecosystem, but shoppers have many alternative online/offline options.
Porter’s Five Forces Analysis on 3 Industries: Fast Food, Pharmaceutical, Consulting
Fast Food Industry
The fast food industry faces low supplier power, low buyer power, moderate new entrant threats, high substitution threats, and intense competitive rivalry:
- Competitive Rivalry – With giants like McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy’s, and regional players competing, rivalry is extremely high. Firms compete aggressively on price promotions, menu innovation, drive-thru efficiency, and location. This limits profitability.
- Threat of New Entrants – Moderate barriers like brand recognition, economies of scale, and upfront costs give existing players some protection against new local and regional fast food entrants. But low switching costs and unmet consumer needs provide opportunities for expansion by fast casual concepts like Chipotle.
- Bargaining Power of Suppliers – Most ingredients are basic commodities like beef, chicken, bread, lettuce with many farmers and suppliers to choose from. This gives fast food chains strong leverage over suppliers.
- Bargaining Power of Buyers – With low meal prices and ample choice, individual buyers have minimal negotiating power. They cannot force down prices much further.
- Threat of Substitution – With supermarkets, takeout, and quick service restaurants providing alternative meal options, the threat of substitution is fairly high.
This industry sees high supplier power, low buyer power, low new entrant threats, low substitution threats, and moderate competitive rivalry:
- Competitive Rivalry – Intense marketing and R&D spending among large global firms like Pfizer, Roche, and GSK dampens profitability somewhat. But pharmaceuticals are highly differentiated, protecting firms from perfect competition.
- Threat of New Entrants – Massive upfront R&D investments, strict regulatory requirements, expensive distribution, and intellectual property give existing players an insurmountable edge over new entrants.
- Bargaining Power of Suppliers – Suppliers of specialized components, technology, and ingredients have high bargaining leverage due to the lack of alternatives. There is also a dependence on academic research institutions for drug development knowledge.
- Bargaining Power of Buyers – Fragmented individual buyers have little power to demand reduced drug prices. Health insurance companies have some influence but are not a big threat.
- Threat of Substitution – Patents protect drugs from direct substitution. Biologics provide some alternatives. But strong brand identities, regulation, and insurance coverage limit substitution threats.
The management consulting industry sees moderate supplier power, moderate buyer power, low new entrant threats, low substitution threats, and intense competitive rivalry:
- Competitive Rivalry – With over 100,000 consulting firms competing fiercely for market share, rivalry is extremely high. Competitors aggressively pursue clients and highly-skilled consultants.
- Threat of New Entrants – The low barriers to entry boost new competitors. But branding, differentiated services, and long sales cycles give established firms some insulation.
- Bargaining Power of Suppliers – Management consultants themselves are key suppliers, giving them some bargaining leverage over firms seeking to hire them. But an abundant labor pool reduces this influence.
- Bargaining Power of Buyers – Large clients have significant buyer power and negotiate aggressively on pricing. But smaller clients have less influence over consulting firms.
- Threat of Substitution – In-house resources could substitute for advisory services. But consulting expertise is rarely replicated, limiting this threat.
This analysis shows that the fast food industry is quite competitive and challenging, while pharmaceuticals offer much stronger profit potential due to greater barriers and fewer threats. The consulting industry falls somewhere in between.
The Pros and Cons of Porter’s Five Forces
Conducting a Porter’s Five Forces analysis offers many benefits, but the framework also has limitations:
- Provides insights into profitability and competitiveness – analyze how forces impact profits to find strengths/weaknesses
- Identifies opportunities and threats – assess vulnerability to future competition or substitution
- Guides strategic decisions – framework aligns strategies to competitive realities
- Wide applicability – model can be used to analyze any industry and business unit
- Easy to understand – five forces structure is intuitive and straightforward
- Static snapshot – does not account for rapid changes or technological shifts
- Qualitative vs. quantitative – lacks hard data and metrics
- No action steps – does not specify what actions to take in response to analysis
- Requires industry expertise – quality depends heavily on knowledge of competitive dynamics
- May oversimplify – only examines direct industry competition
While extremely useful for competitive analysis, the Five Forces should not be used in isolation when crafting strategy. Combining it with other frameworks helps overcome potential blind spots.
