In business, a competitive advantage is the attribute that allows an organization to outperform its competitors. A competitive advantage may include access to natural resources, such as high-grade ores or a low-cost power source, highly skilled labor, geographic location, high entry barriers, and access to new technology.
Competitive advantage is the leverage that a business has over its competitors. This can be gained by offering clients better and greater value. Advertising products or services with lower prices or higher quality interests consumers. Target markets recognize these unique products or services. This is the reason behind brand loyalty, or why customers prefer one particular product or service over another.
Value proposition is important when understanding competitive advantage. If the value proposition is effective, that is, that the value proposition offers clients better and greater value, it can produce a competitive advantage in either the product or service. The value proposition can increase customer expectations and choices.
Michael Porter defined the two ways in which an organization can achieve competitive advantage over its rivals: cost advantage and differentiation advantage. Cost advantage is when a business provides the same products and services as its competitors, albeit at a lesser cost. Differentiation advantage is when a business provides better products and services as its competitors. In Porter's view, strategic management should be concerned with building and sustaining competitive advantage.
Competitive advantage seeks to address some of the criticisms of comparative advantage. Competitive advantage rests on the notion that cheap labor is ubiquitous and natural resources are not necessary for a good economy. The other theory, comparative advantage, can lead countries to specialize in exporting primary goods and raw materials that trap countries in low-wage economies due to terms of trade. Competitive advantage attempts to correct this issue by stressing on maximizing scale economies in goods and services that garner premium prices (Stutz and Warf 2009).
The term competitive advantage refers to the ability gained through attributes and resources to perform at a higher level than others in the same industry or market (Christensen and Fahey 1984, Kay 1994, Porter 1980 cited by Chacarbaghi and Lynch 1999, p. 45). The study of this advantage has attracted profound research interest due to contemporary issues regarding superior performance levels of firms in today's competitive market. "A firm is said to have a competitive advantage when it is implementing a value creating strategy not simultaneously being implemented by any current or potential player" (Barney 1991 cited by Clulow et al.2003, p. 221).
Successfully implemented strategies will lift a firm to superior performance by facilitating the firm with competitive advantage to outperform current or potential players (Passemard and Calantone 2000, p. 18). To gain competitive advantage, a business strategy of a firm manipulates the various resources over which it has direct control and these resources have the ability to generate competitive advantage (Reed and Fillippi 1990 cited by Rijamampianina 2003, p. 362). Superior performance outcomes and superiority in production resources reflect competitive advantage (Day and Wesley 1988 cited by Lau 2002, p. 125).
The quotes above signify competitive advantage as the ability to stay ahead of present or potential competition. Also, it provides the understanding that resources held by a firm and the business strategy will have a profound impact on generating competitive advantage. Powell (2001, p. 132) views business strategy as the tool that manipulates resources and creates competitive advantage, hence viable business strategy may not be adequate unless it possesses control over unique resources that have the ability to create such a unique advantage.
Michael Porter, a graduate of Harvard University, wrote a book in 1985 which identified three strategies that businesses can use to tackle competition. This book was named the ninth most influential management book of the 20th century. These approaches can be applied to all businesses whether they are product-based or service-based. He called these approaches generic strategies. They include cost leadership, differentiation and focus. These strategies have been created to improve and gain competitive advantage over competitors. These strategies can also be recognized as the comparative advantage and the differential advantage.
Cost leadership is a business ability to produce a product or service that will be at a lower cost than other competitors. If the business is able to produce the same quality product but sell it for less this gives them a competitive advantage over other businesses. Therefore, this provides a price value to the customers. Lower costs will result in higher profits as businesses are still making a reasonable product on each good or service sold. If businesses are not making a large enough profit, Porter recommends finding a lower-cost base such as labor, materials and facilities. This gives businesses a lower manufacturing cost over those of other competitors. The company can add value to the customer via transfer of the cost benefit to them.
A differential advantage is when a business' products or services are different to its competitors. In his book, Michael Porter recommended making those goods or services attractive to stand out from their competitors. The business will need strong research, development and design thinking to create innovative ideas. These improvements to the goods or service could include delivering high quality to customers. If customers see a product or service as being different from other products, consumers are willing to pay more to receive these benefits.
Focus strategy ideally tries to get businesses to aim at a few target markets rather than trying to target everyone. This strategy is often used for smaller businesses, as they may not have the appropriate resources ability to target everyone. Businesses that use this method usually focus on the needs of the customer and how their products or services could improve their daily lives. In this method, some firms may even let consumers give their inputs for their product or service.
This strategy can also be called the segmentation strategy, which includes geographic, demographic, behavioral and physical segmentation. By narrowing the market down to smaller segments, businesses are able to meet the needs of the consumer. Porter believes that once businesses have decided what groups they will target, it is essential to decide if they will take the cost leadership approach or differentiation approach. Focus strategy will not make a business successful. Porter mentions that it is important to not use all 3 generic strategies because there is a high chance companies will come out achieving no strategies instead of achieving success. This can be called 'stuck in the middle' and the business won't be able to have a competitive advantage.
When businesses can find the perfect balance between price and quality, it usually leads to a successful product or service. A product or service must offer value through price or quality to ensure the business is successful in the market. To succeed, it's not enough to be 'just as good as' another business. Success comes to firms that can deliver a product or service in a manner that is different, meaningful and based on their customers' needs and desires. Deciding on the appropriate price and quality depends on the business' brand image and what they hope to achieve with relation to their competition.