An Introduction to the TOWS matrix: Putting SWOT into action

What is a SWOT analysis?

A SWOT analysis examines the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats your organisation faces. Marketers use this simple planning tool to get a clearer picture of their external and internal environments. SWOT is really useful but on its own doesn’t generate actionable ideas for improvements. That’s where a TOWS comes in.

What is a TOWS analysis?

First described by Heinz Weihrich in 1999, TOWS takes a SWOT analysis one step further to help you take action with your findings. The TOWS acronym uses the same elements as its predecessor, but in reverse order. It combines internal and external forces to come up with productive ideas of how to best use the information. The main purpose of a TOWS is to reduce threats, take advantage of opportunities, exploit strengths, and remove weaknesses.

What's the difference between SWOT and TOWS?

Although TOWS uses the same elements as a SWOT analysis, it is more of an action tool rather than an analysis one. TOWS is best used as an addition to the analytical SWOT tool to help you decide what to do with your findings.

Why is it important?

  • TOWS helps bridge the gap between research and forward thinking strategic directions
  • Findings can be presented clearly to organisation stakeholders to gain support
  • It can very quickly define key focal points for actions It covers all bases by taking into account positive and negative influences

How does it work?

First you will need a completed SWOT analysis. If you haven’t got one, check out our blog post and YouTube video which should help! Your SWOT analysis will have given you a list of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Number these as S1, S2, W1, W2, and so on. This will make it easier to identify them later.

TOWS matrix

Then, as the diagram above suggests, measure them against each other to consider potential strategies: 

  1. Strengths & Opportunities: Use strengths to maximise opportunities 
  2. Strengths & Threats: Use strengths to reduce threats
  3. Weaknesses & Opportunities: Reduce weaknesses to develop opportunities
  4. Weaknesses & Threats: Avoid threats by reducing weaknesses

We will go through each area using a distribution company’s SWOT analysis as an example. 

SO: Use strengths to maximise opportunities

  • S1 Good distribution network
  • O1 Increase market share

Potential strategy: Utilise existing distribution channels to increase availability of products (next day delivery)

ST: Use strengths to reduce threats

  • S3 Excellent at co-creating with customers
  • T4 Skills gaps within the market

Potential strategy: Integrate co-creation deeper within the company to bridge the skills gap

WO: Reduce weaknesses to develop opportunities

  • W1 No upsell or cross-sell
  • O1 Increase market share

Potential strategy: Focus on compatible products / services to complement the existing range

WT: Avoid threats by reducing weaknesses

  • W3 Poorly implemented CRM
  • T1 Brand awareness is limited

Potential strategy: Focus on reliable data to enhance awareness within existing market

When you have assessed the relationships above for your own organisation, you should have a matrix similar to the below:

TOWS matrix example

So you should now be able to see the benefits of TOWS and how it can expand your SWOT analysis to discover some really useful potential strategies for the future.

Want to learn more?

To learn how to do a TOWS analysis in more detail with the help of expert strategic marketer and Professional Academy CIM tutor, Peter Sumpton - check out the YouTube video below from our Strategic Marketing series.

You can also learn more about TOWS and SWOT as well as other strategic marketing tools in our range of CIM Marketing and Digital Marketing qualifications.

Get in touch with our qualifications advice team to see how we can help you further your marketing career, download a prospectus, or complete our quick online Entry Level Assessment to see which course is right for you!