I recently read how some Senior Marketing Executives regard using a SWOT (Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis as the career kiss of death, citing that it shows lack of imagination, lack of incisiveness and lack of ability. This view begs the question: have they ever seen SWOT used properly?

As a young professional, I had the nerve-wracking chance to share a long train journey with my then Marketing Director. He was compiling various information about our business unit and market place into a SWOT analysis. Seeing my curiousity (at 21 I hadn’t yet learnt how to hide when I was reading other people’s documents upside down!), and as we were only 1 hour in to our long journey, he shared with me what he was doing.
So, here’s what I learnt, which I have built on and used in anger, with many organisations over the intervening years.

·      Golden rule: all of these techniques are ways to organise your thoughts and analyse your data. The technique is not the end goal – it is a tool for you to use.

·       Never start your analysis with SWOT. SWOT is a way to organise the results of your internal and external analyses.

·        First, do the internal analysis of your business. (Internal Analysis techniques are a whole other blog post!)

·       Take your internal analysis and organise each point into the Strength or Weaknesses columns.

·        Do your external analysis (PESTLE; Political, Economic, Social, Technology, Legal and Environment, alongside Porters Five Forces is the most well used way to organise your thoughts).

·      Take each point and organise it into Opportunities or Threats.

·      Now, look at those Opportunities again. What Strengths do you have that can help your business make the most of those Opportunities?

·       What weaknesses does your business have that means you can’t take advantage of the Opportunities? Can you develop strengths to overcome these weaknesses?


A national competitor has folded, leaving a gap in the market.
Already have a strong reputation and client base regionally.

Product has been successfully launched across the region.
Key Sales staff member
leaving in 4 weeks time
and no replacement

Fill the staff gap, so can
rapidly meet the hole in
the national market.
Consider temp. staff,
contract staff or internal
promotion to fill the gap
asap as no time for
permanent recruitment.

·        Go to your Threats column. What Strengths does your business have to address these Threats? What weaknesses does your business have that means these Threats could destroy you?

·        Now prioritise. What’s more important? To bolster your strengths to protect against the Threats? Or to plug the holes of your weaknesses so you can take advantage of your Opportunities?

If all of this seems daunting, then take it a step at a time. Often, the process of working through a structure approach allows you and your colleagues to see things differently and move your business forwards.
As always in business, balance the theoretical with the practical. Perhaps this is why there is this belief that SWOT is dead? If you get too obsessed with the technique itself and forget it is a tool, it is easy to get lost in it, and produce something that is unimaginative and adds nothing to your business. But SWOT dead? Not for those that know how to use it.

Kara Stanford is the Managing Director of KMS Marketing and a Senior Marketing and PR Consultant


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