Generic strategic options and choices

Chapter 2
Strategy formulation:
Generic strategic options and choices
“A strategy delineates a territory in which a company seeks to be unique.” – Michael Porter1
“The two most fundamental strategic choices are deciding where to play and how to win.” – Roger Martin2
We indicated in chapter 1 that one of the key activities in strategy-making is the development of a heightened
consciousness around the core strategic choices of an organisation. The focus of this chapter is on the broad strategic
choices leaders and strategists can make as part of the strategy formulation process to position an organisation in a
competitive business landscape. The main areas that we explore are:
• Choices related to the identity of the organisation. These include organisational aspirational descriptions as
reflected in the vision, mission and organisational values.
• Choices related to generic high-level strategic positioning options for an organisation.
• Choices related to grand strategy options for an organisation, given the fact-based SWOT information of an
organisation derived from a thorough external and internal strategy analysis.
• You will be able to use the following perspectives and tools as a basis to develop your own strategic leadership
• Develop and motivate a descriptive identity write-up for an organisation which includes a vision, mission and
values statements.
• Critically examine the current identity and aspirational descriptions of an organisation to suggest improvements
and changes to these statements.
• Describe and motivate appropriate high-level strategic choices for an organisation by using the following
generic strategic frameworks to facilitate informed decision-making:
o Porter’s five generic competitive strategic options
o Treacy and Wiersema’s three value disciplines
o digital and physical orientation options
o industry-based strategy styles
o strategic posture options
o foreign market entry options
• Understand and use the relevant grand strategy alternatives for an organisation based on the following options:
o competence-based growth strategies
o external-orientated growth strategies
o strategic space growth strategies
o rationalisation strategies
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Navigating strategic possibilities
In Figure 2.1 we see that the process of strategy formulation is informed and shaped by four strategy practice
domains, namely:
• Strategic leadership, which includes the thinking capacity and practices of leaders in an organisation as well as
the business ethics practices using a virtuous leadership approach as described in chapter 1. Entrepreneurial
thinking and practices are also part of this domain and are described in chapter 9.
• Results and conclusions from the analysis and synthesis based on an extensive external and internal review of
the organisation. This aspect is not included in this book but a comprehensive guide and outline of this strategy
practice domain is available in a related publication by the authors.3
• Perspectives based on a multiple futures review for the organisation using scenario planning as described in
chapter 4.
• Insights flowing from the strategy renewal and innovation efforts of the organisation as described in chapters
Chapter 2
• Generic strategic options and choices
 organisational identity
 generic strategies
 grand strategies
Chapter 3
• Business model
 value creation
 efficiency
 engines of growth
• Normative assessment of competitive strategies
Strategic leadership
Chapter 1
• Strategic leadership thinking and practices
• Business ethics through virtuous leadership practices
Chapter 9
• Entrepreneurial thinking and practices
External and internal contexts*
• Analysis and synthesis
‰ global macro context
‰ competitive context
‰ customer context
‰ internal organisational context
Strategy formulation
Chapter 2
• Generic strategic options and choices
‰ organisational identity
‰ generic strategies
‰ grand strategies
Chapter 3
• Business model
‰ value creation
‰ efficiency
‰ engines of growth
• Normative assessment of competitive strategies
Chapter 4: Multiple futures
• Scenario planning and foresight
Chapter 5: Strategy execution
• Change enablement
• Strategic gap closing
• Making strategy a reality for all
‰ strategy translation
‰ strategy mobilisation
‰ strategic performance monitoring
*Covered in the book Crystallising
the Strategic Business Landscape by
Ungerer, Ungerer and Herholdt, 2016
Strategy renewal and
Chapter 6
• Strategy innovation tools
‰ exponential
‰ blue ocean strategy
‰ sources of e-value
• Break-through stall-points
and decline
• Portfolio of experiments
and prototypes
Chapter 7
• Inorganic growth
(alliances and M&As)
Chapter 8
• Management innovation
Figure 2.1: The strategic architecture landscape
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Chapter 2: Strategy Formulation: Generic Strategic Options and Choices
When we start with a cycle of strategy formulation and development for an organisation, this process should be
informed at least by a thorough fact-based external and internal analysis. As the strategy practices of an organisation
mature over time, multiple strategy practice domains as described above will inform and form a strategy development
process cycle.
We indicated in chapter 1 that strategy is the collective and emerging pattern, based on strategic choices, that an
organisation consciously exhibits and executes over time to ensure its sustainable endurance by differentiating itself
in unique ways to create and add value for stakeholders. Strategy is about explaining how an organisation wants to
move forward and how it wants to advance the interest of stakeholders. From this description we see that central
to strategy development is our ability to make sound and well-founded strategic choices. The nature and variety of
strategic choices to position an organisation for differentiating and competitive benefits are described in this chapter.
This should be read in conjunction with chapter 3, where the aspects related to the development of an integrated
business model for the organisation based on the core strategic choices made, and the normative assessment of
competitive strategies are described. The broader strategic choice domains related to strategy formulation and
competitive positioning as described in this chapter and chapter 3 are reflected in Figure 2.2.
Identity Choices:
Choices related to
identity and
descriptions of an
Strategic Choices Related to Strategy Formulation
Choices related to
functional strategy
Choices related to
grand strategy
Choices related to
high level generic
strategy options
Business Model
Choices related to the
business model of an
Strategic Competitive Choices
Figure 2.2: Strategy formulation strategic choice domains
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In the next part of this chapter we discuss three different competitive strategic choice domains for an organisation.
These are aspirational choices related to the identity of the organisation, the high-level strategy choices for an
organisation and the evaluation of the appropriateness of a variety of grand strategy options.
The concept “organisational identity” is used here as a general reference regarding how stakeholders perceive an
organisation. It is about the perceptions and associations, positive and/or negative, that stakeholders have about an
organisation. The identity of an organisation is formed by many inter-related factors that are influenced and created
by organisational members. Some of the aspects that can shape the identity of an organisation are the leadership, the
brand personality or product brands, the corporate image, the reputation, the history and track-record. Based on
this identity an organisation is associated with certain attributes. Woolworths is associated with quality, Johnson &
Johnson with safe products and Audi with technology. Gallup, the global research-based performance-management
consulting firm, states that an organisation’s identity is made up of three distinctively different, yet interrelated
elements: purpose, brand and culture.4
From a strategic management perspective we will address the following aspects that contribute to the identity and
aspiration agenda of an organisation: vision, mission and values. These descriptions relate to the basic reason for
being and also represent future ideal and guiding aspirations for an organisation – its core business philosophies.
For instance, Nedbank defines its core aspirations as “deep green”, which include statements like the following: “Great
place to work; Great place to bank; Great place to invest; World-class at managing risks; Community of leaders; Most
respected and aspirational brand; and Living our values.” The main questions we want to explore around organisational
identity are: Who are we as an organisation? And who do we want to be? The strategic choices associated with these
decisions have a direct impact on the chosen strategic landscape or playing field of an organisation and the values
that are emphasised, representing lead indicators on how the game of business will be played.
An organisation’s aspirational descriptions can also have a constraining effect when not enough stretch is built into
them. For example, Xerox’s positioning as the “the document company” constrained its competitiveness in the digital
era. Xerox invented the PC at Xerox Parc, but it was never developed further. Serendipity however assisted 3M to not
ignore post-its as a new invention, although they were nearly disregarded. Amazon’s aspiration to be an information
aggregator assisted it to be more than just a leading virtual bookstore and stimulated the creation of a diversified
portfolio of e-businesses. Formulating the aspirational statements for an organisation will not on its own position
an institution for competitive benefits, but it can certainly have a constraining effect or lead one up the wrong paths
– to unprofitable businesses and lost opportunities. Let us however remember that aspirational descriptions of an
organisation are a necessary, but not sufficient, cause of competitive success on their own. In other words, just having
challenging aspirations (and communicating them extremely well and often) is not enough.
Vision description and analysis
Vision (from the Latin videre – to see) is an expression of what an organisation or group of people wants to create or
achieve. It is a simple and artful expression of the broadest business aspiration of a preferred future state. A vision
statement is indicative of where an organisation wants to be in the years to come. A vision therefore represents an
ideal end state that serves as an attractor to stimulate innovation towards realising the vision.
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Chapter 2: Strategy Formulation: Generic Strategic Options and Choices
A future desired
aspiration we want to
Current reality
e current results we
now achieve
Tension Seeks
Figure 2.3: Tension between vision and current reality
A vision creates the basis for people to
believe in a future because they can
identify with it, and it also helps them
to believe that their individual efforts
make a difference in creating that
better future and world. The nature of
a visioning process creates the future
as a neutral arena, an open space onto
which people can project their future
aspirations and fears. A vision clarifies
the organisation’s future priorities, and
highlights where trade-offs might
occur. The function of a well-formulated vision is to create tension between the current and future realities of an
organisation. This tension seeks resolution, and the only way it can be achieved is by reaching, or trying to reach, the
desired vision – to make it a reality – even if it is enduring and seemingly unachievable in the short term. This
dynamic of a vision as a tension creation attract or that seeks resolution by taking actions towards achieving the
vision is displayed in Figure 2.3.
Visions only have a mobilising effect towards a shared future if they are widely spread, shared and acknowledged
in an organisation. The creation and spreading of a mutually created vision is the task of both leaders and strategy
collaborators. Visions spread because of a reinforcing process of increasing clarity, enthusiasm and commitment. As
people talk about it and integrate the vision with their capacity to own it and to make it part of their own life purpose
and goals, the vision is shared and more people commit their support. As people talk, the vision becomes clearer and
more granular aspects of it may emerge.
Charles Kiefer5
states: “Despite the excitement a vision generates, the process of building shared vision is not always
glamorous. Managers who are skilled in building shared visions talk about the process in ordinary terms – talking
about our vision just gets woven into everyday life.” If visions are co-created with and through others in a constant
dialogue, the eventual spreading is done by participants. Involving key stakeholders in the development and
refinement of the aspirational descriptions of an organisation is a best practice and requires innovative processes to
facilitate maximum participation. Mobilising people around a compelling vision will sometimes allow it to root itself
– especially when there is a charismatic leader as a sponsor. This enhances the inspirational angles of a vision. This
process of “rooting” may continue and increase in value, clarity and scope, until the actual vision is more than just
a single statement – it has meaning within a specific context and stakeholders interpret the strategic implications to
empower themselves strategically. A key aspect about a vision is how it mobilises stakeholders’ energy so they make
a concerted and informed effort to make the vision a reality.
