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Competitor-oriented Objectives: The Myth of Market Share
J. Scott Armstrong, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104
Phone 610-622-6480; Fax 215-898-2534
Kesten C. Green, Department of Econometrics and Business Statistics
Monash University, VIC 3800, Australia
Phone +64 4 976 3243; Fax +64 4 473 0643
February 21, 2006
International Journal of Business (forthcoming)
Competitor-oriented objectives, such as market-share targets, are promoted by academics and are
commonly used by firms. A 1996 review of the evidence, summarized in this paper, indicated that
competitor-oriented objectives reduce profitability. However, we found that this evidence has been
ignored by managers. We then describe evidence from 12 new studies, one of which is introduced in this
paper. This evidence supports the conclusion that competitor-oriented objectives are harmful, especially
when managers receive information about market shares of competitors. Unfortunately, we expect that
many firms will continue to use competitor-oriented objectives to the detriment of their profitability.
Key words: competition, market share, objectives, profitability.
JEL CLASSIFICATION: L21, M21, M31.
Many managers have a natural inclination to want to beat their competitors. Our concern in this paper is
the relationship between competitor orientation and performance. We show that competitor-oriented
objectives are detrimental to firms’ profitability and that the use of information and decision aids to
support such an orientation exacerbates the harm.
The pursuit of competitor-oriented objectives is consistent with the long-held belief that business is like
warfare. In the late 19th century, it was popular for executives to strive for revenue maximization. To see
how well they were doing, they compared themselves to their competitors in the industry. Judging from
Lanzillotti (1958), competitor-oriented objectives, typically expressed in terms of market share, were
commonly utilized by large firms well before the 1950s. Oxenfeldt (1959) lamented the common use of
market-share objectives and discussed the logical and practical flaws of pursuing such objectives.
Economists frown on competitor-oriented objectives (Mueller 1992). They consider the proper objective
of business to be profits, not market share. Business school academics, however, have rushed to support
market share objectives, noting that higher market shares are correlated with higher profitability.
Influential support came from two Harvard Business Review papers: Buzzell, Gale, and Sultan (1975) and
Porter (1979). Other articles and books, such as Porter (1980), agreed with these claims. These writings
gave credence to the already popular view that business is like war and that the goal is to win by defeating
competitors. Porter (1979) went further by referring to customers and suppliers as competitors.
Henderson, founder of Boston Consulting Group, claimed, in a 1989 Harvard Business Review article,
that it is all about survival: “ … Darwin is probably a better guide to business competition than
Market share is positively correlated to profits. A meta-analysis of the relationship between market share
and profitability by Szymanski et al. (1993) identified 48 studies that reported 276 elasticities from
econometric models. The elasticities ranged from -0.16 to 0.84 with the unweighted mean elasticity equal
to 0.20. However, it does not follow logically that seeking higher market share will improve profits.
Rather the correlation between market share and profitability is more logically interpreted as showing that
firms with better offerings tend to achieve higher market shares.
Advocates of competitor-oriented objectives do not provide evidence relevant to their claims. However,
much evidence has been published that show such objectives to be commonly used
Evidence up through 1996
Much of the evidence on the prevalence and effect of competitor orientation was presented in Armstrong
and Collopy (1996). We briefly summarize that evidence here.
Prevalence of market-oriented objectives
Armstrong and Collopy (1996), henceforth noted as A&C, summarized laboratory studies on the
prevalence of competitor-oriented objectives. Here are some of the key studies:
• Scodel et al. (1959), Messick and Thorngate (1967), and Messick and McClintock (1968)
modified a prisoner’s dilemma matrix to test the effect of providing information to subjects on
their cumulative score relative to the other player’s. When playing the game for many trials and
given feedback about their relative score, almost 90% of these subjects’ choices were competitive
(low-profit) rather than cooperative (profit maximizing).
• Kuhlman and Marshello (1975) summarized research from three similar studies. The percentage
of people that selected competitor-oriented responses ranged from 21% to 49%, depending on
game instructions and payoffs. Liebrand and van Run (l985) found similar results across cultures.
