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HRDQ will be closed on Friday (5/24) and Monday (5/27) for Memorial Day
Porter's Five Forces: Definition, Examples & Case Studies

Porter's Five Forces: Definition, Examples & Case Studies

We're going to focus on something called Porter's Five Forces. This is a useful strategy created by Michael E. Porter. It helps businesses figure out who their competitors are. This strategy isn't just about knowing your rivals. It also asks for a deep look at the power of suppliers and buyers, how competitors act, what new competitors could pop up, and what other options are out there.

We focus on five main things: how fierce the competition is, how powerful suppliers are, how much customers can change things, if there are other options, and if new competitors can come up. All these things form how an industry looks and lead businesses in how they grow and stay strong.

All business plans have problems they need to solve. For example, we dig into the issues with Porter's Five Forces to give a fair view of how good and valuable it is in our fast-changing business world. Our work includes real examples and case studies to show how Porter's Five Forces works in various businesses. So, let's dive in!

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What Are Porter's Five Forces?

In the business world, knowing Porter's Five Forces is a must. Michael Porter, who taught at Harvard Business School, created it. It gives us a clear view of how an industry is built and how competition works.

If you're left asking "Five Forces of What?" you're not alone. To make the name easier to understand, you could almost call it "Porter's Five Forces of Business Competition" or "Porter's Five Forces of Industry Attractiveness Analysis."

Porter's Five Forces

The tool has five essential parts:

  • Competitive Rivalry
  • Supplier Power
  • Buyer Power
  • Threat of Substitution
  • Threat of New Entry

To understand these parts better, you need to look at each of them closely, which is precisely what we will do!

Force #1: Competitive Rivalry

At the heart of Porter's idea is Competition, an essential spark for businesses planning to get ahead. You can see this perfectly in the big companies we know, like when Coca-Cola fights it out with Pepsi in the soda world or Apple does the same thing with Samsung in the phone market.

These fights in business push new ideas, make products better, and sometimes even start big battles over who can sell more. That usually turns into a fight over who can sell the cheapest or who can shout the loudest in their ads. Porter put a lot of importance on knowing how hard the fight will be and what ground you're fighting. All of this knowledge helps make a plan that gives you an edge that will last.

A Business Planning to Get Ahead

No denying, clashes like these are serious business. It's like a boxing match where heavyweights slug it out to win the gold, and in the process, they push each other to get better and better. Imagine if Coca-Cola said, "No way, we're not going to bother beating Pepsi." We wouldn't have the choice or quality we have today. That is precisely why Porter thought knowing about your rivals and where you stand is so important. It helps you get that winning punch in that nobody else has seen.

The intensity of these fights and the ground they are fought on shape the way strategies are built. At the end of the day, these strategies give one company an advantage over the other. Remember, it doesn't matter how big or small the advantage is, as long as it's there. Even if it gives you just a little bit of an edge, it can make all the difference. This edge, this advantage, is precisely what Porter believed every business needs to stay ahead.

Force #2: Supplier Power

Supplier power can change how much money an industry can earn. For example, look at the airplane industry. Mostly, plane sales are controlled by a few leading suppliers, like Boeing and Airbus. Since there aren't many options, these guys have a lot of influence when they talk to airlines. Often, industries end up in difficult situations because their suppliers have a lot of control. Profits might decrease, and they might even have to make customers pay more. For the most part, understanding how this power works can help companies make their plans. Maybe they think about working with more suppliers or decide to put money into owning more of the supply chain.

A Business Supplier

Now, let's think about this. If suppliers are too powerful, it can lead to less profit. Industries might end up stuck with slim profit margins. They might even have to pass extra costs onto customers. It sort of puts things into perspective, doesn't it? That's why understanding this power balance is essential. It can help companies decide whether to diversify their supplier network or invest in more supply chain ownership.

