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5.2: External factors that affect planning

  • Page ID
    • John Burnett
    • Global Text Project

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    There are many marketplace changes occurring that marketers cannot control but affect what marketers do. Faced with these environmental uncertainties, successful marketers will be those who recognize the changes that are occurring and who make effective adjustments.

    There are a number of external factors that constitute the external environment. Our approach is to attempt to present an all-encompassing view of the elements of the external environment. Rather, it is to briefly describe each of the components and show how external factors affect marketing strategy.

    External surprises

    Carol Wolfe and Jane Barnes have been friends for six years, sharing carpool responsibilities, a common love of sewing, and a belief that being self-employed would be a dream come true. After two years of tinkering, they produced a child carrier that they felt would appeal to devoted moms who wanted their baby to be physically attached to the parent in a secure and comfortable manner. They knew they would need lots of help getting this business off the ground, but never realized how difficult and complicated it would be to obtain such assistance.

    They contacted the chairman of the marketing department at a local college and were told they could be considered as a student project for the capstone marketing course. One month later, they were given a preliminary report. The report began by listing the various agencies and intermediaries they would need to contact in order to start their business. The list included the following: personal attorney, patent attorney, accountant, commercial banker, raw materials providers (e.g. denim, thread, staples), distributors (wholesalers and retailers), advertising agency, marketing research firm, and fulfillment house. Further, they would have to understand the capabilities, options, and costs associated with each agency or intermediary.

    Since they lived in a relatively small city (population 185,000), many of these agencies or intermediaries were not readily available. A local attorney put them in touch with a patent attorney and a marketing research company in a nearby large city. The estimated cost of doing the patent search was USD 5,500 while the cost of preliminary research was USD 9,300. Their combined savings totaled USD 18,000. Clearly, they were underfunded. A quick call to the local bank produced another list of requirements they would have to meet in order to qualify for a business loan, including a business plan, a pro forma statement, and so forth.

    The initial business plan developed by the student group indicated that there were several competitors selling a product very similar to Carol and Jane's baby carrier. Also, the sources for denim were limited and required a minimum purchase of 500 bolts of fabric. Finally, because most retailers selling similar products were already committed to other manufacturers, it was unlikely that they would find retail distributors. The expected cost of manufacturing and marketing 30,000 units the first year was USD 1.4 million with a maximum possible profit of USD 146,000. Carol and Jane gave up on their idea.

    While this scenario is quite depressing, it is not that unusual. It is critical that a business identify and evaluate the various agencies and intermediaries with whom it must deal. Throughout this book, we will constantly identify these external agencies and attempt to assess their influence on a marketing organization.


    As with other external forces, management must also prioritize the importance of the factors that affect competition. The relationships between these elements and competition must be understood if the organization is to be able to develop and sustain a competitive advantage.

    Competitive analysis focuses on opportunities and threats that may occur because of actual or potential competitive changes in strategy. It starts with identifying current and potential competitors. For example, who are General Motors' competitors? If you named companies like Toyota, Ford, Chrysler, and Honda, you are right, but you have just begun. Table 3 outlines some of General Motors' competitors, and Table 4 does the same with Nintendo's competitors.

    It is essential that the marketer begin this assessment by answering the following question: "What criteria can be used to identify a salient set of competitors?"

    Table 3: Analysis of General Motors' competitors









    Auto dealers



    Delta Airlines




    American Airlines



    Honda motorcycles

    Local repair shops


    Mass transit

    Table 4: Analysis of Nintendo's competitors

    Video games


    Game suppliers

    Game providers





    The Tilt

    Family time

    Plitt Theaters

    Hunting, fishing


    Video game parlor

    Parker brothers

    The New York Mets

    golf, Little league



    Blockbuster Video

    Six Flags

    baseball, Girl Scouts

    It is clear from these two examples that an accurate accounting of competitors is much broader than the obvious. If we define our competitors too narrowly, we risk the chance that an unidentified competitor will take market share away from us without our knowledge. For example, General Motors obviously competes against Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, and other auto manufacturers. They also compete against Sears in the repair market, the subway in large cities, the airlines, and Schwinn, among people for whom bicycle riding is popular. Nintendo competes against Sega in the video game market. They also compete against Blockbuster Video, the local gym, board games, the theater, and rock concerts. Competition focuses on the wants and needs being satisfied, not the product being produced. General Motors, then, is competing to satisfy your need for transportation. Nintendo is competing to satisfy your need for entertainment.

    In addition to identifying a competitor from the perspective of the customer, other criteria might be the geographic location of competitors, relative size, history, channels of distribution, and common tactics.

    A second question to consider is the following: "What criteria do we need to use to make sure that our competitors are 'correctly' identified?" One way of answering this question is to track the customers' perceptions of product groupings and substitution. Do they change over time? Likewise, tracking expected competitors over time may prove insightful.

    Once competitors are correctly identified, it is helpful to assess them relative to factors that drive competition: entry, bargaining power of buyers and suppliers, existing rivalries, and substitution possibilities. These factors relate to a firm's marketing mix decisions and may be used to create a barrier to entry, increase brand awareness, or intensify a fight for market share.

