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How to Research And Write A SWOT Analysis

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If you want to research and develop your own SWOT analysis from scratch, you’ll need to think about a few things first.

A SWOT analysis is a type of study. It focuses on four main components of a topic: strength, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Most SWOT analyses are written about companies, products, and industries (your topic). People use it to identify the benefits and disadvantages of their topic. And once the analysis is complete, they can immediately use their findings.

I’ve written countless SWOT analyses from scratch. And in this article, I’ll explain my thought process while writing each one. Starting with “strengths”.

The strengths of a SWOT analysis

What is a strength for your topic?

If you’re not sure what a strength means for your topic, it’ll be difficult to find them during your research phase.

It’s simple: a strength is a benefit (or advantage) for your topic. A strength may benefit the bottom line. It may increase brand recognition. It may be why customers are obsessed with your topic. Or it may be how the topic stands out above the sea of everyday products.

Examples of strengths

One of Netflix’s strengths is the ad-free content they offer customers. As a customer, you can stream Netflix’s catalogue without seeing a single ad. This is also possible when using Hulu, a competitive streaming service but only if you pay a higher monthly fee. Compared to other streaming services, like TLC Go which forces you to watch upwards of 50 ads for a 40-minute television show, Netflix customers have it made.

BMW’s major strength is a luxurious brand image. People buy a BMW because it’s luxurious. Expensive. If you have one, it means you’re above the average person. You’re wealthy, desirable. Maybe even ambitious. You don’t feel the same way in a Toyota as you do in a BMW. And that’s because they have created this luxury feeling for their brand.

It may be best to think about strengths abstractly. Think about how the strength is beneficial for your topic.

Finding strengths online

To find new or relevant information, search the topic + press release.

See if your topic has created new products, mergers, or received awards. Search news sites for the topic and see what reporters are saying about it. Hopefully, it’s all good news, which you can use for this section of the SWOT analysis.

If it’s bad… well, we’ll save that for the “weaknesses” section.

Where to search online:

  • Publications (New York Times, TechCrunch, other news sites)
  • Forums (Reddit, Facebook)
  • Press releases (Newswire, PRnewswire)
  • Reviews (Amazon)

You can even search “strengths + your topic” and see what comes up. Be sure to read through and check for accuracy if it’s not from a reliable source (like say, the DailyMail).

Searching for strengths for a product

If you’re doing a SWOT analysis for a product, search its reviews. You’ll likely find a few highly rated and lowly rated reviews.

Don’t blindly believe all the high or low reviews. In many cases, companies buy 5-star reviews. And the competition may pay someone to give poor reviews. Instead, see if you can spot a pattern among the reviews. Maybe a few people are boasting about a new feature for the product. Maybe they love how it feels.

Have you used the product?

If you have, you’ll likely have a few insights about it yourself. You’ll have looked at discussions about the product before buying it. And after using it, you’ll have some good things to say about it. Otherwise, check forums like Reddit. It’s typically real people openly discussing a product — the good, the bad, and the “meh”.

The weaknesses of a SWOT analysis

What is a weakness for your topic?

Again, like we did for strengths, realize what a weakness could be for the topic, as well as consumers (if applicable).

For instance, weaknesses for companies include:

  • Competition
  • Market saturation
  • Bad reviews
  • Profit decline
  • Lack of diversity
  • Poor economies

As for products, it may include:

  • Poor reputation of the company
  • Price
  • Material quality
  • Usability

Examples of weaknesses

PepsiCo offers only a few healthy food and beverage options. With the health-conscious crowd rising up, PepsiCo should be developing more low-calorie, nutritional options for them. And yet… they’re not. This means, despite PepsiCo’s huge presence in the food and beverage industry, they’re neglecting a substantial market.

Bitcoin’s worth is declining. It’s actually at its lowest valuation in more than a year. That’s just how it works though; it’s unpredictable, like stocks.

Finding weaknesses online

If your topic is a product and you’ve used it before, you already know about issues first-hand. You’ve likely read reviews before buying or trying the product, and have seen common complaints.

You can use forums to see if these complaints are still relevant. If they are, it can be included in the SWOT analysis. People are more honest about the things they don’t like about a product, so this is definitely when searching for reviews is a fantastic option for gathering info.

You can also see which publications have discussed your topic lately. Even if the topic is only briefly mentioned, consider adding it to the weakness section (when applicable).

Where to search for weaknesses:

  • Publications (New York Times, TechCrunch, News sites)
  • Forums (Reddit, Facebook)
  • Press releases (Newswire, PRnewswire)
  • Reviews (Amazon)
  • Use your own experience (if applicable)

You can create a quick list of the faults of the topic. They might not all make it into the final draft of the analysis. But it’s good to have a list, particularly of the leading issues or complaints against your topic. Because this section can be highly informative for the next section called opportunities.