In contrast with strategic goals (see chapter 5 on strategy execution), a vision is long-lasting and does not change in
the short term. Imagination, intuition and an ability to synthesise disparate information are key ingredients for the
development of an impactful vision.6
A good starting point for developing a vision is to answer the question: “What
is our ultimate ambition?”7
Visions should however not be seen as a general panacea for all organisational dilemmas and woes. For example,
a vision cannot guarantee success and is dependent on many collaborators making a meaningful contribution to
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shaping and executing it. To create and execute a vision, leaders as sponsors, champions and collaborator mobilisers
are critical in making the vision come alive in an organisation’s influence domain. It is sad to see organisations that
spent a great deal of time and energy formulating elaborate visions that are displayed in boardrooms and on factory
floors, but left it at that. As can be expected, very little comes from this.
Application tool
Use the requirements for a vision and the related questions and criteria as summarised in Table 2.1 to critically
evaluate the vision statement of an organisation.
Table 2.1: Guidelines on development and evaluation of a vision
General requirements for a vision statement8
Visions must be:
• shared, and generate commitment;
• about a preferred or desired future;
• a contrast with current reality to create the desired structural tension;
• fluid and enduring;
• sustained and nurtured in a constant process as part of the strategic conversation
Visions should not be
• about vague concepts;
• solutions to current problems;
• eloquent words and statements only;
• only on boardroom walls, but must be in the hearts and minds of people
Visions can
• be unemotional;
• be emotional and inspirational;
• emerge in the course of ordinary organisational life;
• emerge from inspirational leadership;
• be detailed and granular;
• have few details, but constitute provocative and magic thoughts
Evaluation of a vision
Questions to consider:9
• Would it motivate you to join this organisation and continue to motivate you once you are there?
• Does it provide a beacon for guiding the kind of adaption and change required for continual growth?
• Will it challenge you?
• Can it serve as a basis for strategy that can be acted on?
• Will it serve as a framework to keep all strategic decision-making in context?
Criteria for a vision statement:10
• Is it directional?
• Does it give focus?
• Is it desirable?
• Is it feasible?
• Is it easy to communicate and easy to remember?
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Chapter 2: Strategy Formulation: Generic Strategic Options and Choices
Practical guideline
An alternative way to stimulate creating inspiring and stretch visions is to ask: “What is the BIG IDEAL?” Complete the
following sentence to describe the end-state and contribution of your organisation’s differentiated position choice:
The world would be a better place if: …
Ogilvy, the media and brand consultancy, indicates that their South African operation’s big ideal is: “Liberating the inner
greatness of companies and people”. A big idea for the University of Stellenbosch Business school in 2011 was: The world would
be a better place “when USB stakeholders contribute as leaders to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)”.
Tom Boardman, the legendary CEO of Nedbank, said in 2006:11 “I truly believe that great companies achieve and
maintain greatness by being vision-led and values-driven. You need a clear and compelling vision to take people
along with you towards new goals and objectives. It requires passionate, committed and ethical people to move
together towards a clearer vision.”
Mission or purpose description and analysis
Purpose (mission) (from the Latin word proponere – to declare) represents the fundamental reason for a company’s
existence. It declares what this company is here to do, which means it spells out in which business domain a company
operates and seeks success. In other words, the mission specifies the business or businesses in which the organisation
wants to compete and the customers it intends to serve.12 In this chapter “mission” and “purpose” are used as interrelated concepts. A purpose or mission is associated with a longer-term orientation and can change as the context
and competitive aspirations of an organisation develop over time. The word “mission” should not be confused with
the military application of it, as in “Our mission (objective) is to take this hill.” Mission and purpose descriptions are
longer-term strategic business domain explanations.13
Purpose often connects on a deeper level as a company’s reason for being, and may have as much of a pulling effect
as a vision, but in addition it also creates clear boundaries that spell out where the company operates. Mission or
purpose statements therefore spell out what business domain an organisation operates in and seeks success in. The
clearer this business domain, the more certain it is what will spell success for that organisation and the better and
more focused the company will be in positioning itself in its industry and marketplace. The mission or purpose
statement also gives guidance on boundaries and “what we don’t do”. In all cases this is extremely important in order
to create focused behaviour. Strong company purposes also seem to connect strongly with that industry’s reason for
A well-defined mission/purpose statement gives clear guidance on the key question: “What business are we in?”
Examples of this are:14
• Volkswagen SA is not in the motorcar business, but in the transportation business.
• BP is not in the petrol business, but in the energy business.
• Rhodes University is not in the business of education and research, but in the business of equipping people for life.
• Steinhoff International sees itself more of a supply chain than just a furniture maker and distributor.
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Montblanc, part of the Richemont group, evolved carefully over time from a brand associated with writing
instruments to a luxury goods brand.15 Today they sell, beside pens, premium goods including watches, jewellery,
fragrances, leather goods and eyewear.
The mission/purpose statement should also give strategic direction on the question: “What business are you not in?”
Howard Schultz of Starbucks is very clear on the four things Starbucks will “never” do:16 They will not franchise, put
chemicals in their coffee beans, sell beans in plastic bins in supermarkets, and “never, never stop pursuing the perfect
cup of coffee by buying the best beans and roasting them to perfection”.
Application tool
Use the questions related to a mission/purpose statement and the Lift Test in Table 2.2 to develop or evaluate the
robustness of an organisation’s description.
Table 2.2: Guidelines on developing and evaluating a mission/purpose
Answer the following questions:
• Why do we exist? Why is our existence important to others and the world in general? Why do we matter?
• What are we here to do?
• What business are we in?
• What business are we not in?
• What is our ultimate ambition?
From the answers to these questions, formulate the mission/purpose of the organisation.
The Lift Test to test the robustness of the mission/purpose description:
Imagine you get into a lift with a customer. He or she asks: “What does your organisation do?”
You have until the lift reaches its destination to answer the question (in other words, no more than two minutes). Go for it!
Winning players develop a purpose for their organisation beyond the aim of “making money”. They develop a
purpose that sets the organisation on a route to contributing to making the world and the societies they operate
in better places. Of course they are also successful in making money, but that is the result of their strategic efforts,
not their direct focus. According to research by Moss Kanter, great companies work to make money, but in their
choice of how to do so they consider whether they are creating enduring institutions. As a result they both invest in
the future and are very aware of the needs of people and the society.17 Google’s purpose is to “Organize the world’s
information and make it universally accessible and useful”. TED is a non-profit organisation that is devoted to “Ideas
worth spreading” and does so in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less). Facebook’s mission is to “to
give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected”. It therefore provides people with the
tools to stay connected with friends and family, to discover what’s going on in the world, and to share and express
what matters to them. These mission statements are broad and grandiose, yet focused and compelling, serving as
excellent motivators for employees to change the world.
From a stakeholder-centric view it is important to remember that stakeholders can affect an organisation’s vision
and mission and are also the recipients of the strategic and operational outcome achievements. Stakeholders tend
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Chapter 2: Strategy Formulation: Generic Strategic Options and Choices
to continue to support an organisation when its performance outputs meet or exceed their expectations. Research
indicates that organisations that manage stakeholders well effectively outperform those that do not.18 The major
stakeholder groupings an organisation should engage with are shown in Figure 2.4.
• Employees
• Managers
• Non-managers
• Global, regional
and local
• Customers
• Suppliers
• Host
• Shareholders
• Major suppliers
of capital eg
Capital market
Product market
Figure 2.4: Major stakeholder groupings19
Organisational values description and analysis
Where much of the identity choice focuses around “what” an organisation wants to be, organisational value give us
guidance on “how” these aspirational choices should be made. Organisational values describe in broad behavioural
terms “how” things are done (or intended to be done) around here. More specifically, organisation values represent
the beliefs, traits and behavioural norms the personnel of the organisation are expected to display in conducting
business and executing strategies and operations.20 Organisational values shape the moral landscape and boundaries
of the firm and give guidance on the behavioural aspirations of an organisation. The values descriptions give direction
on the “best” behavioural aspirations of how business activities and people interactions should happen.
Application tool
Use the questions that follow to develop your view on status of organisational values.
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Table 2.3: Guidelines on evaluation of a values statement
It is essential to comment on how “alive” these values are.
• What processes and practices are in place in the organisation to promote and enhance the use of organisation values in
the operations and strategies of the organisation?
Other questions:
• What are the gaps between intent and reality?
• How is the use of values enforced?
We need to remember: Values without actions are meaningless.
Organisation values and culture are related concepts. Malone states that a great corporate culture is a fabric of rules,
experiences, myths and legends, relationships and rituals as complex as any real family – and just as difficult to
describe to any outsider.21 Organisation values form an integral part of the culture of an organisation and are a
strategic choice that guides organisation stakeholders on how to execute the broader aspirations in the form of vision
and mission statements.
Google’s innovation focus seems to be based on the following values-related principles:22
• In the long run, the interests of shareholders and society at large are convergent.
o Making the planet a “better” place serves the interests of business, and making businesses “better” serves
the interests of every human being.
• A company’s social legitimacy can never be taken for granted – it can and will be challenged, so live with it.
• Citizens and consumers expect companies to be not only socially accountable, but socially entrepreneurial.
• Systemic problems can’t be solved by a single institution or by people sitting around conference tables.
o Businesses are uniquely equipped to help mobilise the relevant parties and get “boots on the ground.” They
need to be energetic partners of public institutions and NGOs.
• “Don’t be evil” (Google’s famous mantra) is a de minimis standard.
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Chapter 2: Strategy Formulation: Generic Strategic Options and Choices
Case study of SABMiller
The core strategic aspirational descriptions of SABMiller and an evaluation of it are reflected in Figure 2.5 as an
SABMiller vision, mission, values & strategic priorities (2013/2014)
Be the most admired company in the South African beer industry –- as
an employer of choice, partner of choice and investment of choice.
The best example of its ingrained vision is SAB’s acquisition of Miller
in 2002. This made it the second-largest brewer in the world.
Own and nurture local and international brands which are the first
choice of the consumer.
The mission is well entrenched and is very much part of the DNA
of the firm. This is evident in its historic drive to enter new
markets, either through acquisition or a green fields strategy , and
once there to grow the brands.
We are a market-facing, brand-led and self-refreshing organisation,
committed to recognising, retaining and advancing our top talent. Our
company personifies “South African” pride and diversity with an allembracing culture built on great brands, great people and rock-solid
• Our people are our enduring advantage
• Accountability is clear and personal.
• We work and win in teams.
• We understand and respect our customers and consumers.
