An Examination of the "Sustainable Competitive Advantage" Concept: Past, Present, and Future

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Hoffmann / An Examination of the "Sustainable Competitive Advantage" Concept
An Examination of the "Sustainable Competitive Advantage" Concept: Past,
Present, and Future

Nicole P. Hoffman
The University of Alabama

Nicole P. Hoffman is Ph.D. Candidate in Management and Marketing, Culverhouse College of Commerce and Business
Administration, The University of Alabama, 105 Alston Hall, P.O. Box 870225, Tuscaloosa, Alabama 35487-0225, (205) 348-6696,
(205) 348-6695 (fax), [email protected]


Executive Summary

Because of its importance to the long-term success of firms, a body of literature has emerged which addresses the content
of sustainable competitive advantage (hereafter SCA) as well as its sources and different types of strategies that may be
used to achieve it. The purpose of this paper is to trace the origins of SCA and discuss how it has been applied to
marketing strategy. It is organized as follows: First, early contributors are cited and potential sources of SCA are
presented. A formal conceptual definition of the construct is given, followed by a discussion of how SCA is linked to
other concepts in the strategy field. A theoretical model of how an SCA is achieved in a network setting is offered, and
future research opportunities are suggested.

Early Contributions to the SCA Concept
Early literature on competition serves as a precursor to the development of SCA. In 1937, Alderson hinted at a basic tenet
of SCA, that a fundamental aspect of competitive adaptation is the specialization of suppliers to meet variations in buyer
demand. Alderson (1965) was one of the first to recognize that firms should strive for unique characteristics in order to
distinguish themselves from competitors in the eyes of the consumer. Later, Hamel and Prahalad (1989) and Dickson
(1992) discussed the need for firms to learn how to create new advantages that will keep them one step ahead of
competitors. Alderson was considered "ahead of his time" with respect to the suggestion that firms search for ways to
differentiate themselves from competitors. Over a decade later, Hall (1980) and Henderson (1983) solidified the need for
firms to possess unique advantages in relation to competitors if they are to survive. These arguments form the basis for
achieving SCA.

SCA Defined
The idea of a sustainable CA surfaced in 1984, when Day suggested types of strategies that may help to "sustain the
competitive advantage" (p. 32). The actual term "SCA" emerged in 1985, when Porter discussed the basic types of
competitive strategies firms can possess (low-cost or differentiation) to achieve SCA. Interestingly, no formal conceptual
definition was presented by Porter in his discussion. Barney (1991) has come the closest to a formal definition by offering
the following: "A firm is said to have a sustained competitive advantage when it is implementing a value creating strategy
not simultaneously being implemented by any current or potential competitors and when these other firms are unable to
duplicate the benefits of this strategy (italics in original)" (p. 102). Based on both Barney’s work and the definitions of
each term provided in the dictionary, the following formal conceptual definition is offered: An SCA is the prolonged
benefit of implementing some unique value-creating strategy not simultaneously being implemented by any current or
potential competitors along with the inability to duplicate the benefits of this strategy.

Sources of SCA
Day and Wensley (1988) focused on two categorical sources involved in creating a CA: superior skills and superior
resources. Other authors have elaborated on the specific skills and resources that can contribute to an SCA. For example,
Barney (1991) states that not all firm resources hold the potential of SCAs; instead, they must possess four attributes:
rareness, value, inability to be imitated, and inability to be substituted. Similarly, Hunt and Morgan (1995) propose that
"potential resources can be most usefully categorized as financial, physical, legal, human, organizational, informational,
and relational" (p. 6-7). Prahalad and Hamel (1990) suggest that firms combine their resources and skills into core
Academy of Marketing Science Review
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Hoffmann / An Examination of the "Sustainable Competitive Advantage" Concept
competencies, loosely defined as that which a firm does distinctively well in relation to competitors. Therefore, firms may
succeed in establishing an SCA by combining skills and resources in unique and enduring ways. By combining resources
in this manner, firms can focus on collectively learning how to coordinate all employees’ efforts in order to facilitate
growth of specific core competencies.

