In 1979, a young associate professor at Harvard Business School published his first article for HBR, “How Competitive Forces Shape Strategy.” In the years that followed, Michael Porter’s explication of the five forces that determine the long-run profitability of any industry has shaped a generation of academic research and business practice. In this article, Porter undertakes a thorough reaffirmation and extension of his classic work of strategy formulation, which includes substantial new sections showing how to put the five forces analysis into practice.
The five forces govern the profit structure of an industry by determining how the economic value it creates is apportioned. That value may be drained away through the rivalry among existing competitors, of course, but it can also be bargained away through the power of suppliers or the power of customers or be constrained by the threat of new entrants or the threat of substitutes. Strategy can be viewed as building defenses against the competitive forces or as finding a position in an industry where the forces are weaker. Changes in the strength of the forces signal changes in the competitive landscape critical to ongoing strategy formulation.
In exploring the implications of the five forces framework, Porter explains why a fast-growing industry is not always a profitable one, how eliminating today’s competitors through mergers and acquisitions can reduce an industry’s profit potential, how government policies play a role by changing the relative strength of the forces, and how to use the forces to understand complements. He then shows how a company can influence the key forces in its industry to create a more favorable structure for itself or to expand the pie altogether. The five forces reveal why industry profitability is what it is. Only by understanding them can a company incorporate industry conditions into strategy.