• Our reputation is indivisible.
The values of the firm reiterate its drive to be a global leader in its
industry by ensuring that its staff are working towards the
common goals of the firm , in such a way that the customer is
looked after and the brands of the various products are valued .
• Drive superior top-line growth through strengthening our
brand portfolios and expanding the beer category.
• Build a globally integrated organisation to optimise resources,
win in market and reduce costs.
• Actively shape our global mix to drive a superior growth
SABMiller’s strategic priorities are highly aligned to its business
strategy. It is in the words of the strategy priorities that each
employee can see exactly where SABMiller intends to go and what
steps are needed to get there. The vision, mission, values and the
strategic priorities are all aligned with the direction SABMiller has
been heading in the last 10 years and are very much part of the
reason that the firm has been so successful.
Figure 2.5: SABMiller’s strategic aspirational descriptions in 201323
Case study of Woolworths24
Vision, mission & values
woolworths’ vision is to be a leader in retail brands that appeal to people who care about quality, innovation
and sustainability. The group depicts its accompanying strategy as seven strategic objectives, as shown in Figure
2.6. Of note are the realistic and achievable strategic objectives that support an ambitious and expansive vision
statement. Woolworths’ strategic objectives provide realistic clarity, which links to strategic and operational plans
in a practical manner.
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Build stronger, more
profitable customer
Be a leading fashion
retailer in the southern
Become a big foods
Become an omnichannel business Continue to build the
business in the rest of
Offer our customers
simple, convenient and
rewarding financial
Embed the Good
Business Journey
throughout our
Figure 2.6: WHL’s vision & strategic objectives
Woolworths lists seven values that underpin its ethos and company culture, namely: quality and style, value,
service, innovation, integrity, energy and sustainability. The group’s values are regularly reinforced throughout
the business, with measurable behavioural objectives forming part of all employees’ integrated performance
management plan.
The group’s values are qualified by practical descriptions of how behaviours should be reinforcing their intent, as
shown in Figure 2.7.
Of specific note is that several of the group’s values are directly quoted in the vision statement as well, indicating
a well-integrated system of vision, strategic objectives and values system to support and enable the execution
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“When we deliver the best we stay focused, adopt a
professional approach and demonstrate awareness of
market trends.”
“When we oer value to the business, we encourage
collaboration, show eective decision-making and
inuence others.”
“Service means we demonstrate commitment and build
eective relationships.”
“When we embrace innovation, we improve processes
and seek creative solutions.”
“When we demonstrate integrity we operate with
integrity, develop ourselves and others and communicate
“When we act with energy, we inspire and engage, and we
recognise and value others.”
“When we contribute to the sustainability of Woolworths,
we share the vision and plan for success, support and
initiate change and embrace diversity.”
Figure 2.7: WHL’s values
Woolworths’ vision, strategy and values subscribe to best practices and are adopted at all levels of the organisation,
which ensures aspirational and behavioural alignment in execution.
Conclusions on identity and aspirational descriptions
The aspirational and identity descriptions of an organisation set the boundaries of the strategic (vision and mission)
and moral (values) landscape it wants to operate in. The vision and mission descriptions are central to the strategy
formulation processes of an organisation (see Figures 2.1 and 2.2). The embedding of organisational values as part
of the individual and team performance enhancement system of an organisation is a best practice. The revitalisation
and ongoing socialising of these aspirational descriptions with newcomers, new stakeholders and new partners
through various interaction mechanisms is an ongoing quest of strategic leadership.
After the aspirational descriptions of an organisation have been developed, these must be translated into holistic
views of the strategic orientation of the firm before other strategy execution processes kick in (see chapter 5 on
strategy execution and translation practices). This implies that the longer-term strategic goals of an organisation
should be based on a set of core strategic choices about how the firm plans to best compete in a chosen marketplace.
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A menu of strategic competitive choices for an organisation that strategists and leaders should ponder as part of a
strategy formulation and development process is reflected in Figure 2.8. The strategic competitive choice options
of an organisation can be classified into four levels: identity and aspirational strategic choices (as described above);
generic strategy choices; grand strategy choices; and functional strategy choices. The details of generic and grand
strategy options are described in the rest of this chapter. The aspects related to functional strategies are beyond the
scope of this book, but are shown below to indicate the link to the competitive strategy choices of an organisation.
Identity and aspirational descriptions for organisations – Level 1 Strategic choices
• Vision • Mission • Values
Generic strategies for organisations – Level 2 Strategic choices
competitive strategy
• Overall cost leadership
• Focused cost leadership
• Broad differentiation
• Focused differentiation
• Integrated cost and
differentiation strategy
The value
• Operational excellence
• Customer intimacy
• Product leadership
• Digital pure play
• Digital pure play selling
physical products
• Hybrid
• Physical pure play
strategic styles
• A classical strategy
• An adaptive strategy
• A shaping strategy
• A visionary strategy
Strategic posture
• Conservative posture
• Aggressive posture
• Defensive posture
• Competitive posture
Foreign market
entry options
• Exporting
• Licencing and contract
• Franchising
• Joint ventures, and
strategic alliances
• Acquisitions
• Foreign branches
• Wholly owned
Grand strategies for organisations – Level 3 Strategic choices
Competencebased growth strategies
• Concentrated growth
• Market development
• Product development
• Innovation
orientated growth
• Horizontal integration
• Concentric
• Joint ventures
• Strategic alliances
• Consortia
Strategic space
growth strategies
• Vertical integration
• Conglomerate
• Turnaround
• Divestiture
• Liquidation
• Bankruptcy
Functional strategies to support Generic and Grand strategies – Level 4 Strategic choices
• R&D/Engineering strategy • IT strategy • Human capital strategy • Marketing and sales strategy • Finance strategy
Figure 2.8: A menu of strategic competitive choices
The strategic choices described in this chapter are presented to stimulate dialogue as part of an ongoing strategy
conversation to deepen our understanding of the competitiveness of an organisation’s strategy. However we do not
imply that the strategic options and choices described in this chapter represent all the strategic decisions related to
competitive strategy positioning. It is important to remember that in chapter 3 the aspects related to the business
model choices of an organisation are described as an integral part of a strategy formulation and development process
(see Figure 2.1). In fact each of the strategy practice domains in Figure 2.1 represent strategic choice arenas which
reinforce the importance of a higher level of awareness by internal and external stakeholders of the key decisions that
influence the future competitiveness of an organisation.
In this section we introduce six different frameworks that we can use to think about the generic competitive
positioning of an organisation. The following high-level generic strategic frameworks to facilitate informed decisionmaking, in the contextual reality of an organisation, are addressed:
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Chapter 2: Strategy Formulation: Generic Strategic Options and Choices
• Porter’s generic competitive strategic options
• Treacy and Wiersema’s three value disciplines
• digital and physical orientation options
• industry-based strategic styles
• strategic posture options
• foreign market entry options
Porter’s generic competitive strategic options
Competitive advantages are, according to Porter,25 derived from the activities that are involved in creating,
manufacturing, selling and supplying products and services, and winning the competitive race can only be achieved
by establishing and preserving a company’s distinctiveness. There are two ways in which companies can achieve this
distinctiveness. The first is by performing different activities to their rivals, and the second is by performing similar
activities, but performing them in different ways. Analogously, companies can either supply differentiated offerings
that create unique value and enable a premium price to be charged; or they can supply similar products and services,
but perform the activities more efficiently and economically than competitors, leading to a cost advantage.
Low cost Differentiation
Competitive advantage
Narrow target Broad target
Competitive scope
Porter’s generic strategy choices
Cost leadership Broad
Cost focus Differentiation
Figure 2.9: Porter’s generic strategies adapted28
Within the strategic positioning paradigm, strategy
is about the creation of a unique and valuable
position, involving a different set of activities.26
Porter27 strongly emphasises (1) differentiation of
activities, but also highlights that (2) costs can play
a significant role in creating competitive advantages.
Both of these strategic approaches, however, can
only be realised when a company has (3) a clear
focus. Focus describes how it aims to penetrate the
market and which customers to target. These three
factors led to the creation of Porter’s four generic
strategies, as depicted in Figure 2.9.
The cost leadership generic strategy refers to
when a company is able to achieve lower overall
costs, while offering products that appeal to a wide
range of customers, mainly through underpricing
competitors. This type of positioning is closely associated with economies of scale, a large market share and aggressive
cost-cutting techniques. In return, low-cost strategies provide very good defences against both buyer and competitor
bargaining power, as profit margins can still be maintained even in the face of strong competitive threats.29 Examples
of cost leadership companies include Wal-Mart, Shoprite, Dell Computers, AirBnB and Amazon. A cost focus
generic strategy also achieves lower overall cost benefits and low pricing, but provides its offering to a smaller niche
of customers. Examples of cost-focus companies are Capitec, Southwest Airlines, Priceline, Expedia and Agoda.30
A broad differentiation generic strategy focuses on providing a differentiated offering, while appealing to a wide
array of customers. The advantage of differentiation strategies is that differentiated offerings are often perceived as
exclusive, warranting a premium price, brand loyalty and customer lock-in.31 Examples of companies that employ
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broad differentiation strategies are Facebook, Microsoft, Symantec Norton and Dropbox. Lastly, differentiation
focus generic strategies provide differentiated offerings aimed at a niche customer segment that meets their tastes
and requirements better than the competitors’ offerings. Examples of such companies are DStv, Porche, Zynga, Prezi,
9gag and various niche online communities.32
Low cost Differentiation
Competitive advantage
Narrow target Broad target
Competitive scope
Generic strategy choices
Cost leadership Broad
Cost focus Differentiation
Best cost
Figure 2.10: Extended generic strategies34
There is a fifth generic strategy type that emerged
not specifically from Porter’s design, but by
retrospective reflection.33 This generic strategy type
is known as the best-cost provider strategy.
Customers get more value for money by combining
both good-to-excellent offering attributes with a
lower cost than rivals. This creates a competitive
space of lower (best) costs and prices than
competitors with comparable offering features. A
best-cost provider strategy simultaneously pursues
both differentiation and low-cost advantages.
Porter’s extended generic strategies are depicted in
Figure 2.10.
Each of the above generic strategies represents a
particular competitive advantage with a particular
competitive scope for an organisation. A competitive
advantage is based on a choice between low cost or differentiation. The choice of a competitive advantage is informed
by the nature and quality of internal resource strengths, capabilities and core competences, e.g. a low-cost strategy
is dependent on a lean value chain and a differentiation strategy is linked to value-creating activities that customers
appreciate and admire. The competitive scope consists of a broad market or narrow target market. Firms serving a
broad market seek to utilise their competitive advantage on an industry-wide scale, whilst a narrow target market
serves the needs of a specific group of customers. The best-cost strategy offers customers competitive prices with
comparable product/service features.