Between 1989 and 1994, A&C asked 170 MBA students whether “the primary purpose of the firm is (a)
to do better than its competitors, or (b) to do the best that it can.” One-third of the students believed that
firms should try to do better than their competitors. About the same percentage agreed with the statement
that “the best way to judge the success of a firm is by how well it does relative to its competitors.” In
early 1995, the same questions were asked of 54 students at a university in Korea; about 40% agreed with
Many managers justify their competitor-oriented objectives as a way to increase long-term profits. In
l992, A&C asked marketing faculty and students: “What do you believe would be the effects on long-
term profitability if a firm has as its primary goal to achieve higher market share?” Of the l02
respondents, 57% believed that profits would be higher, 27% believed that they would be lower, and l6%
In 1993, A&C surveyed 72 managers attending seminars in the US, Argentina and Chile. Half of them
considered that “the primary purpose of our firm is to be better than its competitors” and 39% agreed that
“the best way to judge the success of our firm is by how well it does relative to our competitors.”
To further assess what marketing experts believed, A&C (1996) posed the following question to
convenience samples of marketing faculty and managers in New Zealand, the United States, and
What if we ran the following study: (l) select 20 firms from different industries; (2) assess the
extent to which their goals are competitor oriented (market share); and (3) examine their profits
over the next three decades. Assuming that the 20 firms would differ greatly with respect to
competitor orientation, what would you predict?
Of the 108 respondents, 52% said that profits for firms with competitor-oriented goals would be more or
much more than those of other firms, while only 26% thought they would be less or much less.
In the A&C survey of 21 senior executives from Japanese companies, 29% said that the primary purpose
of their firms is to be better than their competitors, and 48% judged their success by how well they do
relative to their competitors.
Leeflang and Wittink (1996), in a study of seven popular brands of a nondurable, nonfood product sold in
the Netherlands concluded that managers overreacted to each other’s promotional activities. In a
replication in New Zealand of the Leeflang and Wittink (1996) study, Brodie, Bonfrer and Cutler
(1996) found even stronger evidence that managers were too competitor oriented.
Effects of competitor-oriented objectives
Kohn’s (1986) review of competition contains 388 references drawn from a variety of areas including
sports, education, and the performing arts (but not from business). He concluded that, in general,
competitor-oriented objectives harm performance. In the rest of this section, we review studies related to
In general, managerial objectives affect the performance of a firm (Keil et al. 2001, Locke and Latham
2002). A&C described prior evidence on the effects of competitor-oriented objectives on performance:
• In Deutsch’s (1958, 1960) laboratory experiments, two hypothetical trucking companies had to
share a road. Both parties were less profitable when told they were told to do better than their
opponents than when told do the best they could for themselves.
• Corfman and Lehmann (1994) asked 57 subjects to make “advertising spending decisions as
marketing managers of a medium-sized manufacturer selling in mature markets.” The advertising
decision involved high (competitive) or low (cooperative) budgets. Although the profits were
much higher for the cooperative budget, 78% of the subjects chose the competitive budget.
A&C conducted laboratory experiments where subjects were asked to assume the role of a marketing
manager for their firm. Subjects in the control group were given information only on their own firm’s
profits while the subjects in the experimental groups were also given information on their competitor’s
profits. The situation was described to them, and they were told to choose a “high” or “low” price for a
new product. Their expected profit figures were the same in each treatment and are explained below:
Information Expected Profits Over 5 Years
Group Provided High Price Low Price
Control Subject Firm $40 M $80 M
Subject Firm $40 M $80 M
Harm Other Firm - $100 M $40M
Subject Firm $40 M $80 M
Beat Other Firm $20 M $160 M
o The control treatment made no mention of competitors.
o In the harm treatment, subjects were able to harm their competitors.
o In the beat treatment, subjects were able to do better than their competitors without causing the
competitor to lose money.
When no information was provided about the performance of competitors, 14% of subjects chose the less
profitable decision. Subjects in the harm treatment chose the less profitable decision at more than twice
that rate (34%) and in the beat treatment as many as 60% of subjects selected the low price.
