Strategy Maps: my favorite tool

My most used strategy tool is the Strategy Map. In his Competitive Strategy book, Michael Porter describes them in his chapter on structural analysis within industries. He defines Strategic Groups as laid out or organized by strategic dimensions. This is my version of it and how I use it.

Porter explains that when competing in an industry, strategies can differ in a variety of ways, but there are strategic dimensions that capture differences and commonalities. He names a ton of dimensions. e.g. specialization, brand identification, push versus pull, channel selection, product quality, and technological leadership, to name a few. It’s a long list.

The main idea is to organize in a quadrant two independent and orthogonal dimensions to analyze — one on the X-axis and one on the Y-axis. Then, we can place the companies and players on such a map according to their approach in those two dimensions to obtain strategic groups.


Analyzing industries is one of the most basic activities of a competitive or market intelligence professional. The strategy map is very helpful when your company is trying to enter a new market, or is about to release a new product, and is looking for answers such as: 

I’ve developed strategy maps for all our main products to identify who are the main competitors to our offer, what categories of players are there, and what competitive strategies can be deployed differently with different clusters.


My engineering brain works in quadrants and visually all the time. This is what I do:

  1. Start with a loose list of the players to be placed on the map. Start with your tier-one competitors, then add a few others that can be called niche competitors.

  2. Identify the two strategic dimensions, depending on your goal. For entering new markets with a new offer, you may want to use “Market segment by customers size” and perhaps “vertical integration” or “maturity level.” My favorite combination (because of the industries I work on) is “Segment by Customer Size” on the X-axis. Then I chose a core product-specific characteristic on the Y-axis that can change over time as the market matures.

  3. Once the axis is in place, it’s time to place the players on the map and look for groupings (Porter calls that Strategic Groups).

  4. Once groups or clusters appear, you can start the analysis.

    • Look at the possibility of movement of group members.
    • Can you identify mobility barriers?
    • Where would your company sit? Can your company build entry barriers? Can you move to an emptier map area in the short term, build barriers, and remain differentiated?

Example: (Basic) Electric Vehicle manufacturers map

I am not an expert in the space, but I think this is a suitable example I can use, given EVs are increasing and showing up everywhere in the world. So let’s go and draw an illustrative Strategy Map for the EV market.

First, we need to list a few brands. Easy first step: Tesla (obviously), Nissan (they have the Leaf), Toyota (no, wait, they don’t have an all-electric car, I think); but you see a ton more on the street now. We have BMW, Porsche, Audi; Let's also add the Kia EV6 and the VW Id.4. The other disruptor brands are Polestar and Rivian.

Second, we will lay these down in the bidimensional map, so we need to figure out the two dimensions we want to assess. Let's say we want to compare how innovative their business approach is in this very traditional industry versus the quality level or how luxurious or expensive these brands are. I’ve purposely selected that order because I am most interested in how these companies disrupt the business model. In other words, I want to see how they use their traditional distribution channels, how they empower the buyer to purchase the car, or even how the product is used. But then I can choose a second axis for something that is easier to see, such as how luxurious the brand is.

Third, we start placing the vendors. Tesla, Polestar, and Rivian are exclusive new EV brands, all shooting for luxury, therefore they go on the top-right section of the map. Traditional luxury brands like BMW, Porsche, and Audi may have new EV models, but they look more traditional. Some of the not-so-luxurious brands have tried to launch radical and unique models like the VW id.4, while others like Nissan have remained very traditional, although they had the popular Leaf model.

Fourth, strategic groups will be evident, and I’ve indicated them with dotted-line circles in the chart.

Finally, let’s do some high-level analysis to illustrate how we can now use this map.

I’ve written about TOWS analysis, Four Corners, and Five Forces, but my analysis tool of choice is the Strategy Map I describe here. It helps me organize my thoughts, serve as a starting analysis point place, and categorize and characterize competitors in the marketplace contextually.

Happy Analyzing!

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