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Elements of SWOT analysis

The aim of any SWOT analysis is to identify the key internal and external factors that are important to achieving the objective. These come from within the company's unique value chain. SWOT analysis groups key pieces of information into two main categories:

In SWOT, strengths and weaknesses are internal factors. For example:A strength could be:
  1. Your specialist marketing expertise.
  2. A new, innovative product or service.
  3. Location of your business.
  4. Quality processes and procedures.
  5. Any other aspect of your business that adds value to your product or service.

A weakness could be:
  1. Lack of marketing expertise.
  2. Undifferentiated products or services (i.e. in relation to your competitors).
  3. Location of your business.
  4. Poor quality goods or services.
  5. Damaged reputation.

In SWOT, opportunities and threats are external factors. For example:- An opportunity could be:
  1. A developing market such as the Internet.
  2. Mergers, joint ventures or strategic alliances.
  3. Moving into new market segments that offer improved profits.
  4. A new international market.
  5. A market vacated by an ineffective competitor.

A threat could be:
  1. A new competitor in your home market.
  2. Price wars with competitors.
  3. A competitor has a new, innovative product or service.
  4. Competitors have superior access to channels of distribution.
  5. Taxation is introduced on your product or service.

Use a PESTLE or PEST analysis to help identify factors. The internal factors may be viewed as strengths or weaknesses depending upon their impact on the organization's objectives. What may represent strengths with respect to one objective may be weaknesses for another objective. The factors may include all of the 4P's; as well as personnel, finance, manufacturing capabilities, and so on. The external factors may include macroeconomic matters, technological change, legislation, and socio cultural changes, as well as changes in the marketplace or competitive position. The results are often presented in the form of a matrix.

SWOT analysis is just one method of categorization and has its own weaknesses. For example, it may tend to persuade companies to compile lists rather than think about what is actually important in achieving objectives. It also presents the resulting lists uncritically and without clear prioritization so that, for example, weak opportunities may appear to balance strong threats.

It is prudent not to eliminate too quickly any candidate SWOT entry. The importance of individual SWOTs will be revealed by the value of the strategies it generates. A SWOT item that produces valuable strategies is important. A SWOT item that generates no strategies is not important.

A word of caution, SWOT analysis can be very subjective. Do not rely on SWOT too much. Two people rarely come-up with the same final version of SWOT. TOWS analysis is extremely similar. It simply looks at the negative factors first in order to turn them into positive factors. So use SWOT as guide and not a prescription.

First, the decision makers have to determine whether the objective is attainable, given the SWOTs. If the objective is NOT attainable a different objective must be selected and the process repeated.

The SWOT analysis is often used in academia to highlight and identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. It is particularly helpful in identifying areas for development.

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