In some versions, A&C described the situation as involving a “new, highly technical product” to assess
whether the type of product made a difference. Variations in the product description did not change the
results. A&C also tested other threats to validity by changing key aspects of the problem, as follows:
Longer time horizon. With a 5-year time horizon, subjects in the harm and beat treatments who
decided on the low price might have believed their firm would suffer short-term losses in
exchange for long-term gains. To address this possibility, A&C tested a 20-year time horizon.
This had only modest effects on the decisions. Many subjects continued to harm and beat subjects
despite the substantial forgone profits.
Ex post pricing decision. Despite the instructions, subjects might have made different
assumptions about profits beyond the stated planning horizon. To control for this, the problem
was changed to refer to the past. A&C asked subjects to decide which of two divisional brand
managers should be promoted: one who had used a high-price strategy which resulted in high
profits, or another whose low-price strategy had led to low profits. In one treatment the profit
figures were identical to those used in the original harm treatment, and 40% of subjects promoted
the low-profit marketing manager. In the ex post beat treatment, 51% promoted the low-profit
Equalizing final market values. In a further version of the ex post pricing treatments, A&C added
information that the two divisions were valued equally (both initially and currently), but the
manager who used the higher price achieved much higher profits during the elapsing period.
Among subjects receiving the equal–market-value harm treatment, 52% promoted the manager
who had the lower profits while 34% did so in the equal-market-value beat treatment.
Table 1 summarizes the findings:
Percentage of Subjects who Selected the Less Profitable Decision
(Number of subjects)
Information about competitors
Treatment None Harm Beat
5 years (benchmark) 14 (65) 34 (139)** 60 (60)**
20 years 12 (42) 45 (40)** 30 (40)*
Ex Post Pricing:
5 years n.a.† 40 (76) 51 (69)
20 years n.a. 25 (24) 30 (30)
5 years: equal value n.a. 52 (87) 34 (80)
* Significant at p < 0.05 with one-tail t-tests (compared with results from “none” column).
**Significant at p < 0.01.
†No tests could be conducted for the ex post treatments because it was impossible to construct a
“no information” version.
In follow-up questionnaires, subjects were asked, “Why did you make this decision?” In general, once
subjects took account of the competitor’s performance, they were less likely to pay attention to their own
profits: 83% of the 107 subjects who mentioned competitors selected the less profitable decision.
Anterasian and Graham (l989) examined the performance of a sample of 42 businesses drawn from the
Federal Trade Commission’s Line of Business Program. The lines of business were selected from eight
manufacturing industries that had experienced a boom-bust cycle from 1974 to 1977. Those lines of
business that achieved stability in sales by giving up market share during the 1974 boom in their industry
achieved higher returns on sales during the subsequent bust period.
A&C used the performance of American firms to determine the extent to which a competitor orientation
can affect profitability. Information on pricing objectives of 20 large U.S. companies had been collected
by Lanzillotti (1958) and Kaplan, Dirlam, and Lanzillotti (1958). These sample companies were selected
from among the largest corporations on the basis of the willingness of management to cooperate by
permitting extensive interviews with company officials. Lanzilloti et al. conducted week-long interviews
with company officials between 1948 and 1951 and then again between 1956 and 1957. The companies’
objectives were the same in the follow-up interviews as in the initial interviews. In some firms, these
objectives were based on long-standing policies. For example, as far back as 1937, A&P had stated that
their primary aim in pricing was to achieve a larger market share.
A&C inferred the competitor orientation of the firms’ objectives from Lanzillotti’s description of their
stated pricing policies. An 11-point scale (1 = to do well for themselves; 11 = to do well relative to
competitors) was developed to assess firms’ objectives. The objective of doing well for a person’s own
firm was identified by the presence of an explicitly stated pricing goal to maximize or increase profits. At
the other end of the scale, goals of increasing or maximizing market share were classified as highly
competitor oriented (Table 2).