The opportunities of a SWOT analysis

 What does an opportunity mean for your topic?

An opportunity is the chance to achieve something for your topic. It should be positive. Such as a new merger or expanding a business into a new region.

It’s much easier to find opportunities after finishing the “weaknesses” section of the analysis. Opportunities are born from weaknesses. It allows a weakness to become a strength. Look again at the above example of PepsiCo’s weakness. It’s not as prevalent in the healthy eating niche as it should be. But if it were, that would change the weakness into a strength.

Examples of opportunities

Smart light bulbs. They allow you to control your lights with an app on your phone. Most companies sell these bulbs for home use. But they can also be used in organizations, businesses, and schools. The bulbs last longer than regular bulbs, making it a smart choice for establishments.

Airbnb can easily move into the travel industry. After selecting a room in the city you’re visiting, Airbnb can hook you up with a tour guide. An expert who will show you parts of the city you never knew existed. In some locations, Airbnb is already doing this. But not everywhere.

Finding opportunities online

First, examine your list of weaknesses. Which ones can be “fixed” and transformed into opportunities for your topic? If any on the list can’t ever be “fixed”, then don’t bother including them here. Because opportunities need to be possible. And not in a “million years later” kind of way. As in, possible to achieve in a few months or years.

Additionally, take a look at news and press release websites. Search your topic there. See if there have been any new achievements, such as new product developments, mergers, a change in business models… whatever catches your eye. If there are changes happening, it could mean opportunities are on the horizon.

Specifically, search:

  • Publications (New York Times, TechCrunch, Local/international news sites)
  • Forums (Reddit, Facebook)
  • Press releases (Newswire, PRnewswire)
  • Use your own information from the strengths and weaknesses categories

You may only find a few opportunities. That’s OK. It’s best to highlight the most beneficial changes your topic can make. And really focus on what this opportunity means for the future of your topic. Will it bring more customers? Help with future expansions? Make their competition shake in fear?

Focus on what the end result will be. Then include it in your SWOT analysis.

The threats of a SWOT analysis

What is or could be threatening your topic?

Or rather, let’s start with: what’s the difference between a weakness and a threat?

A weakness is a problem. It can be small or large. It can last for a while or disappear quietly.

A threat is likely to cause damage. It can develop from a weakness that was left too long without a solution. It undermines the success of your topic. It’s not just a problem; it’s destruction.

Examples of threats

E-cigs are popular because they’re healthier than smoking regular cigarettes. But are they? Not enough reports from reputable health studies prove this claim. People fear the health risks associated with using E-cigs for a long duration. Hysteria can easily kill this product if not taken care of swiftly.

Energy drinks lead to death. That is, people have drunk several cans in a row and suffered cardiac arrest. Women who are pregnant may harm their child by drinking a can of Red Bull or a Monster. Nothing can tank a reputation harder than reported deaths.

Finding threats online

As mentioned above, a weakness can be a threat. For instance, if a company ignores a large segment of their customers for too long, that’s a weakness. But what if someone else gives those customers what they’ve been craving?

The the new guy steals those customers away. Then the original company loses profits. And maybe, a year from now, the company goes under because they refused to acknowledge their customers’ needs.

That is a weakness that turned into a catastrophic threat.

Threats are often:

  • Market changes
  • Economic decline
  • Competition
  • Bad press
  • Profit loss.

Again, like with opportunities, you can use the weakness section of your SWOT analysis to brainstorm a few areas of concerns (or threats). Then you may want to confirm these threats by searching online.

Search

  • Publications (New York Times, TechCrunch, Local/international news sites)
  • Forums (Reddit, Facebook)
  • Bad reviews (Amazon)
  • The competition

Take a look at the competitors of your topic. Ask yourself what they’re doing differently, but most importantly why are they?

Why have they chosen to market a certain way? Or offer a specific shipping method? Or to have their website written the way it is? The reason why may be a threat to your topic.

Consider the future

In this section, you want to think about what the future will be for your topic because of certain threats. Look into stocks. Search your topic online and find any articles you can from the last six months. Maybe you can pinpoint when the threats were first introduced (reported on) and how it affects the company today.

This section is trickier than the others. It’ll require more digging. Perhaps even do a competitor analysis if you’ve got the time. But the reason it’s more difficult is because it’s about the future of the topic. Will your topic even have a future if these threats persist? That’s what you need to find out.

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash