As your business grows, you face more obstacles, challenges, opportunities, and projects in general. It's a good and natural part of scaling an organization, but how do you determine your priorities? Which initiatives should you execute on first, and which challenges should you address right away?
Enter the SWOT analysis, a framework that can help you develop a roadmap for moving forward with your business, maximizing opportunities and minimizing roadblocks along the way.
What is a SWOT analysis?
A SWOT analysis is a strategic planning technique that puts your business in perspective using the following perspectives:Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Using a SWOT analysis helps you identify areas your business can improve and maximize opportunities, while simultaneously determining negative factors that might hinder your chances of success.
While it may seems simple on the surface, a SWOT analysis allows you to make unbiased evaluations on:
- Your business or brand
- Market positioning
- A new project or initiative
- A specific campaign or channel
Practically anything that requires strategic planning, internal or external, can have the SWOT framework applied to it, helping you avoid unnecessary errors down the road from lack of insight.
Importance of SWOT Analysis
You've noticed by now that SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threads. The framework seems simple enough that you'd be tempted to forgo using it at all, relying instead on your intuition to take these things into account.
But you shouldn't. Doing a SWOT analysis is important because:
- It gives you the chance to worry and to dream. Adding the SWOT analysis as an important step in your strategic process, you're giving yourself the space to dream, evaluate, and worry before taking action. Your insights in this regard then turn into assets as you create the roadmap for your project or initiative.
- It forces you to define your variables. Instead of diving head first into the planning and execution, you're taking inventory of all your assets and roadblocks. These can help you create a more specific and effective roadmap.
- It allows you to think more critically and account for mitigating factors. As you identify weaknesses and threats, you're better enabled to account for them in your roadmap, improving your chances for success.
- It helps you keep a written account. As your organization grows and changes, you'll be able to strike things off your old SWOTs and add new things as the industry changes. It can be illuminating to look back to where you started as you look ahead at what's to come.
Here, we'll tackle how to best do a SWOT analysis, provide you with a SWOT analysis template, and conduct SWOT analyses on major brands Apple and Starbucks. When you're done reading, you'll have all the inspiration and tactical advice you need to tackle a SWOT analysis for yourself.
How do you write a good SWOT analysis?
There are several steps you'll want to take when evaluating your business and conducting a strategic SWOT analysis.
There's no need to start from scratch for your analysis. Here, I've created a sample using a free, editable template — feel free to use the model yourself, or create your own as it suits your needs.
2. Arrange each section into a table with four quadrants.
Whether you use the template above as a model or create your own to suit your needs, it can be helpful to start in table format to visualize your SWOT analysis. This can be done by arranging each of the four sections into separate quadrants.
3. Identify your objective.
Before you start writing things down, you'll need to figure out what you're evaluating with your SWOT analysis. Be specific with what you want to analyze. Otherwise, your SWOT analysis may end up being too broad, and you'll get analysis paralysis as you are making your evaluations.
If you're creating a social media program, you'll want to conduct an analysis to inform your content creation strategy. If you're launching a new product, you'll want to understand its potential positioning in the space. If you're considering a brand redesign, you'll want to consider existing and future brand conceptions.
All of these are examples of good reasons to conduct a SWOT analysis. By identifying your objective, you'll be able tailor your evaluation to get more actionable insights.
3. Identify your strengths.
"Strengths" refers to what you are currently doing well. Think about the factors that are going in your favor as well as the things you offer that your competitors just can't beat.
For example, let's say you want to use a SWOT analysis to evaluate your new social media strategy.
If you're looking at a new social media program, perhaps you want to evaluate how your brand is perceived by the public — is it easily recognizable and well-known? Even if it's not popular with a widespread group, is it well-received by a specific audience in particular?
Next, think about your process: is it effective or innovative? Is there good communication between your marketing and sales to ensure both departments use similar vocabulary when discussing your product?
Finally, evaluate your social media message, and in particular, how it differs from the rest of the industry. I'm willing to bet you can make a lengthy list of some major strengths of your social media strategy over your competitors, so try to dive into your strengths from there.
4. Identify your weaknesses.
Similarly to your strengths, what are the roadblocks hindering you from reaching your goals? What do your competitors offer that continue to be a thorn in your side. This section isn't about being a Negative Nancy. Rather, it's critical to foresee any potential obstacles that could mitigate your success.
When identifying weaknesses, consider what areas of your business are the least profitable, where you lack certain resources, or what costs you the most time and money. Take input from employees in different departments, as they'll likely see weaknesses you hadn't considered.
If you're examining a new social media strategy, you might start by asking yourself these questions: First, if I were a consumer, what would prevent me from buying this product, or engaging with this business? What would make me click away from the screen?
Second, what do I foresee as the biggest hindrance to my employees' productivity, or their ability to get the job done efficiently? What derails their social media efforts?
5. Consider your opportunities.
This is your chance to dream big. What are some opportunities for your social media strategy you hope, but don't necessarily expect, to reach?
For instance, maybe you're hoping your Facebook ads will attract a new, larger demographic. Maybe you're hoping your YouTube video gets 10,000 views, and increases sales by 10%.
Whatever the case, it's important to include potential opportunities in your SWOT analysis. Ask yourself these questions: What technologies do I want my business to use to make it more effective? What new target audience do I want to reach? How can the business stand out more in the current industry? Is there something our customers complain about that we could fix with our social media strategy?
The opportunities category goes hand-in-hand with the weaknesses category. Once you've made a list of weaknesses, it should be easy to create a list of potential opportunities that could arise if you eliminate your weaknesses.