Objectives scale and number of firms at each level
(MS = Market Share) Pricing Objectives
Orientation Primary Secondary Number of
1 = low High Profit None stated 3
2 Profit None stated 1
3 Stability None stated 1
4 High Profit Maintain MS 2
5 High Profit Increase MS 0
6 Profit Maintain MS 4
7 Profit Increase MS 0
8 Maintain MS Profit 2
9 Increase MS Profit 1
10 Maintain MS None stated 4
11 = high Increase MS None stated 2
Two raters coded firms’ orientations with a high inter-rater reliability (r = .96). The median firm
orientation was 6, the scale’s midpoint. Competitor-oriented objectives were used by 30% of firms, and
an additional 45% used a combination of profit- and competitor-oriented objectives.
Lanzillotti (1958) reported average after-tax return-on-investment (ROI) data for nine years (1947-1955).
Competitor-oriented objectives were negatively correlated with ROI for these data (Spearman correlation
was -.43 and p = .03 using a one-tail test). Because many other factors also influence a firm’s ROI, these
results suggested a strong relationship. A&C also analyzed the nine-year periods before and after this.
Table 3 shows the ROI for each firm for 1938 – 1982. The Spearman correlation between competitor-
orientation and ROI was negative and statistically significant (p = .05) for each nine-year period.
A&C also found that all four companies whose only goal was profit (those coded as 1 or 2 in Tables 2 and
3) survived. This compares with the failure of four of the six companies whose only goal was market
share (those coded as 10 or 11 in Tables 2 and 3)
Competitor orientation of firms and ROI for nine-year periods
Orientation ROI (After Taxes)
11= high 1938-
DuPont 1 9.1 15.4 15.5 8.0 6.9
General Electric 1 8.1 10.9 9.4 6.7 7.9
Union Carbide 1 9.8 11.0 9.1 6.3 6.6
Alcoa 2 8.5 6.4 4.2 4.2 5.5
Kennecott 3 8.6 13.3 8.9 8.2 3.2
General Motors 4 8.8 16.6 13.2 12.0 6.3
Johns Manville 4 6.8 11.2 4.6 7.6 4.9
Standard Oil New Jersey (Exxon c) 6 5.4 13.0 7.8 7.6 8.0
General Foods 6 11.9 8.2 11.4 8.9 7.4
US Steel (USX d) 6 3.4 6.5 6.0 3.5 3.4
International Harvester e6 4.7 6.7 4.6 4.0 -3.4
Kroger 8 7.2 8.0 6.1 4.9 4.6
Standard Oil of Indiana f8 5.3 7.1 5.4 6.4 8.3
Sears 9 8.8 12.4 8.5 6.4 4.2
Goodyear 10 5.8 6.4 7.0 5.7 4.0
Gulf g10 5.0 9.7 8.9 7.1 6.3
American Can h10 6.8 7.8 5.2 4.8 3.8
Swift 10 3.9 4.6 2.4 3.3 n.a.
Great Atlantic & Pacific 11 6.8 8.4 7.8 4.2 -2.9
National Steel 11 5.2 9.6 6.0 5.1 1.1
Correlation with Competitor Orientation -.54 -.43 -.37 -.43 -.45
Acceptance of evidence
Despite some mass media coverage (e.g., Wall Street Journal) in the U.S, New Zealand, and Argentina
the initial response by managers to the A&C paper was apathetic. A&C also encountered resistance from
the academic community.
Extensive evidence on peer review shows that papers with findings that contradict important viewpoints
are nearly always rejected by reviewers (Armstrong 1997). For example, a survey by Armstrong and
Hubbard (1991) found that “Editors of 16 psychology journals reported that reviewers dealt harshly with
papers that contained controversial findings”. The first author found that none of what he considers his
twenty most important papers received full acceptance by reviewers; fortunately, editors stepped in to
over-rule the reviewers.
