In the world of strategic analysis, SWOT wears the crown as one of the most commonly used analysis models, but have you heard of its cousin TOWS? The SWOT and TOWS models both cover the same main categories: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Strengths and weaknesses represent internal factors, whereas opportunities and threats are external factors that require evaluation.
The difference between SWOT and TOWS is the order in which these elements are discussed by the team. It may seem at first like this is absurdly inconsequential, but some anecdotal evidence suggests that it is easier to talk about internal factors after identifying external factors.
SWOT and TOWS Analysis Example
In a SWOT analysis, the first items up for discussion are the company's strengths and weaknesses. Strengths could include a strong customer service department, a great storefront location, a strong social media presence, a professional website that gets a lot of traffic, substantial financial backing, a popular product, etc. All of these could also represent weaknesses if their performance proves lackluster. A lack of resources is another potential weakness.
Up for discussion next in a traditional SWOT analysis meeting are the external opportunities and threats. Opportunities refer to any external factors that could make your company's goals a little easier to accomplish. These could include low competition or good relationships with news outlets. Threats, on the other hand, could compromise your business. Threats include lots of competition, a changing economy, changing political policies, natural disasters and more.
SWOT vs. TOWS
Strengths and weaknesses are abstract concepts that can be hard to think about without any sort of context. Therefore, the discussion can move along rather slowly.
That's why some strategic managers recommend switching the order of SWOT to TOWS. In other words, discuss threats first, then opportunities and finally look at the strengths and weaknesses that can affect those threats and opportunities.
Of each of the four categories, threats prove easiest to identify. This puts the rest of the discussion in an appropriate context and gets everyone's creativity flowing. An analysis meeting needs to be all hands on deck, so the quicker everyone gets involved, the better.
Putting it all Together: The SWOT/TOWS Matrix
Once the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats have been identified (in whichever order seems to work best for your team), it's time to think about the SWOT/TOWS matrix.
This matrix looks like a chart. The two columns bear the labels "strengths" and "weaknesses." The two rows have the labels "opportunities" and "threats." The four squares inside the chart represent what happens when the corresponding column and row labels come together. They form:
- SO: How can you leverage your strengths in order to take advantage of external opportunities?
- ST: How do your strengths protect you from external threats?
- WO: How might your weaknesses prevent you from harnessing opportunities?
- WT: How could your weaknesses make you vulnerable to threats?
The more experienced you and your team get at a TOWS analysis, the easier it will be to immediately think of strengths and weaknesses in terms of opportunities and threats rather than listing them all out separately and then matching them up. This represents another reason why some strategic managers prefer TOWS. It lends itself to this matrix line of thinking more naturally than SWOT.
Which Is Best?
Although there is a difference between SWOT and TOWS, there is no steadfast rule that says one is definitely better than the other. When it comes to SWOT vs. TOWS, you just have to try both and figure out which seems to yield the best results for you and your team.
Cathy Habas specializes in marketing, customer experiences, and behind-the-scenes management. Cathy has contributed to sites like Business and Finance, Business 2 Community, and Inside Small Business. She served as the managing editor for a small content marketing agency before continuing with her writing career.