The Relationship of SCA to Other Strategy Concepts
Many topics in strategy research have been linked to aiding in the process of creating and maintaining an SCA. Included
in these topics are the concepts of market orientation and business networks. Day and Wensley (1988) suggest using
perspectives of both customer and competitor to assess firm performance; this outward focus links the SCA construct to
the concept of market orientation. Through a customer orientation, firms can gain knowledge and customer insights in
order to generate superior innovations (Varadarajan and Jayachandran 1999). Because a market orientation employs
intangible resources such as organizational and informational resources, it can serve as a source of SCA (Hunt and
Morgan 1995). Business networks consist of multiple relationships, with each participating firm gaining the resources
needed to build core competencies and obtain an SCA. Porter (1985) discusses the formation of "coalitions" that allow the
sharing of activities in order to support a firm’s CA. However, Porter’s "value chain" approach focuses on activities
within a single firm. A new model is needed which adapts his approach in order to understand the value-added processes
comprised of dyadic and network interfirm activities which foster each firm’s SCA.

Directions for Future Research on the SCA Construct
Building on the proposed definition of SCA, this article proposes a general theoretical model of how dyadic relationships
within a network environment affect SCA. Four propositions are presented in conjunction with this model.
1. P1: Network identity is an antecedent of trust.
2. P2: Communication is an antecedent of both trust and organizational learning.
3. P3: Commitment is the result of both trust and organizational learning.
4. P4: Both trust and commitment result in SCA.

In addition, operational and measurement issues for the proposed definition of SCA are discussed.

Conclusion
Significant progress has been made with respect to definition, operationalization, and measurement of concepts in the
marketing strategy field. However, we still lack research that maps how strategy can influence performance by providing
firms with an SCA (Varadarajan and Jayachandran 1999). By developing a multi-item measure of the construct, we could
empirically examine theoretical models of SCA in a network environment. If researchers are able to examine networks in
this manner, our knowledge of how CA is achieved and sustained can only be enhanced.
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Hoffmann / An Examination of the "Sustainable Competitive Advantage" Concept
AN EXAMINATION OF THE "SUSTAINABLE COMPETITIVE
ADVANTAGE" CONCEPT: PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE

The fundamental basis of long-run success of a firm is the achievement and maintenance of a sustainable competitive
advantage (hereafter SCA). Indeed, understanding which resources and firm behaviors lead to SCA is considered to be the
fundamental issue in marketing strategy (Varadarajan and Jayachandran, 1999). A competitive advantage (hereafter CA)
can result either from implementing a value-creating strategy not simultaneously being employed by current or
prospective competitors or through superior execution of the same strategy as competitors (Bharadwaj, Varadarajan, and
Fahy 1993). The CA is sustained when other firms are unable to duplicate the benefits of this strategy (Barney 1991).
Because of its importance to the long-term success of firms, a body of literature has emerged which addresses the content
of SCA as well as its sources and different types of strategies that may be used to achieve it.

The purpose of this paper is to trace the origins of the SCA concept, provide a conceptual definition of SCA, and discuss
how it has been applied to theories and ideas related to marketing strategy. This paper is organized in the following
manner: First, a review of the literature pertaining to the concept of "SCA" is presented. Early contributors to the topic are
cited, and a conceptual definition and potential sources of SCA are presented. Then, the construct is linked to other
concepts that exist in the strategy field, including market orientation, customer value, relationship marketing, and business
networks. A theoretical model of how SCA may be achieved in a network setting is provided, along with a brief
discussion of problems related to both theory and measurement of SCA. The paper concludes with directions for future
research.


CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE SCA LITERATURE

Many researchers have contributed (either directly or indirectly) to the literature pertaining to SCA. Table 1 presents an
overview of these authors along with their main contributions to the concept of SCA. Specific contributions, including a
focus on distinctiveness or differentiation, potential SCA sources, and customer perspectives of SCA are discussed below.