How to Conduct a Porter’s Five Forces Analysis
Follow these six key steps to perform a complete Five Forces analysis:
1. Define the Industry
- Determine the scope of your analysis – from broad sector to specific segment
- Select a target industry, product/service line, or geographic market to analyze
2. Identify Competitors
- Research direct competitors, alternatives, new market entrants, and potential substitutes
- Assess competitors’ strengths, weaknesses, capabilities, strategies, and market shares
3. Evaluate Suppliers and Buyers
- Map out key suppliers, buyers, and supplier/buyer alternatives
- Assess relative bargaining power and level of influence over industry
4. Analyze Each Force
- Work through the five forces systematically, gathering data on the factors that shape each one
- Determine the overall strength of each force – mild, moderate, or strong
5. Summarize Findings
- Highlight the most significant insights and competitive pressures
- Identify strengths to leverage and vulnerabilities to defend against
6. Formulate Strategy
- Refine business strategy based on analysis of the most salient forces
- Respond to the threats, weaknesses, and opportunities revealed
Use the results of this process to shape business and competitive strategy based on the realities of the competitive landscape. Revisit and update the analysis regularly to account for new threats and opportunities.
Strategies to Improve Competitiveness Based on Five Forces
Armed with a clear picture of the five forces, managers can craft strategies to improve competitiveness within an industry.
When Rivalry is Strong
- Differentiate products/services so buyers have reason to be loyal
- Build economies of scale to achieve cost advantages
- Increase switching costs through loyalty programs
- Diversify into new products or markets
- Consider colluding with competitors on price (when legal)
When Buyer Power is Strong
- Offer generous loyalty program benefits and rewards
- Provide customized and differentiated products/services
- Lock-in buyers via contracts or subscriptions
When Supplier Power is Strong
- Source from multiple suppliers or alternative supplier locations
- Invest backwards and acquire key suppliers or their capabilities
- Partner with other industry players for collective buying leverage
When the Threat of Substitution is High
- Patent key innovations to protect intellectual property
- Promote product/service benefits over substitutes through marketing
- Develop new innovations that leapfrog existing substitutes
When Threat of New Entry is High
- Secure exclusive long-term contracts with key buyers and suppliers
- Pursue aggressive pricing strategies to discourage new competitors
- Lobby government for industry protections like tariffs on imports
Regularly updating a Porter’s Five Forces analysis and aligning business strategy in response provides an advantage over competitors who fail to adapt to shifting competitive pressures.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the limitations of Porter’s Five Forces?
Limitations include its static viewpoint, lack of quantifiable data, neglect of complementary products, lack of specific action steps, and focus on direct competition over indirect. It also requires extensive industry expertise to apply well.
What is the difference between Porter’s Five Forces and a SWOT analysis?
A SWOT analysis assesses a company’s internal strengths/weaknesses and external opportunities/threats. Porter’s examines the competitive forces external to a company that shape an entire industry. SWOT is company-specific, while Five Forces looks at industry-level competition.
What is Porter’s 6th Force?
Some strategists have proposed adding a 6th force called “complements” – products/services that add value when used together like computers and software. But Porter did not include complements as an intrinsic force since their impact is mediated through the others.
How do you determine if an industry is attractive or unattractive from Five Forces?
You determine attractiveness based on the collective strength of the five forces. A very unattractive industry has high supplier/buyer power, intense rivalry, easy entry/substitution. An attractive industry has greater barriers to these forces, signaling profit potential.
Should every industry be analyzed using Porter’s Five Forces?
Most experts recommend using the Five Forces framework for any industry. Since every industry has suppliers, buyers, substitute threats, etc., Five Forces can reveal useful insights in virtually every market. The model may fit certain industries like manufacturing better than others.
How often should you re-evaluate the Five Forces?
It’s best to re-evaluate the five forces at least annually. For rapidly changing industries, more frequent analysis like quarterly or even monthly is wise to keep up with market shifts. The pace of re-evaluation should match the pace of change in an industry.
Perform a Five Forces Analysis for Powerful Competitive Insights
Porter’s Five Forces remains a tried-and-true framework for understanding industry competition and profitability. By analyzing the powerful forces that shape your business landscape, you gain an invaluable perspective for long-term positioning and success.
Conduct Porter’s Five Forces analysis regularly, translate findings into an adaptive business strategy, and outmaneuver the competition to consistently deliver value to customers and shareholders. Master this fundamental framework, and gain a vital competitive edge for your organization.
Download the Porter’s Five Forces Template
To help you conduct a Five Forces analysis, we’ve created a free PDF template that you can download and use within your organization.
Simply click the link above and you will be taken to the template download page. The PDF template can be opened using any standard PDF reader and saved to your computer or network.
You can print copies for team members to use during strategy sessions. The template also allows you to take notes directly within the file and save your work.
By using this preformatted framework, you can simplify and standardize how Five Forces analyses are conducted across your organization. The template makes it easy to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats based on your industry’s competitive dynamics.
Download the Porter’s Five Forces PDF template today and optimize it for your business needs. Perform regular analysis to gain ongoing insights into your competitive environment using this essential strategic tool.