In order for competitive advantages to be sustainable, explicit trade-offs in choosing how to compete are required35
to create a tight “fit” between activities. Fit creates an interrelated web of activities (often termed an “activity system”
– see chapter 3) that cannot easily be untangled, creating barriers to entry and imitation. Two types of imitator that
need to be guarded against are “repositioners” and “straddlers”. Repositioners copy valuable strategic positions of
competitors, whereas straddlers keep their own strategic position, but copy additional activities, features or services
of a superior competitor.36
Trade-offs protect against imitation for three reasons. Firstly, different products and services require different
activities, equipment, configurations, employee behaviour, skills and management systems. It is impossible for an
organisation to compete on all fronts, because competing in some areas directly prohibits the ability to compete in
another area due to incompatibility. Activity incompatibility therefore prevents imitation. Secondly, even if activities
are not completely incompatible, value is destroyed if activities are overdesigned or underdesigned for a specific
use. Therefore, though activities may be copied, the value of the activity may be diminished for the imitator. Thirdly,
trade-offs help with focusing a company to avoid internal or external confusion. Inconsistencies in a business’s image
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Chapter 2: Strategy Formulation: Generic Strategic Options and Choices
and reputation create external confusion, which leads to distrust of a product or service. Internal confusion, on the
other hand, may arise from a too diverse set of products and services offered, blurring organisational priorities,
coordination and control. This leads to employees who are confused about company goals, which values to exhibit,
or how to approach customers. These all result in suboptimal daily operations. Trade-offs therefore ensure that a
company remains focused and prevents imitation.37
Fit also introduces the idea of designing a business holistically, whereby the system is more than its constituent parts.
Three different tiers of fit exist. First-tier fit is when there is a consistency between activities and the overall vision,
strategy and goals of the organisation. Consistency allows competitive advantages to be compounded and focuses
the internal co-ordination of the business. Second-tier fit is created when activities are reinforcing, meaning that
activities support and improve the functioning of the other activities. Lastly, third-tier fit is created when second-tier
fit is optimised, leading to near-ideal execution of activities.38
1. Start With the
Right Goal:
Superior LongTerm Return on
2. Strategy Must
Enable a
Value Proposition
3. Strategy Needs
to be Reflected in a
Distinctive Value
4. Robust
Strategies Involve
5. Strategy Defines
How All Elements
of a Company Fit
6. Strategy
Continuity of
Figure 2.11: Six principles of strategic positioning41
Fit prevents imitation in the following
way: if an activity is linked to two others
and a competitor has a 90 per cent chance
to copy an activity, then the likelihood of
copying that part of the system is (0.9)3
equalling 72.9 per cent. With more
activities entangled by a tight fit, imitation
of activities becomes increasingly
difficult.39 Organisations should therefore
seek to deepen their strategic positioning
(rather than broadening and
compromising it) by offering products
and services which are aligned with their
existing activity system, and which would
be too expensive and difficult for competitors to supply on a standalone basis.40 Porter summarised strategic
positioning as consisting of six basic principles, as shown in Figure 2.11.
The first principle states that businesses should pursue superior long term return on investments. Only by being
profitable can a business survive. The focus should be on economic value creation and sustained profitability of
strategies. Economic value is created when customers are willing to pay a higher price for a product or service
than what it costs to produce it. The second principle states that it is necessary to provide a differentiated value
proposition. A set of benefits must be provided that differs from those provided by competitors. Businesses do not
need to find the universally best way of competing and neither do they have to be all things to every customer. The
business only needs to deliver unique value to a specific customer segment.
The third principle is that businesses need to develop a distinctive value chain. Businesses must reflect their
distinctiveness by performing differentiated activities, or similar activities in different ways. Best-practices
benchmarking erodes distinctiveness and makes it difficult to establish a competitive advantage. Fourthly, a robust
strategy requires a business to make trade-offs in how it decides to compete. A company cannot be all things to all
customers. Trade-offs are required and the business has to explicitly decide which products, services and activities
it will perform.
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The fifth principle states that a strategy must define how all elements of a company fit together in a mutually
reinforcing way. Not only does the fit between activities increase competitive advantage, but it also makes a strategy
harder to imitate. Activities that are locked in a tight, reinforcing web are much more difficult to imitate than
stand-alone activities. Lastly, the sixth principle focuses on continuity of direction and consistency of purpose.
A business needs to maintain its strategic direction, even if it means foregoing certain opportunities. Without this
consistency, businesses will find it difficult to focus, develop skills, develop assets and forge long-term relationships
with customers.
Research42 shows that none of the generic competitive strategies shown in Figure 2.9 is inherently or universally
superior to the others. The effectiveness of each strategy is dependent on both opportunities and threats in the
external environment of the organisation and the strengths and weaknesses of the organisation based on the available
resource portfolio. This implies that it is important to select a generic strategy that fits with the market opportunities
and threats as well as the resource strengths and weaknesses of the organisation.
Once a generic strategic position has been chosen, it is essential that other strategic actions are aligned to this
competitive choice. Porter43 is very clear in his guidance for competitive success:
“Broadly, the prescription is to concentrate on deepening a strategic position rather than broadening and compromising
it. One approach is to look for extensions of the strategy that leverage the existing activity system by offering features
or services that rivals would find impossible or costly to match on a stand-alone basis. Deepening a position involves
making the company’s activities more distinctive, strengthening fit, and communicating the strategy better to those
customers who should value it. But many companies succumb to the temptation to chase “easy” growth by adding hot
features, products, or services without screening them or adapting them to their strategy. Or they target new customers
or markets in which the company has little special to offer.”
Next we explore guidelines for low-cost strategies, broad differentiation strategies, and best-cost strategies.44
Practical guideline for creating low-cost strategies
Use the guidelines in Table 2.4 to develop insights about developing low-cost strategies.
Table 2.4: Guidelines for developing low-cost strategies
Approaches to support low-cost strategies:
• Sell standardised goods or services.
• Invest in process innovations to create lower cost of production and distribution.
• Perform value chain activities more cost-effectively than rivals:
o Capture all available economies of scale.
o Take full advantage of the learning/experience curve.
o Operate facilities at full capacity.
o Leverage sale volume to invest in R&D, advertising and to improve sales and administrative efficiencies.
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Chapter 2: Strategy Formulation: Generic Strategic Options and Choices
o Improve supply chain efficiencies.
o Use digital technology to improve operating efficiencies.
o Leverage buying power to gain concessions.
o Use outsourcing and vertical integration to improve efficiencies.
o Evaluate specifications for high-cost items and substitute materials and parts.
o Use labour-saving practices.
• Eliminate or bypass cost-producing activities in overall value chain:
o Sell directly to end-users.
o Use e-solutions for processes.
o Shift low-value activities to suppliers.
o Offer frills-free products.
Required resources and capabilities:
• sustained capital investment and access to capital
• process engineering capabilities
• controlled labour practices
• products that are designed for easy manufacturing
• low-cost distribution capacity
General advice:
The target market for low-cost providers is budget-conscious customers.
Low-cost providers must still keep an acceptable level of value for customers to prevent the offerings becoming unattractive to
buyers. A product offering that is too frills-free erodes the attractiveness and can turn customers off.
Keep the ratios – a low-cost strategy is sustainably profitable only when prices are cut by less than the cost advantage or the
added gains in unit sales are large enough to bring in a bigger total profit despite the lower margins per unit sold.
Seek cost efficiency improvements that are difficult for competitors to imitate (see above importance of trade-offs and fit).
Competitive scope broad: Walmart, Shoprite
Competitive scope niche: Southwest Airlines, Kulula
Practical guideline for creating differentiation strategies
Use the guidelines in Table 2.5 to develop insights about developing differentiation strategies.
Table 2.5: Guidelines for developing differentiation strategies
Approaches to support a differentiation strategy:
• Develop a deep and intimate understanding of customers’ needs and behaviours.
• Invest in innovations to bring new products and services to markets that benefit both the customer and the sponsoring
• Sources of differentiation: a unique taste (Coke); multiple features (Microsoft Office); wide selection and one-stop
shopping (Amazon); superior service (Rovos Rail); spare parts availability (Caterpillar guarantee of 48-hour worldwide spare parts availability); engineering design and performance (Mercedes, BMW); prestige and distinction
(Rolex); product safety and reliability (Johnson & Johnson’s baby products); quality manufacturing (Toyota, Honda);
technological leadership (3M); full range of services (universal banks – Standard Bank; Barclays); top-of-the line image
and reputation (Starbucks; Ralph Lauren).
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• The value-adding features in an offering should be at competitive cost point to ensure customers are willing to pay the
• Successful differentiation enables an organisation to:
o Ask a premium price for its product.
o Increase unit sales due to additional customers who value differentiating features.
o Grow loyalty to its brand due to customers’ strong attachment to the differentiating features and bond with the
• Use any (or a combination) of the value chain elements (supply chain, R&D, manufacturing, distribution and marketing
& sales) as a source for differentiation.
Required resources and capabilities
• strong marketing capabilities
• product engineering capabilities
• creative flair
• strong R&D capacity
• corporate reputation for quality or technological leadership
General advice:
Differentiation yields a longer return and profitability if it is based on product innovation, technical superiority, product
quality and reliability, comprehensive customer service, and unique competitive capabilities.
Seek differentiation features that are difficult for competitors to imitate (see above importance of trade-offs and fit).
Make both the actual and perceived value of a differentiating offering visible to customers to prevent a situation where price
is the only decision factor.
Competitive scope broad: McDonalds, Woolworths
Competitive scope niche: Apple, Moët & Chandon, W L Gore (Gore-Tex)
Practical guideline for creating best-cost strategies
Use the guidelines in Table 2.6 to develop insights about developing best-cost provider strategies.
Table 2.6: Guidelines for developing best-cost provider strategies
Approaches to support a best-cost provider strategy:
• The focus is on capturing a middle ground between pursuing a low-cost and a differentiation advantage and appealing
to customers between broad and narrow markets. This represents a hybrid approach.
• It is all about a low-cost provider of an upscale product – increase attractive attributes through appealing features, goodto-excellent product performance or quality or attractive customer service and price offering at a lower level than rivals.