TABLE 1
Summary of Contributions to the Development of the "Sustainable Competitive Advantage" Concept

Author(s) and

Date
Article/Book Title
Main Contributions
Alderson
"The Search for
Precursor to SCA; proposes three bases for differential advantage:
(1965)1
Differential
technological, legal, and geographical; four strategies for achieving
Advantage"
differential advantage: segmentation, selective appeals, transvection,
and differentiation.
Hall (1980)1
"Survival Strategies in Successful companies will achieve either the lowest cost or most
a Hostile
differentiated position.
Environment"
Henderson
"The Anatomy of
Continues discussion of those unique advantage(s) of one firm over
(1983)1
Competition"
competitors; those who can adapt best or fastest gain an advantage over
competitors.

1 These articles should be considered precursors to the SCA construct. While SCA was not mentioned specifically, each of these
articles stressed the importance of firms possessing some unique or differentiating characteristic over competitors.
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Hoffmann / An Examination of the "Sustainable Competitive Advantage" Concept
TABLE 1 (cont)
Summary of Contributions to the Development of the "Sustainable Competitive Advantage" Concept

Porter (1985)
Competitive
Introduces idea of the "value chain" as the basic tool for analyzing the
Advantage: Creating
sources of CA.
and Sustaining
Superior Performance

Coyne (1986)
"Sustainable
Explanation of the conditions needed for an SCA to exist; idea of
Competitive
capability gaps.
Advantage: What It Is,
What It Isn’t"
Ghemawat
"Sustainable
Discussion of those advantages that tend to be sustainable: size in the
(1986)
Advantage"
targeted market, superior access to resources or customers, and
restrictions on competitors’ options.
Day and
"Assessing Advantage: Potential sources of advantage are superior skills and superior
Wensley
A Framework for
resources; in assessing ways to achieve SCA, both competitor and
(1988)
Diagnosing
customer perspectives should be considered.
Competitive
Superiority"
Dierickx and
"Asset Stock
Sustainability of a firm’s asset position is based on how easily assets
Cool (1989)
Accumulation and
can be substituted or imitated.
Sustainability of
Competitive
Advantage"
Hamel and
"Strategic Intent"
A firm should not search for an SCA, it should learn how to create new
Prahalad
advantages to achieve global leadership.
(1989)
Prahalad and
"Core Competence of
SCA results from core competencies; firms should consolidate
Hamel (1990)
the Corporation"
resources and skills into competencies that allow them to adapt quickly
to changing opportunities.
Barney (1991)
"Firm Resources and
Discusses four indicators of the potential of firm resources to generate
Sustained Competitive SCA: value, rareness, inability to be imitated, and imperfect
Advantage"
substitution.
Conner (1991) "A Historical
With a resource-based view, to achieve above-average returns, a firm
Comparison of
product must be distinctive in the eyes of buyers, or the firm selling an
Resource-Based
identical product in comparison to competitors must have a low-cost
Theory and Five
position.
Schools of Thought
within Industrial
Organization
Economics: Do We
Have a New Theory of
the Firm?"
Peteraf (1993)
"The Cornerstones of
Discusses four conditions which must be met for SCA: superior
Competitive
resources (heterogeneity within an industry), ex poste limits to
Advantage: A
competition, imperfect resource mobility, and ex ante limits to
Resource-Based View" competition.
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Hoffmann / An Examination of the "Sustainable Competitive Advantage" Concept
TABLE 1 (cont)
Summary of Contributions to the Development of the "Sustainable Competitive Advantage" Concept

Bharadwaj,
"Sustainable
Evaluates SCA in a services marketing context; an SCA exists only if it
Varadarajan,
Competitive
is recognized by customers.
and Fahy
Advantage in Service
(1993)
Industries: A
Conceptual Model and
Research Propositions"
Hall (1993)
"A Framework
Identifies various intangible resources (including assets and
Linking Intangible
competencies) that allow firms to possess relevant capability
Resources and
differentials which result in SCA
Capabilities to
Sustainable
Competitive
Advantage"
Day and
"Managerial
A firm’s use of strategy and reaction to the environment depends on its
Nedungadi
Representations of
orientation (customer-oriented versus competitor-oriented); CA is based
(1994)
Competitive
on this orientation.
Advantage"
Hunt and
"The Comparative
Compares neoclassical theory and comparative advantage theory of the
Morgan (1995) Advantage Theory of
firm; comparative advantage in resources can translate into a
Competition"
competitive advantage in the marketplace; offers categorization of
resources.
Oliver (1997)
"Sustainable
Proposes a model of firm heterogeneity which suggests that both
Competitive
resource capital and institutional capital are indispensable to SCA.
Advantage: Combining
Institutional and
Resource-Based
Views"
Srivastava,
"Market-Based Assets Delineates market-based assets into two primary types: relational and
Shervani, and
and Shareholder
intellectual. Largely intangible, these assets may be leveraged to
Fahey (1998)
Value: A Framework
achieve SCA if they can add unique value for customers.
for Analysis"


