Most marketers know the SWOT Analysis. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats. It’s a comfortable way to analyze a business or marketing plan. The problem is, it’s also a way to stare in the mirror and see only what you want to see. “These are our strengths. These are our weaknesses” misses out on what the marketplace thinks. It’s like saying “but enough about me, what do you think about me” is really asking for an opinion
TOWS Analysis, on the other hand, is seeing what you don’t want to see, but what you need to see. You drop the pretense and ask the hard question: what is wrong with our business? As Bob Lewis said in Infoworld, “looking first at threats and opportunities, then evaluating strengths and weaknesses in that context, provides a way to decide what to focus on that’s more intelligent than throwing a bunch of stuff onto a flipchart and choosing the favorites.” Favorites, meaning the ones that are easiest to solve.
Don’t get me wrong. SWOT is a great tool for making plans. But TOWS is an action tool, and a good one to turn to in the face of immediate threat. You use TOWS when you discover your competition puts out a new product you didn’t anticipate or suddenly buys a smaller competitor, for example, and you want to develop a fast response.
1. Identify the threats
Drop the pretense, drop the ego and talk about the really painful stuff. What’s taking a big, nasty bite out of your best laid plans? What just kicked your marketing campaign to the curb? Painful as this is, going here first gives you your best chance to think about what’s really cutting your best efforts short, and then focus on the actions you can take to turn it around. Go here before you even talk about your organization’s weaknesses and strengths. This is hands-on tactical business warfare at its best.
1. Start with a traditional SWOT analysis. Identify your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
2. Focus on your pain points. While the matrix (and your ego) may entice you into focusing on strengths first, start in the red zone on the threats, then move up to weaknesses. You know, the ugly stuff no one wants to talk about:
3. Choose your best options. Develop your strategy, or enhance it, with the stuff that gives you the best opportunities, given your vision, mission, and most importantly, what’s going on the market right now—especially the scary stuff.