SWOT analyses have been used by marketers for years while planning for the outcome of anything, from a product to an individual, in a specific market. SWOT is an acronym for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, and is generally laid out in a four-plot grid, filled out with lists. While these analyses are the traditional go-to, Brenner Adams – an experienced consultant, CEO at Link Group and entrepreneurship adjunct instructor at the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah – has a twist that will make the classic SWOT analysis easier to interpret and to act upon.
“I’ve done so many SWOT analyses, and I don’t think it’s stacked right. I end up saying to myself, ‘So what? What do I do with it?’” Adams said. “Great, I have a list of my strengths, and now what?”
In response, Adams, while consulting on marketing plans for companies like Cannondale and Schwinn, developed SOWT: so what? SOWT is more than an arbitrary list of strengths, weakness, threats and opportunities, it’s a formula for action. To complete a SOWT analysis, strengths are aligned with opportunities, and weaknesses are aligned with threats horizontally. A strength can be anything from a team member’s rich uncle to a patent on high-profile technology. Matching a strength to a market or consumer opportunity, for example, leads to insights which drive quicker and more effective decision making, or, for Adams, “aha moments.”
Weaknesses and threats will be evaluated the same way: a company will list out the weaknesses they determine internally based on the market, the product or the team. Then, they can compare that list to one of the threats faced, whether from competing products or market risks, and leverage the resulting insight to prioritize the challenges in order to draw real conclusions and build plans to mitigate those external factors.
When researching and identifying your company’s strengths, opportunities, weaknesses and threats, there are hundreds of places you could look to gather data. However, Adams says there’s one outlet that startups sometimes ignore: Google.
“Google the crap out of that,” Adams said. “Google your opportunities: ‘How many people lease computers every day? How many people buy a new laptop every year? How much money is spent on laptops every year?’ You can get all kinds of data from the Google-sphere.”
The rest of your data can be gleaned from asking for opinions from the people around you, gauging public opinion through databases like those at the Marriott Library, and, most importantly, through experts. Adams recommends recruiting experts to your team or at least keeping some close, as they can be opinion leaders in the industry, and help you point out threats and opportunities quickly.
“Once you align your strengths and your opportunities, you get an insight,” Adams said. “Your weakness and strengths will tell you what actions you need to take to prevent getting blindsided. You’re not going to have every answer, don’t worry about that, but your investors are going to want to know, and you owe it to yourself and your team to know, what some of those blind spots could be.”
Adams has applied this strategy in his own professional career, and it works.
While consulting for Cannondale, a globally identified strength was the Lefty shock, which was patented with a limited amount of time left. Cannondale had also just come off of launching the lightest high-performance carbon fiber road bike in the world. No one could touch it. The mountain-biking market was growing again, which presented a unique opportunity. Combining the newly strengthened world-renowned recognition for carbon fiber, a patent on the shock and a global market opportunity trending in the right direction an insight was developed. They had the engineers take the mountain bike they’d been developing, doubled efforts on the carbon version of the frame, added an all-new Lefty, and made a killer new mountain bike. “SOWT drove that initial strategic prioritization and thinking,” Adams said.