Early Contributions to the SCA Concept
Early literature on the subject of competition serves as a precursor to the development of the SCA construct. For example,
Alderson (1937) hinted at a basic tenet of SCA, that a fundamental aspect of competitive adaptation is the specialization
of suppliers to meet variations in buyer demand. Later, Alderson (1965) was one of the first to recognize that firms should
strive for unique characteristics in order to distinguish themselves from competitors in the eyes of the consumer. He stated
that differential advantage might be achieved through lowering prices, selective advertising appeals, and/or product
improvements and innovations. While these concepts lay the core foundation for firms in moving toward an SCA, we now
know that given the intense nature of competition today, firms must be more innovative and entrepreneurial in their
strategy planning than just lowering prices or improving existing products. In following decades, authors such as Hamel
and Prahalad (1989) and Dickson (1992) discussed the need for firms to be willing to learn how to create new advantages
that will keep them one step ahead of competitors.

Alderson was considered to be "ahead of his time" with respect to the suggestion that firms search for ways to
differentiate themselves from competitors. Over a decade later, authors such as Hall (1980) and Henderson (1983)
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Hoffmann / An Examination of the "Sustainable Competitive Advantage" Concept
solidified the need for firms to possess a unique advantage in relation to competitors if it is to survive and continue to
exist. These arguments form the basis for achieving an SCA.


SCA DEFINED

The idea of a sustainable CA surfaced in 1984, when Day suggested types of strategies that may help to "sustain the
competitive advantage" (p. 32). The actual term "SCA" emerged in 1985, when Porter discussed the basic types of
competitive strategies that a firm can possess (low-cost or differentiation) in order to achieve a long-run SCA.
Interestingly, no formal conceptual definition was presented by Porter in his discussion. Day and Wensley (1988) admit
that there exists "no common meaning for ‘CA’ in practice or in the marketing strategy literature" (p. 2). Barney (1991)
has probably come the closest to a formal definition by offering the following: "A firm is said to have a sustained
competitive advantage when it is implementing a value creating strategy not simultaneously being implemented by any
current or potential competitors and when these other firms are unable to duplicate the benefits of this strategy (italics in
original)" (p. 102).

Although lacking a formal definition, Coyne (1986) contributed to the construct by proposing that in order to possess an
SCA, consumers must perceive some difference between a firm’s product offering and the competitors’ offering. This
difference must be due to some resource capability that the firm possesses and competitors do not possess. Also, this
difference must be some product/delivery attribute that is a positive key buying criterion for the market (Coyne 1986).
The key is being able to predict the actions of others in the industry over time; by matching the firm’s resources to the
gaps and voids that exist in the industry, a CA can be created. This advantage is sustained if competitors either can not or
will not take action to close the gap (Coyne 1986).

In order to offer a formal conceptual definition of the term, it may be helpful to consider the meaning and implications of
all three terms. Webster’s Dictionary defines the term "advantage" as the superiority of position or condition, or a benefit
resulting from some course of action. "Competitive" is defined in Webster’s as relating to, characterized by, or based on
competition (rivalry). Finally, Webster’s shows the term "sustain" to mean to keep up or prolong.

The next step in crafting a formal conceptual definition of SCA is to consider these dictionary definitions in a business-
specific context. Based on the definition of "competitive" presented above, SCA should be viewed by a firm from an
external perspective. Competition is based on rivalry between two or more parties; thus, the focus of SCA should be how
long a firm can keep competitors at bay. A firm who approaches the achievement of SCA from an internal perspective is
missing the point. A particular strategy based on firm resources irrespective of what competitors are doing certainly could
be sustained. However, it is the external focus – the focus on competitors – that allows a firm to recognize and/or create
unique resources. This uniqueness is what gives a firm the advantage. The advantage (or superiority) is sustained (or
prolonged) as long as the unique strategy provides added value to customers, and as long as competitors cannot find a way
to duplicate it.

Therefore, the following formal conceptual definition is offered: "SCA is the prolonged benefit of implementing some
unique value-creating strategy not simultaneously being implemented by any current or potential competitors along with
the inability to duplicate the benefits of this strategy."


SOURCES OF SCA

Following Coyne’s discussion of the types of capability gaps that a firm could possess over competitors (business system
gaps, position gaps, regulatory / legal gaps, and organization / managerial quality gaps), the literature turned to an
exploration of the potential sources of an SCA. Recognizing the importance of an effective strategy to firms (creating
tomorrow’s CA faster than competitors copy the ones possessed today), Day and Wensley (1988) focused on the elements
involved in CA. Specifically, they identified two categorical sources of CA: superior skills, which are "the distinctive
capabilities of personnel that set them apart from the personnel of competing firms" (p. 2), and superior resources, which
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Hoffmann / An Examination of the "Sustainable Competitive Advantage" Concept
are "the more tangible requirements for advantage that enable a firm to exercise its capabilities" (p. 3). In the present
environment, one might question whether personnel could truly be considered a sustainable competitive feature of a firm.
But if these personnel truly understand customers’ needs and are able to foster business-intimate relationships with them,
then they most certainly qualify as an SCA (Srivastava et. al., 1998). As an example, Treacy and Wiersema (1995) point
to successful companies such as Home Depot and Nordstrom who have embraced the idea of customer intimacy in order
to deliver a highly customized end product to customers.

Other authors have elaborated on the specific skills and resources that can contribute to an SCA. For example, Barney
(1991) contributed to the discussion by exploring the link between a firm’s resources and SCA. He stated that not all firm
resources hold the potential of SCAs; instead, they must possess four attributes: rareness, value, inability to be imitated,
and inability to be substituted. Similarly, Peteraf’s (1993) resource-based view of the firm designates four conditions that
underlie SCA, including superior resources, ex-poste limits to competition (including imperfect imitability and imperfect
substitutability), imperfect mobility, and ex-ante limits to competition. Dierickx and Cool (1989) discuss inimitable
resources such as nontradeable assets which are immobile and thus bound to the firm.

Other researchers have contributed to the SCA construct by more carefully delineating the specific resources and skills
that aid in the development of an SCA. For example, Hunt and Morgan (1995) propose that "potential resources can be
most usefully categorized as financial, physical, legal, human, organizational, informational, and relational" (p. 6-7). They
go on to state that a comparative advantage in resources can translate into a position of competitive advantage in the
marketplace, but only if the criteria proposed by Barney (1991) are satisfied and the offering has some perceived value in
the marketplace (Conner 1991). Prahalad and Hamel (1990) suggest that firms should combine their resources and skills
into core competencies, loosely defined as that which a firm does distinctively well in relation to competitors. CAs are
realized only when the firm combines assortments of resources in such a way that they achieve a unique competency or
capability that is valued in the marketplace (Morgan and Hunt 1996).

Bharadwaj, Varadarajan, and Fahy (1993) discuss the specific combinations of skills and resources that are unique to
service industries. For example, they propose that the greater the complexity and cospecialization of assets needed to
market a service, the greater the importance of innovation as a source of CA will become. They also propose that brand
equity becomes an important source of CA in service industries as the level of service offered becomes more intangible
and when consumers have a great need to overcome perceptions of risk.

Intangible resources may indeed be better suited than tangible ones to achieve SCA. Given that the achievement of SCA is
based on an external focus, it is interesting to note that those intangible assets that are external to the firm may contribute
the most to value generation and subsequently SCA. Srivastava et. al. (1998) delineate market-based assets into two types:
relational and intellectual. Relational market-based assets are those that reflect bonds between a firm and its customers
and/or channel members. Examples of such assets would be brand equity or a business-intimate relationship that allows a
firm to work with a customer to produce a highly customized product. An example of an intellectual market-based asset
would be the detailed knowledge that firm employees possess concerning their customers’ needs, tastes, and preferences.
Both types are intangible and employ an outward focus on firm customers and/or channel members. To the extent that
they are rare, unique, valuable, and difficult to imitate, market-based assets provide an excellent potential source of SCA
for a firm.

Therefore, no matter what type of business, firms may succeed in establishing an SCA by combining skills and resources
in unique and enduring ways. By combining resources in this manner, firms can focus on collectively learning how to
coordinate all employees’ efforts in order to facilitate growth of specific core competencies.

Consideration of Customer Perspectives
Perhaps Day and Wensley’s (1988) greatest contribution to the SCA construct is their framework for assessing a firm’s
competitive situation as the first step in achieving an SCA. Unlike past attempts of performance outcome measures (such
as profitability and market share), Day and Wensley (1988) suggest using perspectives of both the customer and the
competitor to assess the firm’s performance. Measures of customer input such as satisfaction and loyalty balance the
competitor focus and help to complete the assessment of SCA of a firm. Similarly, Day and Nedungadi (1994) propose
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Hoffmann / An Examination of the "Sustainable Competitive Advantage" Concept
that firms use different types of information to assess whether a CA has been obtained according to the type of orientation
they have; a competitor-oriented firm emphasizes relative resources or cost positions, whereas a customer-oriented firm
emphasizes segment differences and differentiation advantages. Bharadwaj, Varadarajan, and Fahy (1993) also stress the
importance of customers in determining the sources of CA; they state that a firm’s skills and resources can be considered
sources only if they offer benefits desired by customers.

This outward focus on customers links the SCA construct to concepts such as branding, market orientation, organizational
learning, innovation, customer value, relationship marketing, and business networks. These linkages are discussed below
in greater detail.


THE RELATIONSHIP OF SCA TO OTHER STRATEGIC CONCEPTS

Many ideas in strategy research have been linked to helping in the process of creating and maintaining an SCA. Table 2
provides an overview of many of these topics, along with contributing authors and their relationship to SCA. Four of these
topics will be more fully discussed here: market orientation, customer value, relationship marketing, and business
networks.

Market Orientation
The marketing literature provides different conceptualizations of the term "market orientation," yet they share similar
components. Kohli and Jaworski (1990) see market orientation as the implementation of the marketing concept by
activities such as generating information (analyzing changing customer needs and wants), disseminating information
(sharing information with all departments in an organization), and actually responding to customers’ needs. Other
definitions of market orientation revolve around competitor-centered versus customer-centered firms. Day (1994), for
example, views market orientation as a balance between being customer-centered and being competitor-centered, and that
information technology can be used to help the firm to learn to act on available information faster than the competition.

Narver and Slater (1990) share a similar perspective of market orientation. They view market orientation as an
organizational culture that contains three behavioral components: 1) a customer orientation (understanding the target
market), 2) competitor orientation (understanding the strengths, weaknesses, capabilities, and strategies of key
competitors, and 3) interfunctional coordination, which means using resources of all departments in a firm in order to
create value for target customers. An example of this latter component is provided by Ghoshal and Westney (1991), who
find that a corporate culture of willingness to share information with all departments (interfunctional coordination)
facilitates the learning process. Fiol and Lyles (1985) agree that a corporate culture in which all departments are flexible
and are willing to accept change increases the probability that learning will occur. And the ability to learn (acquiring,
disseminating, and interpreting new knowledge) is essential in a market-oriented firm.

Market orientation, then, presumes an outward focus on customers and competitors. For example, through a customer
orientation, firms can gain knowledge and customer insights in order to generate superior innovations (Varadarajan and
Jayachandran 1999). Also, through interfunctional coordination, teams may be formed and empowered to respond to
specific customer requests and solve complicated problems that span across functional areas (Tansik 1990). Because a
market orientation employs intangible resources such as organizational and informational resources, it can serve as a
source of SCA (Hunt and Morgan 1995).