Force #3: Buyer Power

Big businesses, such as large stores selling consumer goods, show a lot of buyer strength. Take Walmart as an example. This company strongly affects its suppliers. It even sets its own rules and prices due to its significant market presence.

Strong Buyer Power

Did you know that Porter had heavy conversations about the effects of strong buyer power? He thought this power could result in lower prices and better service levels. These factors can directly affect how profitable an industry is. So, how can companies manage this strong buyer power? Well, they can make their products special or expand their customer base.

Force #4: Threat of Substitution

In the world of technology, changes can pose a real problem. We're talking about something called the Threat of Substitution. It's common in many businesses. Just take a look at how digital streaming services have shaken things up. Think about Netflix or Spotify. These have made waves in the traditional media and entertainment industries. You see, the control of prices and profitability can be rocked by this danger.

A Technological Business Change

Companies use many techniques to stand up to market competition. A simple but useful way is to throw fresh ideas into their products, making them catch your eye in a crowd. Making it expensive for customers to swap their product with another company's is another good trick. Keeping up with new trends is a helpful answer, letting companies stay important in a world that changes quickly. Combining these plans can reduce possible dangers.

Force #5: Threat of New Entry

The danger of newcomers is powerful in fields where there's not much to stop someone new from jumping in. A perfect example is the food and drink business, where pretty much anyone can open new cafes and restaurants quickly. On the other hand, let's take the phone and internet business, which require a lot of money and have many rules and regulations. These things form a sort of wall that keeps new competitors out.

A Team Reviewing Rules and Regulations

Porter wanted to make clear that areas with big walls like these to entry have less competition. They may even have a better chance of making more money. Businesses in these areas put a lot of work into keeping these walls high. They use things like patent rights, economies of scale (basically, the idea that things get cheaper the more you make), or even how much people love their brand to guard against any new competition.

Applying Porter's Five Forces

Look at using these actions to help you get your selling plans just right.

Supplier Power. When working with the people who give you your supplies, take a close look at who these people are. If you don't have many choices for suppliers, they can have too much control, which could upset your power to strike a good deal. Think about the specialness and how much you need the supplies you are given. If the items they give you are hard to find and very important, your ability to make good deals might be limited. One way to help with this is to find more suppliers to work with.

Buyer Power. On the buying side of things, pay close attention to what your buyers want. Buyers who purchase your products in considerable amounts or have a lot of other similar options can push you to lower your prices. To balance this, consider how much your customers trust you and the unique parts of your product. Getting to know your customers well - what they like, how they buy things, and what other options they have - is vital to keeping an eye on the power that your buyers have.

Competitive Rivalry. Shifting our focus to competition could be interesting. The level of fighting between businesses in your market plays a significant role in how much money you make. Check out the number and skill level of your competitors. Are many businesses offering the same things as you, or is the market quite varied? Lots of competition might make you change your prices or start advertising more. Think about how hard it is to leave the market and what will happen if you do since these factors shape the overall strength of your market.

Applying Porter's Five Forces

Threat of Substitution. Next, consider how easy it can be for your customers to replace your product or service with something else. If other options are easy to get and look good (either in price or quality), how well you are doing in the market could be in danger. Improving your products, offering loyalty rewards, or improving how you talk to customers could help reduce this risk.

Threat of New Entrants. Lastly, the risk comes from new competitors, using this as a gauge to see how easy it would be for new businesses to enter your market. Things like needing a lot of money, rules and regulations, and the trust of customers can make it hard for new businesses to get started. If it's easy for new businesses to join the market, you need to be flexible and creative to keep your advantage over others.

Using these Five Forces from Porter in your business can help you make strategies that work with your strong points, lower risks, and grab chances in the challenging market. Doing this type of planning helps with making quick, on-the-spot decisions and also for long-term strategic direction and positioning.

Limitations of Porter's Five Forces

The approach we're looking at is helpful, but it's not perfect. Porter's Five Forces is based on the old-school way of thinking about business competition, which is why it can be less effective in today's fast-paced business world. If things change too fast, a company might struggle to keep up using this model.

