Macroenvironmental Business Forces
Macroenvironmental forces are changes in the broader economic, political/legal, social, technological, demographic, and global forces beyond the industry being examined. Any one of these six forces can change or effect any one of an industry’s five internal competitive forces. In conducting an industry’s initial Five Forces analysis – which is a snapshot measurement of an industry’s present competitive environment – these macroenvironmental forces are automatically accounted for. They are already included because an industry’s competitive environment is an aggregate of these turbulent and often conflicting forces. But entrepreneurs and business owners must also make educated guesses about how macroenvironmental trends and forces will shape the industry’s attractiveness into the future, both in the short run and in the long run.
Below is a diagram that visually represents how each of these seven forces can affect an industry’s Five Forces as the future unfolds.
The Six Macroenvironmental Forces
The following is a detailed analysis of the seven macroenvironmental forces touched upon above.
Macroeconomic forces affect the general economic well-being of the nation or the region in which an industry operates. The following are the major macroeconomic forces that can affect an industry’s ability to deliver an adequate economic return.
- The rate of growth for the economy. Economic expansions cause a general rise in aggregate consumer demand while recessions cause a general drop in aggregate consumer demand. Because aggregate demand for goods and services rises during economic expansions, an industry’s intensity of competitive rivalry, broadly speaking, will usually decline. The reason is that generally the market demand for an industry’s value propositions will cause an expansion in the industry’s revenue. Therefore its possible for the industry’s firms to generate revenue growth without fighting their competitive rivals for market share. Conversely, a decline in economic growth or a recession causes general aggregate demand to contract. This generally shrinks the amount of revenue an industry can earn and may cause price wars, consolidations and bankruptcies.
- Interest rates. Interest rates affect the cost of borrowing for consumers, thus affecting aggregate demand. Higher interest rates generally makes the cost of borrowing more expensive and can dampen demand for real estate and purchases of major assets (cars, durable goods). Ultimately, higher interest rates can lead to higher industry rivalry if the industry is directly or tangentially affected by borrowing costs. Higher interest rates also affect business’ cost of capital. High interest rates may restrict a business’s ability to invest in new equipment or facilities. On the other hand, low cost of capital makes it substantially easier for businesses to borrow and invest into expanding their operations.
- Exchange rates. Exchange rates either make imports more or less expensive for domestic consumers and exports more or less expensive for foreign consumers of domestically produced value propositions. A weak dollar makes imported value propositions more expensive and domestically produced value propositions comparatively less expensive. A strong dollar makes foreign value propositions less expensive and domestic value propositions comparatively more expensive.
- Inflation/Deflation. Inflation is the decrease in the purchasing power of a nation’s currency over time. Inflation can destabilize an economy, slow economic growth, higher interest rates and increased currency volatility. Increasing inflation makes business planning very difficult because the future becomes less predictable. Uncertainty makes companies unwilling to invest in growing their operations. On other side of the coin is deflation. Deflation is even more potentially damaging than inflation is. If the purchasing power of currency is increasing over time, firms and consumers will hoard their cash. This will causes a self-reinforcing cycle of low or negative economic growth. Usually the best inflation formula for stable economic growth is a low, steady inflation rate.
- Wage Levels. The price of labor from industry to industry can have a significant impacts on an industry’s costs of production. High or increasing industry labor costs can make substitute value propositions more attractive for the industry’s customers. Low or decreasing industry labor costs can make substitute value propositions less attractive for the industry’s customers.
- Level of Employment: High unemployment levels give firms greater leverage over their employees in keeping wage increases down or in actually decreasing labor costs to the firms in an industry. This can reduce the industry’s cost structure and thus raise the industry’s average profitability.
Legal and political forces are the results of changes in laws and regulations within the country your business operates in. Political and legal developments can be both opportunities and threats. The following are the major legal and political changes that can impact the fortunes of industries.
- Current and Expected Levels of Taxation. High tax rates can affect the decisions of entrepreneurs to engage in business activities or reduce the ability of companies to reinvest profits in expansion. But often the most important effect of taxes are not the levels of taxation, but the different effective tax rates for different activities. For example, the oil and gas industry, ecommerce businesses and the video game industry get significant tax breaks that reduces their effective tax rate. This can raise or lower the attractiveness of getting into certain industries.
- Import/Export Quotas and Tariffs. Tariffs and import/export quotas affect the costs of value propositions imported into a country and those exported to other countries. Raising or lowering tariffs or trade quotas can cause demand for the value propositions of the industries affected to increase or decrease. An example of a broad change in trade quotas and tariffs was the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
- Government Grants. Government grants are programs that can provide nascent industries with seed capital and resources. Governments (state, local and national) often provide businesses with financial support if the business pursues profit opportunities that align with a government’s policy goals. An example of a significant government grant program is the U.S. government’s Small Business Innovation Research grant (SBIR).
- War/Terrorism. War and terrorism can increase regulations and transaction costs associated with global travel or insurance. Wars can also saddle nations with large medical costs to society. Wars and anti-terrorism efforts can also increase military related contracting opportunities.
- Quid Pro Quo. Many industries try (and often succeed) in influencing politicians to enact laws that are favorable to their bottom line and create barriers of entry against potential competitors. A recent example of this was the influence the health care and pharmaceutical industries exerted upon the U.S. Congress during the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2009.
- The Regulatory State. In the U.S., most of the regulations that affect business and the general public are promulgated through various government agencies. Often, small changes in regulations can lead to desired or unintended consequences for a number of industries. Here is a small sample of legal and regulatory issues that are managed by various state and federal agencies: environmental protection, corporate governance, intellectual property rights, employment law, criminal law, tort law, food & drug regulation, public health… In the United States (and most other industrialized countries), virtually every area of commerce is affected by government regulations and laws. For any given industry, changes in these regulations and laws can be either threats or opportunities.