6. Contemplate your threats.
It's likely, especially if you're prone to worrying, you already have a good list of threats in your head.
If not, gather your employees and brainstorm: What obstacles might prevent us from reaching our social media goals? What's going on in the industry, or with our competitors, that might mitigate our success? Is there new technology out there that could conflict with our product?
Writing down your threats helps you evaluate them objectively. For instance, maybe you list your threats in terms of least and most likely to occur, and divide and conquer each. If one of your biggest threats is your competitor's popular Instagram account, you could work with your marketing department to create content that showcases your product's unique features.
SWOT Analysis Examples
The template above helps get you started on your own SWOT analysis.
But, if you're anything like me, it's not enough to see a template. To fully understand a concept, you need to see how it plays out in the real world.
These SWOT examples are not exhaustive, and I'm sure you could add some yourself, but hopefully, it's enough to inspire you as you do your own SWOT analysis.
Apple's SWOT analysis
Here's how we'd conduct a SWOT analysis on Apple.
First off, strengths. While Apple has many strengths, let's identify the top three:
- Brand recognition
- Innovative products
- Ease of use
Apple's brand is undeniably strong, and their business is considered the most valuable in the world. Since it's easily recognized, Apple can produce new products and almost ensure a certain degree of success by virtue of the brand name itself.
Apple's highly innovative products are often at the forefront of the industry. One thing that sets Apple apart from the competition is its product inter-connectivity. For instance, an Apple user can easily sync their iPhone and iPad together so that they can access all of their photos, contacts, apps, and more no matter which device they are using.
Lastly, customers enjoy how easy it is to use Apple's products. With sleek and simple design, each product is developed so that most people can quickly learn how to use them.
Next, let's look at three of Apple's weaknesses.
- High prices
- Closed ecosystem
- Lack of experimentation
While the high prices don't deter Apple's middle and high class customer-base, they do hinder Apple's ability to reach a lower-class demographic.
Apple also suffers from its own exclusivity. Apple controls all its services and products in-house, and while many customers become loyal brand advocates for this reason, it means all burdens fall on Apple employees.
Ultimately, Apple's tight control over who distributes their products limits their market reach.
Lastly, Apple is held to a high standard when it comes to creating and distributing products. Apple's brand carries a high level of prestige, but that level of recognition inhibits Apple from taking risks and experimenting freely with new products that could fail.
Now, let's take a look at opportunities for Apple.
It's easy to recognize opportunities for improvement, once you consider Apple's weaknesses. Here's a list of three we came up with:
- Expand distribution options
- Create new product lines
- Technological advancement
One of Apple's biggest weaknesses is its distribution network, which, in the name of exclusivity, remains relatively small. If Apple expanded its network and enabled third-party businesses to sell its products, it could reach more people globally, while alleviating some of the stress currently put on in-house employees.
There are also plenty of opportunities for Apple to create new products. Apple could consider creating more affordable products to reach a larger demographic, or spreading out into new industries — Apple self-driving cars, perhaps?
Finally, Apple could continue advancing its products' technology. Apple can take existing products and refine them, ensuring each product offers as many unique features as possible.
Finally, let's look at threats to Apple.
Believe it or not, they do exist.
Here are three of Apple's biggest threats:
- Tough competition
- International issues
Apple isn't the only innovative tech company out there, and it continues to face tough competition from Samsung, Google, and other major forces. In fact, Samsung sold more smartphones than Apple did in 2021, shipping 272 million units and holding 20% of the market share. Meanwhile, Apple shipped 235.7 million units and held 17% of the market share.
Many of Apple's weaknesses hinder Apple's ability to compete with the tech corporations that have more freedom to experiment, or that don't operate in a closed ecosystem.
A second threat to Apple is lawsuits. Apple has faced a bunch of lawsuits, particularly between Apple and Samsung. These lawsuits interfere with Apple's reputable image, and could steer some customers to purchasing elsewhere.
Finally, Apple needs to improve its reach internationally. It isn't number one in China, and doesn't have a very positive relationship with the Chinese government. Then, in India, which has one of the largest consumer markets in the world, Apple's market share is low, and the company has trouble bringing stores to India's market.
If Apple can't compete globally the way Samsung or Google can, it risks falling behind in the industry.
Starbucks SWOT Analysis
Now that we've explored the nuances involved with a SWOT analysis, let's fill out a SWOT template using Starbucks as an example.
Here's how we'd fill out a SWOT template, if we were Starbucks:
Dine-In Thai Restaurant SWOT Analysis
Some small-business marketers may have difficulty relating to the SWOT's of big brands like Apple and Starbucks, so here's an example of how a restaurant might visualize each element:
While a Thai or any other restaurant might not be as worried about high-level lawsuits like Apple, the small business might be more worried about competitors or disruptors that might enter the playing field.
Local Boutique SWOT Analysis
In another small-business example, a local boutique might be well known in its neighborhood, but it also might take time to build an online presence or get its products in an online store. Because of this, some of its strengths and opportunities might relate to physical factors while weaknesses and threats might relate to online situations.
When to Use a SWOT Analysis
Ultimately, a SWOT analysis can measure and tackle both big and small challenges, and opportunities, and both big and little strengths and weaknesses.
While the examples above focus on businesses in general, you can also use a SWOT analysis to evaluate and predict how a singular product will play out in the market.
Hopefully, our SWOT template will supplement your market research and business analysis, and provide fair insights into how to optimize your products for bigger payoffs, and less hurdles.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in May, 2018 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.