Change is always a factor. Sometimes, technological changes or unexpected events can throw a curveball at an industry. Guess what? Porter's model can have difficulty seeing these shifts coming because it doesn't change over time. One big issue is that the model doesn't consider how different factors interact and could affect competition significantly.

Porter's Five Forces takes a pretty black-and-white approach. Do we have a lot of threats or a little? What about our competitors or our suppliers? It doesn't consider areas in between, which is often where you'll find key strategies taking shape. This could get in the way of making good strategic decisions.

A Team Analyzing Business Competition

Another problem with the model is that it mostly looks at outside factors, like competitors and customers. It doesn't look at how things going on inside the company - such as the company culture or how efficient its operations are - can affect how competitive it is.

The model also doesn't consider how important partnerships can be in today's business world. For example, there are often mergers and partnerships that can completely change competitive landscapes.

While it's got its limits, Porter's Five Forces is still a big part of planning business strategies.

Enhancing Porter's Five Forces with Other Models

Your plan review shouldn't just stop with Porter's Five Forces, like how a toolbox isn't complete with only a hammer. Using other models like this can help you understand more. Porter's Five Forces become even stronger when paired with a SWOT analysis. That looks at things like strengths and weaknesses inside your business. This is helpful because it makes the information from the five forces even clearer.

Pairing these two tools can help us take a better look at a business. It's like using the SWOT for a self-check and Porter's Forces to look at what's happening outside the business. You can find more about this helpful duo online.

Presenting SWOT Analysis Results

Now, talking about getting bigger and better, there's the Ansoff Matrix. This model helps businesses decide if they should work to sell more in their current market, make new products, explore new markets, or try completely different things based on who they are and what they are selling now.

Linking the Ansoff Matrix and Porter's Five Forces offers many details about your rivals and a clear direction for plans to grow. There's more helpful info about this power couple online.

The Balanced Scorecard shouldn't be left out. It works well with Porter's Five Forces. It focuses on things like what's happening inside the business, how you deal with customers, learning and growth chances, and how the money is doing.

Another inside view is given by VRIO. Together, these two can give a strong review of what your business is good and bad at compared to your rivals.


The five concepts by Porter are quite key in the world of business. Simply put, they act as a helpful kit for helping us understand who we're up against. It's a lot like a multi-tool for business plans, making it easier for us to understand changes in the market.

The strength of this approach is in its ability to scan different areas where companies compete. When a business looks at the power of customers, it can know if customers hold a lot of influence. After that, it can develop strategies to keep customers content and lower the rate of clients leaving. Trust me, in many cases, it's cheaper to hold onto existing customers than it is to look for new ones.

A Team Developing Business Strategies

To further enhance your leadership and management skills in this complex business environment, consider exploring "What's My Leadership Style" from HRDQ.

"What's My Leadership Style" is a comprehensive management development tool and leadership style assessment. It helps you identify your leadership style—be it direct, spirited, considerate, or systematic—and refine your approach to effectively lead in various situations. This resource is an excellent addition for anyone looking to augment their leadership skills in conjunction with understanding market dynamics through Porter's Five Forces.

Learn more about your leadership style and how to apply it effectively in your organization. Visit the What's My Leadership Style product page for more information. We hope to be a part of your journey of becoming a more versatile leader, capable of navigating the ever-changing business seas with confidence and skill.

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What's My Leadership Style
  • Identify personal leadership styles
  • Capitalize on style strengths
  • Minimize style trouble spots
Learn more
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About our author

Bradford R. Glaser

Brad is President and CEO of HRDQ, a publisher of soft-skills learning solutions, and HRDQ-U, an online community for learning professionals hosting webinars, workshops, and podcasts. His 35+ years of experience in adult learning and development have fostered his passion for improving the performance of organizations, teams, and individuals.