    Barriers to entry represent business practices or conditions that make it difficult for new or existing firms to enter the market. Our entrepreneurs, Carol and Jane, aced several barriers to entry. Typically, barriers to entry can be in the form of capital requirements, advertising expenditures, product identity, distribution access, or switching costs. Japan has been accused of having unofficial cultural-based barriers to the Japanese market.

    In industries such as steel, automobiles, and computers, the power of buyers and suppliers can be very high. Powerful buyers exist when they are few in number, there are low switching costs, or the product represents a significant share of the buyer's total costs. This is common for large retailers such as Wal-Mart and Home Depot. A supplier gains power when the product is critical to the buyer and when it has built up the switching costs. Examples include Microsoft and BMW.

    Existing competitors and possible substitutes also influence the dynamics of the competition. For example, in slow-growth markets, competition is more severe for any possible gains in market share. High fixed costs also create competitive pressure for firms to fill production capacity. For example hospitals are increasing their advertising in a battle to fill beds, which represents a high fixed cost.

    Legal/ethical factors

    Every marketing organization's activities are influenced by ethical and legal factors that establish the rules of the game. These laws, agencies, policies, and behavioral norms are established to ensure that marketers compete legally and ethically in their efforts to provide want and need-satisfying products and services. The various US legal issues with which marketers must be knowledgeable include the following:

    Monetary and fiscal policy: Marketing decisions are affected by factors like tax legislation, the money supply, and the level of government spending. The tendency of a Republican Congress to spend on defense materials and not on the environment is an example.

    Federal legislation: Federal legislation exists to ensure such things as fair competition, fair pricing practices, and honesty in marketing communications. Anti-tobacco legislation affects the tobacco and related industries.

    Government/industry relationships: Agriculture, railroads, shipbuilding, and other industries are subsidized by government. Tariffs and import quotas imposed by government affect certain industries (e.g. automobile). Other industries are regulated (or no longer regulated) by government (e.g. rail, trucking, and airlines). Deregulating the utilities industry had a tremendous negative effect on the California power industry in 2001.

    Social legislation: Marketers' activities are affected by broad social legislation like the civil rights laws, programs to reduce unemployment, and legislation that affects the environment (e.g. water and air pollution). The meat processing industry has spent billions of dollars trying to comply with water pollution legislation.

    State laws: State legislation affects marketers in different ways. For example, utilities in Oregon can spend only ½ per cent of their net income on advertising. California has enacted legislation to reduce the energy consumption of refrigerators and air conditioners. In New Jersey, nine dairies have paid the state over USD 2 million to settle a price-fixing lawsuit.

    Regulatory agencies: State regulatory agencies (e.g. the US Attorney General's Office) actively pursue marketing violations of the law. Federal agencies like the US Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Product Safety concern themselves with all facets of business.

    Literally every facet of business is affected by one or more laws. It would be impossible to adequately cover them all in the space allotted. However, we will briefly discuss the three areas receiving the most notice in marketing: product liability, deregulation, and consumer protection.

    Product liability

    The courts are increasingly holding sellers responsible for the safety of their products. The US courts generally hold that the producer of a product is liable for any product defect that causes injury in the course of normal use. Liability can even result if a court or a jury decides that a product's design, construction, or operating instructions and safety warnings make the product unreasonably dangerous to use.2.

    Two Maryland men decided to dry their hot air balloon in a commercial laundry dryer. The dryer exploded, injuring them. They sued the manufacturer and won.

    A two-year-old child being treated for bronchial spasms suffered brain damage from a drug overdose. The hospital staff had clearly exceeded the dosage level prescribed by the drug manufacturer. The child's parents successfully sued the manufacturer.

    In Australia, about 20,000 kangaroos are killed or injured by motor vehicles each year. Vehicles are equipped with bullbars to limit damage to kangaroos. The problem is that the bullbars often confuse computer sensors, causing airbags to deploy unnecessarily. To solve the problem, General Motors-Holden's Automotive is experimenting with Robo-roo, a crash dummy that is made in the image of a 60-kg kangaroo. Robo-roo is used to test various bullbars in an effort to find one that prevents injury to the kangaroos and is often safe with regard to airbags. 3.

    While examples such as these are devastating, many feel that product liability law is now as it should be—in favor of the injured product user. Consumer advocates like Ralph Nader argue that for too long, product liability favored producers at the expense of the product user. They claim that the threat of lawsuits and huge settlements and restitutions force companies to make safe products. While a discussion of all aspects of products liability is beyond the scope of this text, it is clear that liability has and will continue to have tremendous impact on consumers and manufacturers alike. And these two groups are not the only ones affected. Retailers, franchises, wholesalers, sellers of mass-produced homes, and building site developers and engineers are all subject to liability legislation.


    Deregulation means the relaxation or removal of government controls over industries that were thought to be either "natural monopolies”, such as telephones, or essential public services like airlines and trucking. When regulated, industries got protection against renegade competition. For 40 years, the US Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) barred the creation of any major new airline and carriers could fly only over routes awarded them by the CAB.