At a talk in 1992, the first author asked twenty-three academics whether empirical evidence would affect
their opinions about the use of market share as an objective: 35% said it would not. The first author has
also challenged colleagues to provide evidence favoring the use of market share as an objective; they
replied only with examples, such as “What about General Electric?” While the use of anecdotes is a weak
form of argument, even the GE story is suspect: GE’s ROI was lower in the decade after it espoused a
goal of market share than it was in the preceding decade (cf. appendix of Franke et al. 2005 in this special
A&C obtained prior peer review from other researchers – 28 of whom provided useful suggestions. In
addition, seven editorial assistants worked on the paper. The formal process of journal submission began
in 1989 and continued through 1995. The paper went through reviews initially at the Journal of
Marketing then at the Journal of Marketing Research. This involved four editors and about ten reviewers
over the six-year period.
Reviewers raised alternative explanations for the findings from A&C’s laboratory experiments. For
example, one reviewer stated: “… the fact that people selected the low price did not surprise me. The
logic would be that hirting competition would force them out yielding higher returns in the future.” [They
undoubtedly meant “hurting competitors” instead of “hirting competition” yet the sentence shows the
sloppy effort that went into many of the reviews.] A&C ran additional experiments to test the reviewers’
proposed explanations. When the results refuted their objections, the reviewers found other explanations.
Eventually, the authors and others ran 23 treatments in 43 administrations using 1,016 subjects over a
nine-year period. Given the failure to find support for alternative explanations, some reviewers then stated
that laboratory experiments were not convincing to them. This led A&C to their field study.
The field study also proved unconvincing to reviewers. One reviewer stated: “the nature of competition
has changed substantially and what worked then would not work now.”
One reviewer wrote that the paper lacked “a theoretical explanation of the findings.” This reviewer
proceeded to use game theory to explain why there is no “theory of profit maximization.” The reviewer
found the shortcomings in theory to be so serious he wrote that “…I am hard pressed to specify a
particular direction [to] address this shortcoming.”
In general, the stronger our evidence became, the harsher the reviewers’ reports.
Evidence since the 1996 review
We searched for evidence in the decade since 1996. Our search procedures are described in an appendix
to this article. We looked for evidence on the prevalence of competitor-oriented objectives and on their
impact on performance.
Griffith and Rust (1997) compared the performance of subjects (MBA students) with that of computerized
normative pricing strategies in a version of a prisoner’s dilemma game. Each game involved three
players. The subjects were unaware that in two out of three games the third player was one of the
computerized strategies. The game was designed to represent the market for mature, frequently purchased
consumer-goods. It was possible for cooperative players to make a profit of $20 if they all charged $1.50
per unit. Subjects playing the roles of managers were instructed to maximize their profits and were told
that their compensation would be partly based on their profitability. Despite these instructions, subjects
tended to charge close to the “envious price” of $1.36 – the price that maximized the gap between their
own profit and that of the other subjects. When subjects played against other subjects, the average profit
was $7.19, well below the potentially achievable cooperative profit of $20.
Arnett and Hunt (2002) conducted an extension of the A&C laboratory studies. The subjects were 365
MBA and executive MBA students with three or more years of business experience. The subjects were
instructed to assume that they were the owners (rather than marketing managers as in A&C) of a firm and
must decide the price of a new product. The description of the situation was similar to that of A&C except
that four price points (rather than two) were provided. In the description provided to the subjects,
expected profits increased as the price increased. Arnett and Hunt found that an even higher proportion of
their subjects (56%) chose to harm their competitor and sacrifice profits than was the case with A&C’s
Franke, Armstrong and Vaclavik (1998) analyzed additional data on the A&C twenty firm study. This
extended through 1997, at which time there were 11 survivors. In addition, they introduced two new
criteria: “real return on equity” and “percent of after-tax return on sales.” Finally, they covered the 1955
through 1997 time period using ten-year time intervals up to 1984 then a six- and a four-year interval. All
of the correlations between competitor-oriented objectives and profits were negative, ranging from -.28 to
Shrader (2001) studied the performance of 176 foreign market entries by 70 US high-technology
manufacturing firms. The firms were less than seven years old at the time of their initial public offering
(IPO) and the IPOs all occurred between 1983 and 1988. To measure the firms’ competitor orientation,
two researchers independently examined the firms’ IPO prospectuses and coded them on a five-point
scale depending on whether the firm’s objective was to be a “minor player”, “industry leader” or in
between with an inter-rater reliability of r = .81. Shrader examined two measures of performance:
profitability and sales growth. Profitability was measured as the average return on sales in a single foreign
market over a three-year period. In addition to competitor orientation, Shrader used foreign market sales
growth, firm-level sales growth, age of the firm at foreign entry, and number of employees to estimate a
regression model for profitability. Competitor orientation was negatively related to profits (p < 0.01).
