Competition, a critical factor in marketing management, includes all of the actual and potential rival offerings and substitutes that a buyer might consider. Suppose an automobile company is planning to buy steel for its cars. The car manufacturer can buy from U.S. Steel or other U.S. or foreign integrated steel mills; can go to a minimill such as Nucor to buy steel at a cost savings; can buy aluminum for certain parts of the car to lighten the car's weight; or can buy some engineered plastics parts instead of steel.
Clearly U.S. Steel would be thinking too narrowly of competition if it thought only of other integrated steel companies. In fact, U.S. Steel is more likely to be hurt in the long run by substitute products than by its immediate steel company rivals. U.S. Steel also must consider whether to make substitute materials or stick only to those applications in which steel offers superior performance.
We can broaden the picture by distinguishing four levels of competition, based on degree of product substitutability:
1. Brand competition: A company sees its competitors as other companies that offer similar products and services to the same customers at similar prices. Volkswagen might see its major competitors as Toyota, Honda, and other manufacturers of medium-price automobiles, rather than Mercedes or Hyundai.
2. Industry competition: A company sees its competitors as all companies that make the same product or class of products. Thus, Volkswagen would be competing against all other car manufacturers.
3. Form competition: A company sees its competitors as all companies that manufacture products that supply the same service. Volkswagen would see itself competing against manufacturers of all vehicles, such as motorcycles, bicycles, and trucks.
4. Generic competition: A company sees its competitors as all companies that compete for the same consumer dollars. Volkswagen would see itself competing with companies that sell major consumer durables, foreign vacations, and new homes.
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