    With time, the bargain grew increasingly bad. Insulated from competition, regulated industries had little reason to lower costs. They concentrated on influencing the regulators to make favorable decisions. There was an unhealthy tension and costs rose, industries sought price increases, and regulators resisted, often depressing industry profits. That, in turn, reduced new investment and perpetuated high costs and poor service.

    Industries such as the airlines, banking railroads, communications, and trucking have long been subject to government regulation. A market place shock wave hit these industries as they were deregulated. Each of these industries saw the birth of many new competitors attempting to take advantage of market opportunities uncovered by deregulation. For example, US Airways Midway, People Express, AirCal, Golden West, Muse Air, and Texas Air all started after the airline industry was deregulated. Not all of them survived. The result was that competition intensified, prices were lowered (sometimes below cost), and many once-stable organizations suffered huge financial losses.

    As deregulation unfolded—new competition was permitted, rate regulation was loosened or abandoned—the vicious cycle began to reverse itself. For example, AT&T had been slow to adopt fiber-optic cable. In 1985, there were only 352,000 km of it in AT&T's system. Sprint and MCI had more. AT&T responded. By 1994, it had 3.3 million kilometers of fiber cable (slightly more than MCI and Sprint). Airlines, freed of the CAB's routine restrictions, organized "hub and spoke" systems–outing passengers via major transfer points that provided more connections. In 1978, about 14 per cent of all passengers had to change airlines to reach their destination; by 1995, this number fell to about 1 per cent.4.

    Consumer protection

    Since the beginning of the twentieth century, there has been a concerted effort in the US to protect the consumer. For example, the US Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (1938) was aimed principally at preventing the adulteration or misbranding of the three categories of products. The various federal consumer protection laws include more than 30 amendments and separate laws relating to food, drugs, and cosmetics, such as the US Infant Formula Act (1980) and the US Nutritional Labeling and Education Act (1990). Perhaps the most significant period in consumer protection was the 1960s, with the emergence of consumerism. This was a grassroots movement intended to increase the influence, power, and rights of consumers in dealing with the institutions. The US Consumer Product Safety Act (1972) established the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

    Ethics is generally referred to as the set of moral principles or values that guide behavior. There is a general recognition that many, if not most, business decisions involve some ethical judgement. Consider the following dilemma. An athletic shoe company is considering whether to manufacture shoes in a country with a very poor record on human rights. The new facility will improve the company's competitive position, but the host government will also make a considerable profit, a profit that will be enjoyed by the ruling elite, not by the people of the country who will be employed at meager wages. Will the firm support a corrupt government in order to make higher profits?

    Firms hope that a consideration of ethical issues during the decision-making process will be helpful in preventing or at least decreasing the frequency of unethical behavior. Having a corporate ethics policy also seems to facilitate the process of recovery after an ethical scandal—although firms may wish otherwise, unethical acts do occur and do not often go unnoticed. The lack of respect many people feel towards business today, the press's propensity for investigative reporting, and the willingness of many insiders to blow the whistle on unethical corporate behavior increase the likelihood that such behaviors will eventually be discovered. See Exhibit 14.

    Ethical problems faced by marketing professionals stem from conflicts and disagreements. They tend to be relationship problems. Each party in a marketing transaction brings a set of expectations regarding how the business relationship will exist and how transactions should be conducted. For example, when you as a consumer wish to purchase something from a retailer, you bring the following expectations about the transaction: (a) you want to be treated fairly by the salesperson, (b) you want to pay a reasonable price, (c) you want the product to be available as advertising says it will and in the indicated condition, and (d) you want it to perform as promised. Unfortunately, your expectations might not be in agreement with those of the retailer. The retail salesperson may not "have time for you”, or the retailer's notion of a "reasonable" price may be higher than yours, or the advertising for the product may be misleading. A summary of ethic issues related to marketing is shown in Table 5.

    clipboard_ef19106df1b46ec4a8bbb9da926a05473.pngExhibit 14: How business rates: by the numbers.

    While ethics deal with the relationship between buyer and seller, there are also instances when the activities of marketing influence society as a whole. For example, when you purchase a new refrigerator, there is a need to discard your old refrigerator. Thrown in a trash dump, the old refrigerator may pose a safety risk, or contaminate the soil, and certainly will contaminate the aesthetics of the countryside, thus requiring society to bear part of the cost of your purchase. This example illustrates the issue of social responsibility, the idea that organizations are part of a larger society and are accountable to society for their actions. The well-being of society at large should also be recognized in an organization's marketing decisions. In fact, some marketing experts stress the societal marketing concept, the view that an organization should discover and satisfy the needs of its consumers in a way that also provides for society's well-being. A definition for social marketing is provided by Alan Andreasen:

    Social marketing is the adaptation of commercial marketing technologies to programs designed to influence the voluntary behavior of target audiences to improve their personal welfare and that of the society of which they are a part.5.

    There is little doubt that the importance of social marketing is growing, and that for many marketers, it will become part of their competitive advantage.

    This page titled 5.2: External factors that affect planning is shared under a CC BY license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by John Burnett (Global Text Project) .

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