Those advocating larger market share as a goal often profess that the added share will contribute to the
appeal of their brand. Hellofs and Jacobson (1999) analyzed five years of data from surveys of consumer
attitudes for 85 firms’ offerings in 28 product categories. On average, achieving higher market share led
consumers to believe a firm’s offering had declined in quality. As a consequence they were prepared to
A series of studies have been done using a competitor-orientation scale developed by Narver and Slater
(1990, p.24). This scale includes: 1) salespeople share information about competitors, 2) respond rapidly
to competitors’ actions, 3) top managers discuss competitors’ strategies, and 4) target opportunities for
competitive advantage. Only the last item relates directly to competitor-oriented objectives, whereas the
first three items seem like reasonable strategies for all businesses. As a result, it was unclear whether the
net effects of their competitor-orientation scale would be positive. Four studies evaluated the effect of the
Narver/Slater competitor orientation on performance. Although this is a confounded measure of
competitor-oriented objectives, it was negatively related to performance in three of the four studies:
• Hardley and Mavondo (2000) surveyed 145 retail pharmacists in Australia about their
businesses. Profitability was measured as an aggregate of previous, current, and future profit.
They found that competitor orientation was negatively related to profitability (p < 0.05).
• Lukas and Ferrell (2000) surveyed 194 manufacturing companies. The authors did not examine
profitability, but they found companies with high competitor-orientation scores were less likely
than other firms to produce line-extensions and new-to-the-world products and more likely to
produce me-too products.
• Matanda and Mavondo (2001), in a study of 276 horticultural retailing establishments in
Zimbabwe, found that competitor orientation was negatively related to performance.
• Dawes (2000), using a scale adapted from Narver and Slater’s, found a positive relationship
between self-reported performance and his measure of competitor orientation. Like Narver and
Slater’s, however, Dawes’s scale measured more than whether a business was concerned with
beating an opponent.
During the reviewing process for A&C’s paper, reviewers insisted that the authors remove evidence from
a management game. A reviewer said, “I strongly disagree with your position on the relevance of
performance in a simulation to performance in the ‘Real world’.” Our position is that all relevant findings
should be reported, so we report on the previously deleted study here.
Unpublished study using a game
Armstrong and Collopy had used a management simulation to examine industry-wide effects of
competitor-oriented objectives. The task was part of a semester-long course organized around a computer
simulation. Participants were divided into four identical industries. Each industry had five or six firms,
and each firm was comprised of two to five students. The study had advantages over a field study in that
all firms were initially of equal value and decision makers faced an identical market.
Subjects made decisions about advertising, product mix, product development, pricing, and debt level,
while competing for employees, customers, and capital. The goal of each firm was to maximize its stock
market value by the end of year seven. Market values reflect not only historical performance, but also the
market’s perception of how firms will do in the future. The stock of each firm was traded on an exchange
where mergers, acquisitions, and leveraged buy-outs were possible. Each firm had access to financial and
market data on the performance of all other firms in its industry.
The fifty-one participants were enrolled in an elective management course at the Wharton School in
spring of 1991. The participants’ effort and emotional involvement were high. They reported that they
often discussed their team’s performance outside class and made bets about the final market value of the
Armstrong and Collopy designed a self-administered questionnaire to assess orientation. The student-
managers gave their opinions on each of the following questions using the scale 1 = strongly disagree; 2 =
disagree; 3 = neither agree nor disagree; 4 = agree; 5 = strongly agree:
1. I would try to harm my competitor, even if it did not provide my firm with a competitive
advantage, as long as it cost my firm nothing.
