Durable Competitive Advantage

Durable Competitive Advantage

Durable Competitive Advantage Jonathan Poland

The most important aspect of durability is market fit. Unique super simple products or services that does change much if at all over time and that do not need continuous investment to stay relevant are always better than the opposite. In some industries this is impossible to do. How to spot these kind of businesses? Here are some core traits to look out for.

Check the following strategic metrics against your industry or sector to see whether or not you have a competitive advantage.

  • Sell a product or a service that is a basic necessity
  • Be the first capture a lot of market share
  • Operate in a large industry with little competition
  • Sell a unique product that doesn’t change much
  • Provides a unique service that’s difficult to replicate
  • Be the low cost producer and/or seller of basic necessities

Check the following financial metrics against your industry or sector to see whether or not you have a competitive advantage.

  • High Margins
  • Low R&D Costs
  • Accumulation of cash
  • Consistent Growth in Sales
  • Consistent Growth in Earnings
  • Inventory rising with revenue
  • Low to No Debt
  • Retained Earnings Growth
  • Book Value (Equity) Growth

When a business has a competitive advantage, their valuations are higher. Here are the factors used in that valuation.

  • Weighted forecasts of growth in company revenue
  • Weighted forecasts of growth in company margin
  • Patterns of cash returned to shareholders
  • Changes in the company’s debt-to-equity ratio
  • The economic conditions in the company’s industry
  • Market volatility in the geographic areas in which the industry’s major companies compete


There are several ways companies can create durable competitive advantages:

A company that consistently develops innovative products or services that consumers want can gain a competitive advantage. Apple, for example, gained a competitive advantage through the continual development and improvement of products like the iPhone, iPad, and MacBook.

Cost Leadership:
A company can gain a competitive advantage by becoming the lowest cost producer in its industry. By leveraging economies of scale, efficient operations, or lower raw material costs, it can offer goods at lower prices, thereby attracting cost-sensitive customers. Walmart is an example of a company that uses cost leadership as a strategy.

Companies can also create a competitive advantage by offering a unique product or service that competitors cannot easily replicate. Differentiation can be based on design, brand, technology, customer service, or other features that add value for customers. An example of this strategy is Tesla with their electric cars and superior battery technology.

Strong Brand and Reputation:
A strong brand can provide a significant competitive advantage. Brands like Coca-Cola, Nike, and Google have a strong brand reputation which provides a competitive advantage. The power of their brands gives these companies the ability to charge higher prices for their products and services and ensures customer loyalty.

Switching Costs:
High switching costs can also provide a competitive advantage. If it’s costly, time-consuming, or inconvenient for customers to switch to a competitor’s product, a company can maintain a competitive advantage. Software companies that offer cloud-based services often have high switching costs. For example, it would be a significant undertaking for a company to switch all its operations from Microsoft Office 365 to a different productivity suite.

Network Effects:
Network effects occur when a company’s product or service becomes more valuable as more people use it. This can create a significant barrier to entry and a competitive advantage. Facebook and other social media companies are prime examples of firms that benefit from network effects.

Access to Key Distribution Channels:
If a company has privileged access to key distribution channels, it can prevent or make it harder for competitors to reach the same customers, thus establishing a competitive advantage.

Patents and Intellectual Property (IP):
Companies can also build a competitive advantage by owning patents, trademarks, copyrights, or trade secrets that prevent others from copying their products or services. Whether protected by law or secret sauce (i.e. Coca-cola), this can help brand the business as it puts a stamp of exclusivity on it. Of course, legal protection doesn’t mean what you do is relevant or necessary to the market. Many companies have trademarks, copyrights, and patents even at the small business level, which never amount to competitive advantage.

It’s important to note that the success of these strategies often depends on a company’s ability to execute effectively, and each approach comes with its own set of challenges and risks. A sustainable competitive advantage requires ongoing efforts to maintain and build upon these strategies over time.

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