• The organisation should have resources and competences that create the basis for upscale features at a lower cost than
General advice:
Give customers more value for their money by incorporating in the offering attractive or upscale attributes and features at a
lower price than competitors.
The target market for a best-cost provider is value-conscious buyers or value-hunting customers.
Organisations evolve to this strategic position: they seldom start here.
Toyota’s Lexus, Zara
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Chapter 2: Strategy Formulation: Generic Strategic Options and Choices
We use the case study of Zara to illustrate the dynamics involved in a best-cost strategy option.
Case study of Zara’s generic strategic choice45
ZARA’s competitive strategic positioning is that of a best-cost provider, as they pioneered “cheap chic”.
ZARA is classified within this positioning due to:
• focus on “fast fashion” based on trends that turn over faster than seasonal wear
• unique position in owning the full value chain and therefore the ability to be priced comparatively cheaper
than competing quality brands
• ability to design/produce to customers’ demands
• ability to appeal to a balance of broad and niche markets, and still create their own differentiation through
affordable and trendy apparel, which changes every two to four weeks
Differentiating features are:
• product quality
• fashion design – at affordable pricing
• speed of innovation/fashion trends to shelf
Low cost Differentiation
Competitive advantage
Narrow target Broad target
Competitive scope
Generic strategy choices
Cost leadership Broad
Cost focus Differentiation
Figure 2.12: Zara’s generic competitive choice
Zara occupies the sweet spot of combining low
production cost, good quality, and fashionability
while offering the customer value for money. There is
a limit on the lines offered but the quick design cycle
time makes up for this.
The Zara brand does not compete in the focused
differentiation space but does appeal to the shopper
who aspires to the nicer thing but still wants value for
money at the same time.
The Zara brand’s strongest rivals are from broad
differentiation brands such as H&M, Nordstrom, and
Ralph Lauren and Nordstrom; focused differentiation
brands such as Kering, Benetton, Calvin Klein, GIII
and Prada; and from the low-cost and niche market
sections the Next group is growing in market share
and number of stores over Europe to encroach on Zara’a space. The generic competitive choice of Zara is reflected
in Figure 2.12.
To conclude this part on generic strategic positioning choices, the different advantages and challenges associated
with each of the generic strategic options are summarised in Figure 2.13.
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Navigating strategic possibilities Market scope choice Core competitive advantage choice
Broad market Niche market Low cost Differentiation Low cost &
Target the broad,
total market
Target a niche
customer segment
within the total market
Produce offerings
at a lower cost
than competitors
Produce differentiated
offerings that deliver
unique value
Deliver more
value for money
Business driver Generalising Specialising Efficiency Differentiation Value
• Serves a large
range of
customers with
similar needs
• Targets largest
• Better serve the
niche than any
other competitor
• Low barriers
to entry
• Lower costs of
e-businesses enable
lower breakeven
points, increasing
viability of small
market segments
• Can pass cost
savings on to
customers and
• Can earn
above average
profits despite
the presence
of strong
• Higher profit
• Creates barriers
to competitive
warfare, as
customers have
and loyalties to
particular sellers
• Differentiation
aids in drawing
customer attention
• Can defend against
threats from free
• Can earn
returns and be
very powerful
when executed
• Online
customers value
low costs and
Largest challenges • Entering a
broad market
successfully, as
every mature
large, powerful
with enormous
amounts of
• Protecting
the broad
market space,
as there are
many adjacent
• Carving out a niche
where the number
of customers
are sufficient to
sustain the business
• Not diverging
from the niche
focus. Pursuing
precision to prevent
competitive gaps
where competitors
can “out-focus”
the business
• Establishing
entry barriers
• Creating and
sustaining a cost
advantage in an
industry where
of scale in
distribution and
other functions
are not that
• Withstanding
destructive price
• Getting noticed
amidst the
myriad of other
• Combating
competitors with
free offerings
• Differentiating
and sustaining
differentiation in a
fast paced industry
where barriers
to entry are low
and competitive
mimicking is
relatively easy
• Raising perceived
value of offering
• Not overspending
and overdifferentiating
• Successful
efficiency and
is difficult
• Escaping the
where the
business isn’t
excelling at
low costs, nor
and definitely
not both
Market scope questions
1. Is the identified customer segment a part of a broad target
market or a niche market?
2. How will the business successfully compete against a resource
rich incumbent in the market space that it intends to enter?
3. Is the target market large enough to be economically viable?
Core competitive advantage choice questions
4. Does the customer primarily value price or differentiation or
5. How will the business ensure that it gets noticed amidst the
myriad of competitors?
6. How will the business defend itself against threats from free
Key start-up question
7. What combination of market scope and core competitive
advantage strategies do I have the highest chance of successfully
starting up as?
*A business’ generic strategy can shift over time
Porter’s generic strategy choices fundamental characteristics
Low cost Differentiation
Competitive advantage
target Broad target Narrow
scope Competitive
Porter’s generic strategy choices
Cost leadership Broad differentiation
Cost focus Differentiation
Best cost
Figure 2.13: Summary of generic competitive positioning options46
In an organisation with distinctive different business lines with different product/service offerings aimed at different
end-users and markets, it is most likely that these different businesses will have different generic strategic positions
and choices. This means that in a diversified conglomerate business, different product lines and brands can have
different generic strategic positions. This point is illustrated in the case study of the Shoprite group.
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Chapter 2: Strategy Formulation: Generic Strategic Options and Choices
Case study of Shoprite Group
The Shoprite Group of Companies, Africa’s largest food retailer, operates 1 751 corporate and 360 franchise outlets
in 15 countries across Africa and the Indian Ocean Islands.47 The general strategic positioning statement for the
group indicates:
“The Group’s primary business is food retailing to consumers of all income levels, and there are outlets from
Cape Town to Accra and on some islands of the Indian Ocean. Management’s goal is to provide all communities
in Africa with food and household items in a first-world shopping environment, at the Group’s lowest prices. At
the same time the Group, inextricably linked to Africa, contributes to the nurturing of stable economies and the
social upliftment of its people.”
The different brands of the group each service a target market with a set of products. In Figure 2.14 some of the
brands in the group are described, with an interpretation of the associated generic strategic choice.
Shoprite is the original business of the group and remains the flagship brand, serving the mass middle
market. It’s the brand with the most stores in RSA as well as the brand used to spearhead growth into
Africa. The brand’s core focus is to provide the masses with the lowest possible prices on a range of
groceries and some durable items. Specific emphasis is placed on basic commodities, which is critical
to the core target market.
LSM 4-7
Checkers focuses on time-pressed, higher income consumers and differentiates on its speciality ranges
of meats, cheeses and wines. Its full range of groceries and household general merchandise are all
promised at the consistently good value for which the Group is famous. The stores across South Africa
and Namibia are located in shopping malls and other premises conveniently accessible to more
affluent residential areas.
LSM 8-10
Checkers Hyper offers the same specialty food selections and great value as Checkers, but within
large-format stores that encourage bulk rather than convenience shopping. The general merchandise
ranges are far wider in Hyper stores, focusing on categories like small appliances, pet accessories,
garden and pool care, outdoor gear, home improvement, homeware, baby products, toys and
stationery. Checkers Hyper stores operate in South Africa only and are found in areas with high
population densities.
LSM 8-10
Usave is a no-frills discounter focussing on lower income consumers. This smaller format, limited
range store is an ideal vehicle for the Group’s expansion into Africa and allows far greater penetration
into underserved areas within South Africa.
LSM: 1-5
Hungry Lion operates in seven countries and with its current growth trajectory it is rapidly extending
its footprint throughout Southern Arica. Hungry Lion’s goal is to provide all communities in Africa
with fried chicken in a first-world Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) environment at competitive prices.
Hungry Lion aims to be the leading brand in consumers’ minds when considering an option for fried
LSM 4-7
Brand Target Market and Competitive Advantage Generic Strategy
Cost Leadership
Differentiation Focus
Broad Differentiation
Cost Focus
Best Cost Provider
Figure 2.14: Generic strategic position of selected brands in the Shoprite Group
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Application tool
Choose and motivate a generic competitive strategic position for an organisation. Also indicate the implications for
operational aspects and business model features.
Treacy and Wiersema’s three value disciplines
International management consultants Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema developed an alternative approach to
generic strategy which they call value disciplines.48 The value-discipline approach is a strategic tool that assists
organisations to establish what they want their customers to value them for.
The value disciplines that an organisation can excel in are operational excellence, customer intimacy and product
leadership.49 Each area results in customers valuing the organisation in a different way. The departure point is that an
organisation needs to choose one of these value disciplines to develop strategies that would deliver superior customer
value and at the same time develop the other two disciplines to meet industry standards.
“best product”
Product leadership
Operational excellence Customer intimacy
“best total cost” “best total solution”
Figure 2.15: Value disciplines
When an organisation specialises in one of these disciplines,
it gains competitive advantage. A focus on one of the
disciplines assists an organisation to align all operational
processes in support of the chosen value discipline and build
a clearer understanding of what must be done to attain the
desired results in the business model elements (see chapter 3
on Business models). For example, operationally excellent
organisations in general have a limited range of products and
configurations as this is more cost-effective to build and
deliver than a vast range of products and configurations
typical of a customer-intimate organisation.50 The assumption
is clear: to succeed in the marketplace, organisations must
embrace a specific value discipline as part of their competitive
strategy. The three value disciplines are depicted in Figure 2.15.
Operational excellence
Operational excellence represents a specific strategic orientation towards the production and delivery of products
and services. An operational excellence strategy aims to accomplish cost leadership. Here the main focus centres on
automating manufacturing processes and work procedures in order to streamline operations and reduce cost. The
strategy lends itself to high-volume, transaction-oriented and standardised production.
The organisation that follows this strategy aims to lead its industry through price and availability by focusing on a
lean and efficient operations capability. The following practices are used to foster operational excellence:51 minimise
cost by reducing overheads; eliminate intermediate production steps; reduce transaction cost; and optimise business
processes. Operational excellence is characterised by offering customers competitive (low or lowest price) and
hassle-free service with minimum inconvenience. A strategy of operational excellence is ideal for markets where
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Chapter 2: Strategy Formulation: Generic Strategic Options and Choices
customers value cost and availability over variety, which is often the case for mature, commoditised markets where
cost leadership provides a vehicle for continued growth.
Examples of operational excellence-aligned enterprises are: BHP Billiton, Fed Ex and GE’s large appliance business.
Customer intimacy
Organisations that excel at making customer intimacy their strategic focus continually shape and fit their products
and services to match the needs of a specific target group. Deep customer insights are combined with operational
flexibility to offer customers a quick response to a spectrum of needs raging from customised products to meeting
special requests to increase customer loyalty.
Customer-intimate organisations focus on the lifetime value of customers and are prepared to invest now to create
long-term customer loyalty. The focus here is not on initial cost or profit per transaction, but on creating customer
satisfaction that builds loyalty to sustain lifetime relationships with a customer. Organisations with a customer
intimacy orientation invest in systems that differentiate quickly and accurately the degree of service customers require
and match that with the potential revenue patronage is likely to generate over time. Careful customer segmentation
assists organisations to engage and service customers according to their needs, based on their flexible and responsive
Examples of customer intimacy-aligned enterprises are Virgin Atlantic, Casinos (for high rollers), the hair salon and
Product leadership
Organisations that pursue the discipline of product leadership aim to deliver a constant flow of state-of-the-art
products and services that delight customers. This focus on product leadership requires capabilities in the area of
creativity from organisational actors to create these new offerings, to industrialise and commercialise these new ideas
quickly and to continually upgrade offerings to stay in front of the competition.
Product leadership organisations invest in R&D and environmental scanning to create new offerings and foster a
culture of ongoing innovation. The strength of product leaders is based on their ability to react fast to opportunities
when they arise. The big aim here is to maintain the creation of a stream of new products over time to sustain product
leadership, momentum and a competitive edge.
The consumer electronics, fund management, automotive and pharmaceutical industries include many companies
pursuing a strategy of product leadership. Examples of product leadership-aligned enterprises are Ferrari, Pfizer,
Apple and Nike.
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Conclusions on the three value disciplines
The value-discipline approach is an alternative way to create a general competitive position for an organisation. It
relates in some way to the generic competitive positions of Porter, where operational excellence aligns with a cost
leadership strategy, and customer intimacy and product leadership support a differentiation focus strategy choice.
Application tool
Use the descriptions of the three value disciplines to choose ONE as the cornerstone for an organisation’s generic
competitive positioning choice. Motivate why the chosen value discipline is appropriate and how it will impact
operational aspects and business model features.
Digital and physical orientation options
The next strategic choice on level 2 (see Figure 2.8) is between the different digital and physical orientations available.
An organisation’s digital-physical orientation refers to its relative position on the digital-physical continuum.52 This
choice is usually implicitly made based on the products that a business sells, the way that it decides to do business,
or the way that it makes its offering available to customers. An explicit and conscious consideration of the different
options is useful however, as the different orientations fundamentally impact the business and present different
challenges and benefits.
The four broad options are shown on the digital-physical continuum in Figure 2.16:
Digital pure
Plays selling
Digital offerings
Digital pure
Plays selling
Physical offerings
Physical pure
Plays (“Brick and
Figure 2.16: Digital-physical continuum53
Digital pure plays selling digital offerings largely or exclusively compete online and provide digital products or
services to customers. These businesses are entirely digital. Examples are Facebook, YouTube, Dropbox, PayPal,
WhatsApp, LinkedIn and Spotify.
Digital pure plays selling physical offerings also compete largely or exclusively online, but provide physical
products or services to customers. The interactions of these businesses are strictly digital however. Digital pure plays
sell physical offerings, but do not take ownership of physical products or services and do not engage in physical
order fulfilment themselves. These businesses act as intermediaries that connect buyers and sellers. They generate
sales through their website (for which they get commission, for instance) and make use of partnerships and extensive
outsourcing to deliver the physical offerings to customers (or a similar business model). Examples of such businesses
are eBay, Alibaba, Gumtree, OLX, AirBnB, Uber, Groupon and Kickstarter.
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Hybrid e-businesses compete online, but partake in physical activities and order fulfilment in addition to their
digital activities. Typical hybrid businesses are e-retailers such as Amazon, Takealot, Rubybox, Geekfuel and Zappos.
These businesses make use of the Internet as a customer interface and sell physical products (that they own) through
their website. Hybrids do not have physical stores, but require warehouses, inventory, order fulfilment systems and
so forth to do business.
Lastly, physical pure plays are “brick-and-mortar” businesses that sell physical products and services. These
businesses have physical stores and make use of traditional physical supply chains. Examples are Woolworths,
Checkers, Exclusive Books and McDonald.
Yet the line that distinguishes hybrid e-businesses from physical pure plays is becoming increasingly blurred. Typical
hybrid e-businesses only possess an online customer interface. The newer tech-enabled brick-and-mortar businesses,
on the other hand, are providing customers a multi-channel choice of either a physical shopping experience (through
their physical outlets) or a digital shopping experience (through their e-commerce websites). By their very nature,
these businesses remain brick-and-mortar businesses however, as they would still be able to function via their physical
channels even if the Internet did not to exist. Important in this discussion is the realisation that these orientations
exist along a relative digital–physical continuum. What this continuum implies is that though a broad definition for
each orientation exists, the boundaries separating them are somewhat malleable. Stated differently, businesses of the
same basic digital–physical classification can be more digital or more physical relative to one another.54
The power of a business’s digital–physical orientation lies not in the classification, but in the purposeful consideration
and explicit choice of the type of offering that will be delivered to customers and how these offerings will be made
available. Considering the business from this perspective could entirely reframe the business and highlight new
possibilities for how the business could function. Some of the characteristics that distinguish between the orientations
are outlined in Table 2.7.
Important questions to consider when choosing an orientation are:
• Which type of offering do our customers require?
• Which of these orientations is the most efficient at delivering offerings that our customers require?
• Which of these orientations will give our business the most traction?
• Given our available resources, skills and partner network, which of these orientations do we have the highest
chance of successfully executing?
Finally, a business’s digital–physical orientation is not necessarily a fixed choice and it is possible that a business’s
orientation may shift in order to meet customer demands over time.
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Table 2.7: Digital–physical orientation choices fundamental characteristics55
Digital pure play
selling digital
Digital pure play
selling physical
Hybrid e-business Physical pure play
Sells digital products
online, usually
by employing an
e-commerce interface.
Sells physical
products online, but
interactions remain
digital. Digital pure
plays selling physical
products do not
take ownership of
products and do not
partake in physical
order fulfilment.
Sells physical products
online and partakes in
physical order fulfilment.
Sells physical
products offline
via brick-andmortar stores.
Ease of
Typically less difficult.
Website development
and programming can
prove challenging, but
automated services
reduce operating
Typically less
difficult. Website
development and
programming can
prove challenging,
but business
difficulty is reduced
by outsourcing
physical functions.
Typically more difficult.
Hybrids need to manage
large, integrated physical
value chains and these
physical value-chain
elements add complexity
to the business.
Product, scale and
Informal trading
on sidewalks is
very easy. Building
and managing an
expansive network
of physical stores
is more difficult.
Cost of
Typically less
expensive. Costs
contingent on:
• complexity of
e-business website/
platform developed
• inherent
capabilities of
start-up team
• web development
tools and partnership
Typically less
expensive.56 Unlike
hybrids, physical
pure plays do not
require inventory,
warehouses, physical
order fulfilment
systems or labourers.
Typically more expensive.
• Hybrids require
inventory, warehouses,
physical order fulfilment
systems and labourers.
• This translates into
requiring higher start-up
capital and leads to higher
operating costs than pure
plays of similar scale.57
• “Lean” (inexpensive)
hybrids can be created;
however they sacrifice
many benefits (e.g.
customer service)
that customers may
actually require.
Typically more
• Physical pure
plays require
physical outlets,
inventory, physical
order fulfilment
systems and
• This translates
into requiring
higher startup capital and
leads to higher
operating costs
than pure plays
of similar scale.58
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Digital pure play
selling digital
Digital pure play
selling physical
Hybrid e-business Physical pure play
• Can capitalise on any
and all of the benefits
that the online
medium provides:
o Can provide
digital content
o Can allow users
to experience and
test trial versions
before purchasing
the full offering.60
o Inherently global
o Can reproduce
and distribute
digital products
at a near zero
cost. 61 62 63
• Opportunity for.64
o Information as a
source of value;
o Mass
o Economic
principle of
• A cheaper
version of hybrid
however a lot of
advantages are
foregone by not
taking ownership
of products.65
• Reach as
widespread as
• Can provide a
combination of online
and offline products and
services.66 This enhances
choice and convenience
and can possibly provide a
better overall experience.
• Taking control of order
fulfilment grants the
opportunity to better
control and affect
customer interactions.
In comparison to
physical pure plays,
hybrids can provide:67
o more enticing physical
product presentations;
o more reliable
and standardised
information about
product characteristics
and availability;
o quicker and more
reliable delivery;
o a more favourable
return policy.
• These latter three
reduce uncertainty and
instil greater trust.
• Hybrids can also
better capitalise on:
o economies of scale
(through bulk
o synergy effects (through
bundling); and
o pricing flexibility.68
• Physical stores:
o Provide
convenience to
shoppers who
enjoy a physical
o Are excellent
sales channels.
o Provide
without having
to wait for
o Provide the
opportunity for
better customer
• Tech-enabled
physical pure
plays can provide
a combination of
online and offline
products and
services.69 This
enhances choice
and convenience
and can possibly
provide a better
overall experience.
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Digital pure play
selling digital
Digital pure play
selling physical
Hybrid e-business Physical pure play
suited to
entrepreneurs with
good programming
skills and deep
IT knowledge.
Entrepreneurs with
good programming
skills and sales
• Incumbent retailers with
a strong brand, installed
customer base, established
infrastructure, experience
and scale in logistics.71
• Entrepreneurs with
experience in retail
and logistics.
• Incumbent
retailers with a
strong brand,
installed customer
base, established
experience and
scale in logistics.72
• Entrepreneurs
with experience in
retail and logistics.
• Creating innovative
offerings that
customers will
pay for.73 74
• Staying ahead of
competitors in the
innovation game.
• Combating piracy. 75
• Building strong
networks and
with partners.
• Reducing buyer
• Reducing and off-loading
logistical costs. Customers
are not willing to pay
significantly more for
an online offering than
an offline one,77 and odd
product geometries are
difficult to assemble,
pack and ship, which
incurs extra costs.78
• Increasing “basket”
• Reducing buyer
• Staying relevant
in an increasingly
digital world.
o Customers
demand online
sales channels
and delivery,
forcing offline
retailers into
new areas
of business.
This requires
o Competing
against digital
products and
services that
are simply
cheaper or
superior online.
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Digital pure play
selling digital
Digital pure play
selling physical
Hybrid e-business Physical pure play
Core strategies • Seek trade-offs
between the Internet
and traditional
approaches, where
only an Internet
model offers real
advantages.81 This
occurs when:
o Customer’s
needs are best
met online;
o Product or
service can be
best delivered
through an online
channel and
does not require
physical assets.
• Resellers
o Focus on
enabling the
provision of
expertise and
enhanced choice
to customers.
Also target
popular or
unique brands
that are in high
o Build strong
o Cultivate
• Other
o Identify niches
in which to be a
category killer.
o Devise ways
to collaborate,
co-create and
capitalise on
the sharing
economy in the
physical world.
• Build huge scale to
sufficiently “dissipate”
high operating costs.83 84
Building a large physical
value chain is enormously
expensive, however.
• Focus on niche product
categories, hard-tobring-home products and
expensive products as
these reduce customers’
sensitivity to fulfilment
costs, have higher profit
margins and lower
customer acquisition
costs85 as customers
typically seek out these
companies instead of
vice versa. The paradox,
however, is that it is
these high basket-value
items that customers are
especially apprehensive
of buying online.86
• Eliminate physical
activities to improve
profit margins.87
• Seek trade-offs
between physical
and Internet
approaches, where
only the physical
model offers real
advantages. This
occurs when:
o The nature of
the offering
is inherently
o Customer’s
needs are best
met via an
offline, physical
vs playing
seeing a band
live vs watching
a YouTube
o Product or
service can be
best delivered
through an
offline channel.
Industry-based strategic style choices
Organisations are classified into different industries based on the nature and type of activity the business engages in
to produce value for customers. Industries differ from each other on numerous dimensions, e.g. the oil industry and
the Internet and software industry pose vastly different challenges and opportunities. These divergent patterns lead
to the argument that organisations that operate in such dissimilar competitive environments should be planning,
developing, and deploying their strategies in markedly different ways.88
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Navigating strategic possibilitiesHow predictable is the environment?
How much power do you or other have to influence
the industry?
Can’t change industry Can change industry
Industry is
Industry is
If your industry is
unpredictable and you can’t
change it
If your industry is
unpredictable but you can
change it
If your industry is
predictable and you can
change it
If your industry is predictable
but you can’t change it
Industry-Based Strategic Style Options
Figure 2.17: Industry-based strategic style options91
Reeves, Love and Tillmans89
developed a framework that divides
strategy-making into four styles
according to how predictable your
environment is and how much power
you have to change it. “Using this
framework, corporate leaders can
match their strategic style to the
particular conditions of their industry,
business function, or geographic
market”.90 The choice of the strategic
style an organisation adopts starts
with the assessment of the industry it
operates in. In assessing an industry
two primary factors can be used:
predictability (how far into the future
and how accurately can you
confidently forecast demand,
corporate performance, competitive dynamics, and market expectations?) and malleability (to what extent can you
or your competitors influence those factors?). The different strategic styles based on this classification are: classical,
adaptive, shaping, and visionary – see Figure 2.17.
A classical strategy style is appropriate when an organisation operates in an industry that is predictable but it is
difficult to change the industry. Classical strategies are associated with mature industries such as the oil industry. In
the classical strategy approach strategy analysts and planners invest time and effort to develop detailed perspectives
on the long-term economic factors relating to demand and the technological factors relating to supply. These
analyses inform future possibilities in upstream and downstream value chain activities with a 5–10-year planning
horizon. This information is used in multi-year financial forecasts, which informs annual targets that are focused on
improving efficiencies required to sustain the organisation’s market position and performance. When extraordinary
events like a war, natural disasters or external shocks occur, strategic plans are revised given a changing operating
context. A classical strategic approach works for organisations in an industry where the most attractive positions and
the most rewarded capabilities today will, in all likelihood, remain the same tomorrow.
An adaptive strategy style is required when an industry is exposed to constant changes and persistent unpredictability
in the environment due to global competition, technological innovation, social feedback loops, and economic
uncertainty. An adaptive strategy style entails a constant refinement of goals and tactics by shifting, acquiring or
divesting resources fast on an ongoing basis. Planning cycles are shorter and may shrink to less than a year or
even become continual. Plans are not detailed blueprints but contain rough hypotheses based on the best available
data. Continuous feedback is important to validate assumptions. An example of this type of industry is specialty
fashion retail, such as Zara who use their flexible supply approach to adapt to new fashion trends and customer taste
demands. They focus continuously on changes in the fashion industry to frequently produce, roll out, and test a
variety of products as quickly as they can, constantly adapting production in the light of new learning.
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A shaping strategy style is aligned with industries where the barriers to entry are low, innovation rates are high,
demand is very hard to predict, and the relative positions of competitors are in flux. A mature industry that’s similarly
fragmented and not dominated by a few powerful incumbents, or is stagnant and ripe for disruption, is also likely to be
similarly malleable.92 The focus here is to shape the unpredictable environment to your organisation’s own advantage
before someone else benefits. Like an adaptive strategy, a shaping strategy embraces short or continual planning cycles.
A visionary strategy style is the arena of entrepreneurs and innovators who see a future landscape and mobilise
decisive actions to realise the associated opportunities. A visionary strategist considers the environment not as a
given but as something that can be moulded to create a competitive advantage. Visionary strategists must have the
courage to stay on track towards a vision and need to ensure that the required resources are mobilised. United Parcel
Service (UPS) grasped the opportunity early to become the “the enablers of global e-commerce.”93
Note: In their 2015 book,94 Reeves and his colleagues from BCG added a fifth strategic style to the strategy palette
which they called a renewal strategy approach. It is an underlying option to all four styles as described above. A
renewal strategy option is appropriate in organisation turnarounds to restore the financial sustainability of a business.
A summary of the five strategy styles is shown in Table 2.8.
Table 2.8: Summary of industry-based strategy styles and approaches
Key elements Classical Adaptive Visionary Shaping Renewal
Core idea Be big Be fast Be first Be the
Be viable
Indicators of
this approach
• Low growth
• High
• Mature
• Stable
• Volatile growth
• Limited
• Young industry
• High
• High growth
• White spaces,
no direct
• Limited
• Fragmentation
• No dominant
player platform
• Shapeable
• Low growth,
decline, crisis
• Restricted
• Negative
cash flows
How Analyse, plan,
Vary, select,
Envisage, build,
and persist
React, economise,
Measure of
• Scale
• Market share
• Cycle time
• New product
vitality index
• First to market
• New user
• Ecosystem
growth and
• Cost savings
• Cash flow
Key traps Overapplication Planning the
Wrong vision Overmanaged
No second phase
Application tool
Use the examples and summary of industry-based strategic styles reflected in Figure 2.18 and Table 2.8 to choose and
motivate an appropriate strategy option for an organisation. Also indicate the implications for operational aspects
and business model features.
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+ –

Computers &
Semiconductors &
Real estate
management &
Internet &
catalogue retail Marine
Construction &
technology Internet software &
Energy equipment &
Diversified consumer
instruments &
durables Trading companies &
Life sciences
tools & services
Real estate
investment trusts
restaurants &
products Speciality retail
Textiles, apparel
& luxury goods Road & rail Leisure
equipment &
retail Software
Containers &
Health care
providers &
Gas utilities
Food products
Aerospace &
Food staples
retailing Electric utilities
services & supplies
Health care
equipment &
IT services
Oil, gas &
Independent power
producers & energy
traders Automobiles
finance Paper & forest
Air freight &
Thrifts &
Water utilities
Figure 2.18: Examples of industry-based strategic style options95
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Strategic posture options
The SPACE (Strategic Position and Action Evaluation) matrix is an approach to determine the appropriate strategic
posture for an organisation.96 The strategic posture options of an organisation are determined by the combination
of two internal and two external dimensions. The internal dimensions are financial strength (FS) and competitive
advantage (CA) and the external dimensions are environmental stability (ES) and industry strength/attractiveness
(IS). By combining ratings on each dimension on one SPACE matrix diagram, the results guide the future strategic
agenda of an organisation by indicating four strategic posture options: aggressive, competitive, conservative or
defensive. These strategic posture options guide the further strategic thrust of an organisation.
The aggressive posture is typical of an attractive industry with stable economic conditions. Financial strength
enables an organisation with this strategic posture to maintain its competitive position. An organisation in this
position takes full advantage of industry growth, merger and acquisition opportunities and allocates the required
resources to reap potential benefits.97
A competitive posture is associated with an attractive industry in a relatively unstable environment. This position is
associated with a competitive advantage for an organisation which enables an increase in investments in marketing
and sales as well as an extension of product lines. Productivity improvements and cost-cutting could also be on the
agenda of organisations with this posture to improve the financial health of the organisation.98
A conservative posture is distinctive of a low-growth but stable market. Product competitiveness is the key factor
to sustain financial stability. Strategic responses for organisations with this strategic posture option are product line
rationalisation or new product expansions, cost-efficiency improvements, cash flow improvements or seeking more
attractive markets to enter.99
A defensive posture is based on an unattractive industry where competitiveness is the critical factor. An organisation
in this position usually lacks a competitive product and financial strength. Organisations in this posture could
consider discontinuing marginal product lines, cost-cutting initiatives, divestments and retreat from the market.100
A summary of the four strategic posture options for an organisation is reflected in Table 2.9.
Table 2.9: Characteristics of different strategic postures101
Dimensions Aggressive Competitive Conservative Defensive
Financial strength
Potential strategic
• Growth,
including M&As
• Capitalise on
• Innovate
to sustain
• Cost reduction,
productivity improvement,
raising more capital to
use opportunities and
strengthen competitiveness
• Possibly merge with a less
competitive rival with cash
• Cost reduction,
• Invest in new
search for new
products, services
and competitive
• Rationalisation
• Divestment as
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The main position on the SPACE matrix for the four strategic posture options is reflected in Figure 2.19.
SPACE: Strategic position & action evaluation
Competitive advantage
Industry attractiveness
Financial Strength
(Low) (Low)
“Conservative” “Aggressive”
“Defensive” “Competitive”
Conservative Aggressive
Defensive Competitive
Figure 2.19: Strategic posture positions in the SPACE matrix102
Practical guideline
Step 1: For an organisation that you have done a strategy analysis on and that you know well, evaluate the strength
of each dimension using the questions and scale in Table 2.10.
