The no-frills operators have opted to cut costs to a minimum and pass their savings on to customers in lower prices. This helps them grab market share and ensure their planes are as full as possible, further driving down cost. The luxury airlines, on the other hand, focus their efforts on making their service as wonderful as possible, and the higher prices they can command as a result make up for their higher costs.
Meanwhile, smaller airlines try to make the most of their detailed knowledge of just a few routes to provide better or cheaper services than their larger, international rivals.
These three approaches are examples of “generic strategies,” because they can be applied to products or services in all industries, and to organizations of all sizes. They were first set out by Michael Porter in 1985 in his book, “Competitive Advantage: Creating and Sustaining Superior Performance.”
Porter called the generic strategies “Cost Leadership” (no frills), “Differentiation” (creating uniquely desirable products and services) and “Focus” (offering a specialized service in a niche market). He then subdivided the Focus strategy into two parts: “Cost Focus” and “Differentiation Focus.” These are shown in Figure 1 below.
The Cost Leadership Strategy
Porter’s generic strategies are ways of gaining competitive advantage – in other words, developing the “edge” that gets you the sale and takes it away from your competitors. There are two main ways of achieving this within a Cost Leadership strategy:
- Increasing profits by reducing costs, while charging industry-average prices.
- Increasing market share through charging lower prices, while still making a reasonable profit on each sale because you’ve reduced costs.
Remember that Cost Leadership is about minimizing the cost to the organization of delivering products and services. The cost or price paid by the customer is a separate issue!
The Cost Leadership strategy is exactly that – it involves being the leader in terms of cost in your industry or market. Simply being amongst the lowest-cost producers is not good enough, as you leave yourself wide open to attack by other low-cost producers who may undercut your prices and therefore block your attempts to increase market share.
The Differentiation Strategy
Differentiation involves making your products or services different from and more attractive than those of your competitors. How you do this depends on the exact nature of your industry and of the products and services themselves, but will typically involve features, functionality, durability, support, and also brand image that your customers value.
To make a success of a Differentiation strategy, organizations need:
- Good research, development and innovation.
- The ability to deliver high-quality products or services.
- Effective sales and marketing, so that the market understands the benefits offered by the differentiated offerings.
Large organizations pursuing a differentiation strategy need to stay agile with their new product development processes. Otherwise, they risk attack on several fronts by competitors pursuing Focus Differentiation strategies in different market segments.
The Focus Strategy
Companies that use Focus strategies concentrate on particular niche markets and, by understanding the dynamics of that market and the unique needs of customers within it, develop uniquely low-cost or well-specified products for the market. Because they serve customers in their market uniquely well, they tend to build strong brand loyalty amongst their customers. This makes their particular market segment less attractive to competitors.
As with broad market strategies, it is still essential to decide whether you will pursue Cost Leadership or Differentiation once you have selected a Focus strategy as your main approach: Focus is not normally enough on its own.
But whether you use Cost Focus or Differentiation Focus, the key to making a success of a generic Focus strategy is to ensure that you are adding something extra as a result of serving only that market niche. It’s simply not enough to focus on only one market segment because your organization is too small to serve a broader market (if you do, you risk competing against better-resourced broad market companies’ offerings).
The “something extra” that you add can contribute to reducing costs (perhaps through your knowledge of specialist suppliers) or to increasing differentiation (though your deep understanding of customers’ needs).