Customer Value
Wodruff (1997) also sees the next major source of CA coming from a more outward orientation, specifically toward
customers. He suggests a customer value hierarchy in which firms should strive to match their core competencies with
customers’ desired value from the product or service. Slater (1997) aids Woodruff’s call by suggesting a new theory of the
firm that is customer-value based. Under this theory, the reason that the firm exists is to satisfy the customer; the focus on
providing customers with value forces firms to learn about their customers, rather than simply from their customers. With
respect to performance differences, this theory suggests that those firms that provide superior customer value will be
rewarded with superior performance as well as an SCA. Therefore, the idea of customer value extends the resource-based
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Hoffmann / An Examination of the "Sustainable Competitive Advantage" Concept
theory of the firm to take a more outward perspective (a market orientation) as one way in which a CA can be achieved
and sustained.

TABLE 2
The Relationship of SCA to Various Concepts in Strategy Theory

Concept
Contributing Author(s)
Relationship to SCA
Branding
Gardner and Levy (1955), Aaker (1991),
Branding is what differentiates a product from
Keller (1993)
competitors; brand equity is a potential source of SCA
Market
Kohli and Jaworski (1990), Narver and Slater Market orientation is an intangible resource which
orientation
(1990), Jaworski and Kohli (1993), Day
involves a dual focus on both customers and
(1994), Slater and Narver (1995), Hunt and
competitors and can contribute to SCA
Morgan (1995), Hunt and Morgan (1996),
Jaworski and Kohli (1996)
Organizationa Fiol and Lyles (1985), deGeus (1988),
The management of information is an asset used to gain
l learning
Ghoshal and Westney (1991), Glazer (1991),
SCA; SCA lies in the ability to learn faster than
Day (1994b), Slater and Narver (1995)
competitors
Innovation
Foxall (1984), Wolfe (1994), Rogers (1995),
CA may result from those innovations which are
Gatignon and Xuereb (1997)
consistent with the firm, both socially and
technologically, and provide some distinct value to
customers, either directly or indirectly
Customer
Day and Fahey (1988), Woodruff (1997),
The provision of customer value is a source of SCA;
value
Parasuraman (1997), Slater (1997)
customers’ desired value changes, firms should monitor
these changes via continuous learning about customers
Relationship
Morgan and Hunt (1994), Morgan and Hunt
The building of trust and commitment make relationship
marketing
(1996)
marketing rare and difficult to imitate, thus rendering it
a potential source for SCA
Networks
Thorelli (1986), Jarillo (1988), Iacobucci and Networks involve technology transfer and informational
Hopkins (1992), Anderson, Häkansson, and
exchange; trust fosters network relationships; networks
Johanson (1994), Achrol (1997), Gulati
allow for core competencies to be strengthened,
(1998)
resulting in SCA; network relationships should be a part
of strategic planning


Relationship Marketing
Morgan and Hunt (1996) examine the role of relationship building as a means of obtaining resources in order to create an
SCA. They propose that resources can be combined in order to form higher-order resources, or competencies, from which
the firm can eventually achieve a CA. For example, it is difficult for outsiders to replicate the process of building a long-
term relationship. Resources such as loyalty, trust, and reputation are immobile and cannot be purchased. Therefore,
Morgan and Hunt (1996) state that relationships formed to acquire organizational, relational, or informational resources
will commonly result in sustainable resource-based CAs.

Business Networks
Webster (1992) offers a continuum of marketing relationships which moves from discrete transactions towards network
organizations and just-in-time exchanges. As the continuum moves further from discrete transactions, more administrative
and less market control occurs, as well as a shift toward elements such as trust that are key to building relationships meant
to last over the long term. Similarly, Iacobucci and Hopkins (1992) and Anderson, Häkansson, and Johanson (1994) view
networks as a ‘step beyond’ dyadic relationships, or partnerships, just as Webster (1992) does in his "continuum of
marketing relationships" (p. 5). Networks consist of multiple relationships, with each participating firm gaining the
resources needed to build core competencies and obtain an SCA.
Academy of Marketing Science Review
volume 2000 no. 4 Available: http://www.amsreview.org/articles/hoffman04-2000.pdf
Copyright © 2000 – Academy of Marketing Science.