Table 2.10: Dimensions and key factors in SPACE matrix
Factors determining Competitive Advantage (CA)
Market share
Product quality
Brand and image
Control over suppliers and distributors
-6 -5 -4 -3 -2 -1
-6 -5 -4 -3 -2 -1
-6 -5 -4 -3 -2 -1
-6 -5 -4 -3 -2 -1
Factors determining Industry Strength/Attractiveness (IS)
Barriers to entry
Technological know-how
Capital intensity
Profit potential
1 2 3 4 5 6
1 2 3 4 5 6
1 2 3 4 5 6
1 2 3 4 5 6
Factors determining Financial Strength (FS)
Cash flow
Return on assets
1 2 3 4 5 6
1 2 3 4 5 6
1 2 3 4 5 6
1 2 3 4 5 6
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Factors determining Environmental Stability (ES)
demand variability
barriers to entry into market
price elasticity of demand
price range of competing products
-6 -5 -4 -3 -2 -1
-6 -5 -4 -3 -2 -1
-6 -5 -4 -3 -2 -1
-6 -5 -4 -3 -2 -1
Note: For simplicity only four factors per dimension are used.103
Step 2: Determine the average score per factor. Table 2.11 gives an example of the application of this step in a case
study organisation.
Table 2.11: Case study average score per dimension
Average score per dimension
Competitive advantage
market share small -6 -5 -4 -3 -2 -1 large
product quality inferior -6 -5 -4 -3 -2 -1 superior
brand & image low -6 -5 -4 -3 -2 -1 high
control over suppliers & distributors low -6 -5 -4 -3 -2 -1 high
Average -1.75
Industry strength
barriers to entry easy 1 2 3 4 5 6 difficult
technological know-how simple 1 2 3 4 5 6 complex
capital intensity high 1 2 3 4 5 6 low
profit potential low 1 2 3 4 5 6 high
Average 4.00
Financial strength
leverage imbalance 1 2 3 4 5 6 balanced
liquidity imbalance 1 2 3 4 5 6 balanced
cash flow low 1 2 3 4 5 6 high
return on assets low 1 2 3 4 5 6 high
Average 4.25
Environmental stability
demand variability large -6 -5 -4 -3 -2 -1 small
barriers to entry into market few -6 -5 -4 -3 -2 -1 many
price elasticity of demand elastic -6 -5 -4 -3 -2 -1 inelastic
price range of competing products wide -6 -5 -4 -3 -2 -1 narrow
Average -2.75
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Step 3: Plot the values from step 2 for each dimension on the SPACE matrix on the appropriate axis and add the
average score for competitive advantage (CA) and internal strength (IS) dimensions. This will be your final point on
the X axis on the SPACE matrix. Also add the average scores for financial strength (FS) and environmental stability
(ES) to find your final point for the Y axis. Find the intersection points for your X and Y axis points. Draw a line from
the centre of the SPACE matrix to your point. This line reveals the type of strategic posture the organisation should
consider with the associated strategic agenda items.
See the case study example in Table 2.12 for the application of the above steps.
Table 2.12: Case study values for X and Y axis
Values for X and Y axis
Internal strategic position External strategic position
X Axis
Competitive advantage Industry strength
market share
product quality
brand & image
control over suppliers & distributors
barriers to entry
technological know-how
capital intensity
profit potential
A Total axis X score 2.25 Y Axis
Financial strength Environmental stability
cash flow
return on assets
demand variability
barriers to entry into market
price elasticity of demand
price range of competing products
Total axis Y score 1.50
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SPACE: Strategic position and action evalution Competitive advantage
Industry attractiveness
Financial strength
“Conservative” “Aggressive”
“Defensive” “Competitive”
-4 -3 -2 -1
1 2 3 4
Figure 2.20: Case study strategic posture position on SPACE matrix
The SPACE matrix is a useful framework to add content to the second-level generic strategic choices of an organisation
(see Figure 2.8). By evaluating an organisation’s position on the SPACE matrix, possible future strategic imperatives
can be established.
Foreign market entry options
The last generic strategic option combination we explore is foreign market entry alternatives. This is part of the
international strategy agenda options of an organisation. In this part we discuss the following market entry modes to
assist the footprint expansion strategy: exporting; licensing and contract manufacturing; franchising; joint ventures
and strategic alliances; acquisitions; foreign branches; and wholly owned subsidiary/greenfields ventures.
To grow organisations continuously to increase the potential for more financial success is an ongoing challenge for
business leaders. There is always a time in the development of an organisation when current local markets become
saturated and the need to expand the organisation beyond the local geographical boundaries of the entity becomes a
reality. Apart from choosing potential new growth markets through fact-based and data-driven information reviews,
there are various options in the key questions about how this market entry should be thought about and what form
it should take. The characteristics associated with these different entry modes are shown in Table 2.13.
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Navigating strategic possibilities
Table 2.13: Modes of entry into foreign market and associated features104
Entry mode Key characteristics
Exporting High cost, low control
Licensing, contract manufacturing
and franchising
Low cost, low risk, limited control, relatively low returns
Strategic alliances/Joint ventures Shared cost, shared resources, shared risks, challenge of alignment of interest
Acquisitions Relatively fast access to market, high cost, complex
negotiations, challenge to merge local operations
New wholly owned
Complex, high cost, time-consuming, high risk,
maximum control, potential for positive returns
Prof. Jean-Louis Schaan from the Ivey Business School at Western University in Canada developed a typology for
new market entrance based on how easy or difficult it is to enter a foreign market and how close or distant the culture
in the host country is from that of the country of the entering organisation. This view is reflected in Figure 2.21.
Easy to Enter Difficult to
Cultural Close
Cultural Far
Joint Ventures
Figure 2.21: Options for foreign market entry105
Exporting refers to the international trade of goods and services that are shipped from an exporting company in
one country to an importing company in another country.106 The essence of this approach is to maintain a national
in-country production base and to export goods to foreign markets using either company-owned or foreigncontrolled forward distribution channels. The strategic sweet spot in exporting is to find markets that accept your
product standards. This allows exporting of standard products into a new foreign market. Apart from marketing and
distribution investments, exporting does not require additional capital and the organisation maintains control over
quality. The disadvantages of exporting relate to lower control over the marketing and distribution of products in
the host country and the challenges in providing customised products for each international market. Governments
also make available export incentive schemes to local organisations to boost foreign currency inflows. Interesting
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Chapter 2: Strategy Formulation: Generic Strategic Options and Choices
to note is that research indicates that cost leadership strategies enhance the performance of exports from developed
countries and that differentiated strategies are more successful in emerging economies.107 Exporters usually first
target markets close to their home country to learn how the process works and to prevent logistical cost being too
Licensing and contract manufacturing represent a formal contractual arrangement between parties where a
foreign company purchases the right to manufacture and sell the local firm’s products within a host country or a
set of countries. Licensing involves the transfer of some industrial property rights from the licensor to a licensee
in exchange for royalties or other income arrangements. The investment in new manufacturing and distribution
capacity in foreign territories is made by the licensee. This makes licensing a very low-cost international strategy
option. The risk in licensing is the ability of the licensor to gain learning experience benefits to become a competitor
after the contract expires, as well as the loss of control over production, marketing and distribution of the product.
Many software and pharmaceutical companies use licensing strategies. Franchising represents a special form
of licensing. In this case the licensee allows the franchisee through a contractual arrangement to use the brand,
products, operating practices and marketing strategies in a defined (foreign) market. In exchange the franchisee pays
fees to the parent company based on sales volume. The franchise is operated by local investors who must comply with
the franchisor polices. A franchise option is relevant when the host country is culturally far from the country of the
franchisor and it is relatively easy to enter the market. McDonald’s is leading the world growth through franchising.
Strategic alliances and joint ventures are formal collaborative arrangements between two or more entities with the
intent to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes. These benefits can be to share risks, resources and the creation of
new core competences in a host country (see chapter 7 for more detail on inorganic growth strategies). The mutual
agreement on pooling of resources can include capital, production, marketing and management expertise, patents
and trademarks. Trust between the partners is critical for venture success and the management of expectations needs
ongoing attention. Research indicates that trust is also influenced by the different country cultures of the alliances
and venture partners.108 Incompatibility and conflict between partners are the major reasons why alliances and joint
ventures fail. A joint venture is an appropriate option when the market is difficult to enter and the culture of the
foreign target country is far from the entering organisations’ local country culture. Research also indicates that when
country risks are high, firms prefer to enter with joint ventures to manage the risks.109
Acquisitions refer here to buying a company in a foreign country. Cross-border acquisitions are a strategic option due
to free trade that drives the continued expansion of global markets. Acquisitions are a quick way to get access to new
markets. Acquisitions of assets in foreign countries can be expensive and the negotiations can be complex and timeconsuming. Governing within the legal and regulatory requirements of the host country and post-acquisition culture
and operating practices alignment is part of the challenge110 (also see chapter 7 for more on M&As). Acquisitions are
an option when the two country cultures are close and it is difficult to enter the market.
A Greenfields venture involves the creation of a new wholly owned subsidiary, and in the context of foreign market
entry options, in a foreign country. The process of creating such a venture is often complex, risky and potentially
costly. However, it has benefits like full control of operations and potential for above-average returns. Wholly owned
subsidiaries are relevant especially when proprietary technology is involved or when specialised knowledge and
customisation are required.111 Greenfield ventures assist firms to maintain control over their proprietary systems.
Greenfield ventures are appropriate when it is relatively easy to enter a foreign market and the culture is close to that
of the home country.
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Navigating strategic possibilities
Apart from choosing the appropriate foreign market entry option, the choice of which country to enter is a major
strategic decision. Guidelines on how to make this decision include many variables. As a first-cut view, the approach
of Justin Letschert, CEO of Bio-Oil – a product of Union-Swiss (Pty) Ltd in Cape Town – to identifying top potential
foreign target market countries is reflected in Figures 2.22 and 2.23. Please note the figures present 2008 as a baseline.
Bio-Oil is a South African product in the specialist skincare oil category. Bio-Oil has won 253 skincare awards and
has become the No.1 selling scar and stretch mark product in 20 countries since its global launch in 2002.112
Internationalisation: Taking a local brand to the global arena
Which Country to target?
Figure 2.22: Potential target countries based on GDP per capita113
Source: Justin Letschert, 2008. Taking a local brand to the global arena: Lessons from an SA entrepreneur. USB Leader’s Angle, 27 June.
Internationalisation: Taking a local brand to the global
Highest combined GDP/capita and
population score
Which country to target?
Figure 2.23: Potential target countries based on GDP/capita and population114
Source: Justin Letschert, 2008. Taking a local brand to the global arena: Lessons from an SA entrepreneur. USB Leader’s Angle, 27 June.
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