Social & Cultural Forces
Social forces are changes in the social mores and values of a society and how they affect any particular industry. Social changes can create both opportunities and threats for any industry.
- Social and cultural forces specifically refer to changes in the tastes, habits and cultural norms within a significant segment of a country’s population. One example of a social trend is the growth of the organic and local food movements in the U.S. over the last thirty years. The local and organic food movements have created an opportunity for some small farmers near large population centers, but this movement has also created a potential threat to large mono-agriculture farms.
- Cultural attitudes can shift drastically over time, rendering once commonplace habits and activities to no longer be widely accepted or tolerated. An example is the decline of smoking in the U.S. Smoking used to be tolerated in most indoor spaces forty years ago. Now it is either banned or highly frowned upon and the public has become very aware of the health risks smoking causes. This has led to a significant decline in the percentage of adults in the U.S. who smoke. Conversely, marijuana use, which was highly frowned upon by the majority of U.S. society over forty years ago, has become more widely accepted among the public. As a result, many state laws are changing to reflect this increased tolerance of marijuana use.
- Changes in what society considers fashionable are in a constant state of flux. Various fads and crazes rise and fall, sparking opportunities and threats for the industries that capitalize on these trends. Examples of changes in fashion, fads or crazes are: rock n roll in the 1960s, disco music in the 1970s, the Pet Rock, the Hula Hoop, Cabbage Patch Dolls…
Technological change is a primary driver of Schumpeter’s “perennial gale of creative destruction” among business ventures. Technological forces can render established, profitable value propositions obsolete virtually overnight and usher into existence exiting new business ventures. Because of the dual role technological change (both creative and destructive) plays in our society, it can be both an opportunity and a threat.
- Technological forces can cause industries to move through their life cycles more quickly. They can also disrupt an industry in the beginning or middle of its life cycle, rendering it obsolete or changing it so radically that most of the industry’s competitors cannot keep up. Essentially, technological change makes the life cycles of industries more volatile and unpredictable.
- Technological change can lower the barriers of entry for many industries. An example is the internet made it much easier for a potential retailer to sell products to its customers through a virtual storefront versus acquiring, stocking and running a brick and mortar facility. The lowering of barriers of entry tends to increase an industry’s intensity of rivalry, leading to both lower prices and industry profits.
- Technological forces can also reduce transaction costs. Reducing transaction costs is often destructive to the industries that thrive on them (auction houses being replaced by eBay or newspaper classifieds being replaced by Craigslist). Within an industry, a reduction in transaction costs driven by technological change usually leads to an increase in the industry’s intensity of competitive rivalry.
- Technological change can either reduce or increase customer switching costs. An example of how technological forces can reduce customer switching costs are instant price comparison applications on mobile devices. These give the consumers the ability to identify which retailers offer the same value propositions at the lowest prices. Technological forces can also increase customer switching costs. An example is Facebook or eBay. Both of these websites lock in users due to their network effects – alternative market choices do not present as much value because they are not as big.
- Technological forces can unleash changes in industries far removed from the industry in which the technology originated. An example of this is the Internet. The Internet has caused massive sea changes in industries only tangentially related to it such as retail, the news industry, book publishing, and matchmaking services (online dating).
Demographic forces are changes in the characteristics of a population of people. These characteristics can be sex, age, education, race, national origin, social class… Changes in demographics can present businesses with both opportunities and threats.
- Changes in a population’s age distribution can present both opportunities and threats. For example, in the U.S., the population of elderly people is growing more rapidly than the population as a whole. This presents an opportunity for industries who provide long term assisted living, the financial industry (reverse mortgages and retirement planning), and both the health and pharmaceutical industries. It also presents a threat to certain industries like funeral and burial providers (if the general population is living longer, it means people are dying at a slower rate).
- The rapid increase of the Hispanic population in the U.S. has led to an increase in Spanish speaking music, television and news in the U.S. This represents a growing opportunity for food and media companies that market to Latinos.
Global forces are changes that occur within and beyond the borders of the country a business is operating within and affect how a company can operate on the international stage. Global forces can present both opportunities and threats to an industry.
- The economic growth rates of other countries can play important roles in determining the demand for imports and exports. As barriers to trade fall, national economies become more subject to the winds of international commerce and capital flows. This international liberalization of trading agreements can allow domestic firms greater access to foreign markets. An example of the liberalization of international trade is the outsourcing trend over the last two decades from industrial economies in the west to developing economies in Asia.
- Climate change is another example of a global force. The long term changes to the world’s climate will profoundly shape countless industries in the decades to come. Climate change can offer both opportunities and threats to different industries. For example, the wine industry in France may have to experiment with new varietals due to changes in temperature and rainfall expected by scientists in the coming decades. Climate change also presents some industries with opportunities. One example is the shipping industry. The rapidly dwindling polar ice cap in the Arctic Ocean presents the possibility that new, more efficient shipping routes might become available.
 Charles W. L. Hill and Gareth R. Jones, Strategic Management Theory, Eighth Edition, Houghton Mifflin Company, pg. 66, 2008.
 Charles W. L. Hill and Gareth R. Jones, Strategic Management Theory, Eighth Edition, Houghton Mifflin Company, pg. 68, 2008.
 Charles W. L. Hill and Gareth R. Jones, Strategic Management Theory, Eighth Edition, Houghton Mifflin Company, pg. 70, 2008.