Hoffmann / An Examination of the "Sustainable Competitive Advantage" Concept

According to Jarillo (1988), the establishment of trust and perceived goal congruence are two factors that assist in the
development of organizational networks. Jarillo states that trust is an essential element to maintaining both effectiveness
and efficiency in a network relationship. Similar to Frazier, Spekman, and O’Neal’s (1988) view of opportunistic behavior
within the Just-In-Time exchange relationship, Jarillo (1988) sees the presence of trust as an indicator that the relationship
is one of value; therefore, opportunistic behavior is less likely. If parties participating in this network exchange realize the
opportunity for joint value creation, then the network can act to emphasize the individual firm’s CA by allowing that firm
to specialize in the activities it performs best.

Porter (1985) also discusses the formation of "coalitions" that allow the sharing of activities in order to support a firm’s
CA. However, Porter’s "value chain" approach focuses on activities within a single firm. A new model is needed which
adapts his approach in order to understand the value-added processes comprised of dyadic and network interfirm activities
which foster each firm’s SCA. This is discussed in further detail in the following section.


DIRECTIONS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH ON THE SCA CONSTRUCT

There are many obstacles to further theory development for the SCA construct. First, researchers lack a solid operational
definition for SCA. Without this, we cannot measure it, nor can we begin to empirically understand its antecedents and
consequences. Current theory also has no agreed upon method of assessing whether an SCA has been achieved by a firm.
For example, should performance indicators such as market share or profitability be used to determine if an SCA has been
achieved? If such performance indictors are used, how can they be empirically linked as the result of an SCA rather than
other factors? These are just a few measurement issues that need to be addressed if we want to successfully develop
further theory related to SCA.

The first step would be to create an operational definition of SCA, possibly one based on the conceptual definition offered
here. Perhaps a formative scale could be developed to assess whether a particular firm resource is a source of SCA. Scaled
questions such as "Does it add value?," "Do current competitors possess it?," "How difficult is it to duplicate?," and "Can
it be sustained over time?" could be summated to arrive at some numerical value. The higher the numerical value, the
more likely the resource is an SCA.

We are also faced with the task of further understanding how a network environment can enhance the core competencies
of a firm which lead to an SCA. We must strive to understand how relationship marketing and networks can aid in
delivering value to both channel members and the final customer. Given the number of businesses involved in networks as
well as Achrol’s (1997) call for a paradigm shift to network relationships, the importance of understanding how networks
operate as well as the advantages firms can gain from network relationships cannot be ignored. Strategy researchers have
been presented with a great opportunity to fill the "holes" in our understanding of how networks contribute to a firm’s
SCA.

Although many empirical problems are associated with attempting to explore all of the relationships that exist within a
network, these challenges can be overcome. One challenge exists in the mere fact that the number of firms which must be
surveyed is larger for a network than for a dyad. In addition, if one firm was unwilling to participate in the study,
complications could arise in trying to assess how the network relationships "fit" together. Finally, firms are continually
interacting within a network environment. The fact that the context shifts each time two firms within a network interact
poses serious measurement problems as well, since our current research tools are not able to capture dynamic
relationships.

One solution might be for researchers to begin by thoroughly examining dyadic relations within a network environment.
In this case, the researcher only needs cooperation from two firms; s/he can avoid the problems of trying to coordinate
data collection across the many firms that could be involved in a network relationship. A proposed general theoretical
model of dyadic relationship success within a network environment appears in Figure 1. The constructs presented in the
Academy of Marketing Science Review
volume 2000 no. 4 Available: http://www.amsreview.org/articles/hoffman04-2000.pdf
Copyright © 2000 – Academy of Marketing Science.

Document Outline

  • Many researchers have contributed (either directly or indirectly) to the literature pertaining to SCA. Table 1 presents an overview of these authors along with their main contributions to the concept of SCA. Specific contributions, including a focus on
  • TABLE 1
  • Summary of Contributions to the Development of the "Sustainable Competitive Advantage" Concept
  • TABLE 1 (cont)
  • TABLE 1 (cont)
    • SOURCES OF SCA
  • TABLE 2
  • FIGURE 1