2. Even if my firm were somewhat harmed in the process, I would try to substantially harm
3. The best way to judge the success of a firm is by how well it does relative to its
4. To be successful today, a company must be competitor oriented. It must look for weak
points in the positions of competitors and then launch marketing attacks against these
This self-administered questionnaire was given to participants two weeks before the end of their
Responses were summarized for each of the four industries, averaging about 13 responses per industry.
The average response for managers in the least competitor-oriented industry was 2.52, while that in the
most competitor-oriented was 3.14. Table 4 presents average competitor orientation by industry in the
next to last column. A substantial portion of managers were motivated by competitor-oriented
Competitor-Oriented Goals versus Market Value
(1 = low
5 = high)
6 17 53 2.52 33.5
5 12 50 2.67 33.8
5 9 44 2.89 31.6
5 13 77 3.14 21.7
All firms began the simulation with a market value of $15 million. The average market value of firms at
the end of the simulation was calculated by multiplying the number of shares by the share price for each
firm, summing across all firms in the industry, and then dividing by the number of firms (first column of
Table 4). The competitor-orientation of managers (4th column of Table 4) was inversely related to the
market value of firms at the end of the simulation (last column) (p < 0.05 using one-tail Wilcoxon signed
ranks test). The scale for competitor-orientation was crude, which reduces the power of the test. The fact
that results were significant with a weak test and a small sample suggests that the effects of competitor
orientation were strong.
The simulation had a known time horizon of seven years. This lack of a continuing relationship among
firms might have encouraged an excess of competitor-oriented behavior. Since the assessment of
competitor orientation was conducted late in the game, managers of teams that were doing poorly might
have focused more on market share. Their poorer showing could have been due to earlier performance,
rather than to competitor-oriented objectives; thus, poor performance might have caused a competitor
orientation. We tested this explanation in a convenience sample of 101 faculty members. By the margin of
55% to 22%, the experts said that they would be more likely to use market share as a goal when the firm
was doing well than when it was doing poorly.
Armstrong & Collopy examined the percentages of participants in each industry who reported having
completed at least one strategic planning course prior to the simulation. As shown in Table 4, the
percentages ranged from 44 to 77%. 38% of the low-education, 46% of the intermediate education, and
55% of the high education group chose the less profitable decision. In effect, then, those with more
management education made less profitable decisions (p < 0.05 using one-tailed Wilcoxon signed-ranks
Other studies involving management games
In simulations using executive MBA students, Abramson et al. (2005) told subjects to maximize their
aggregate profit and that this would contribute to their course grade. Each of the five firms in each
simulation was managed by an individual subject. While all firms were in the business of providing health
care plans, each had different plans and cost structures and started with different customer profiles.
Simulations were conducted over eight rounds with a week between each round. A model, based on an
actual situation, was used to generate the results of each round. In simulations where information on
competitors’ profits was provided, subjects set lower prices than in simulations where profit information
was private. When competitors’ market-share figures were also made available to subjects in six further
simulations, participants set their firms’ prices even lower than when competitor profits were provided.
Abramson et al. concluded that “information on market share leads to lower profits.”
Keil et al. (2001) used a business simulation to test the effect of different objectives. Their subjects were
54 employees of multi-national companies participating in a US university’s executive education
program. They were given historical data on prices, sales, profits, and market shares for three products,
one of which was to be the responsibility of the subject. The subjects made decisions on the price of their
product and, after a delay, were given data on their performance. The subjects were led to believe that
decisions for the other products were being made by anonymous classmates, but they were in fact being
made by a software model. Subjects who were given a profit maximization objective earned greater
profits than managers who, under the broad instruction to “do the best you can”, selected their own
objectives. Those subjects who were not instructed to maximize profit sought instead to boost their
market share by pricing aggressively relative to competing products.
Marks and Albers (2001) asked 240 senior marketing students to play the roles of managers in a
management game. On their own volition, subjects were concerned with their performance relative to
competitors and consequently made decisions that resulted in below optimal profits (as determined by the
model used in the simulations) had all subjects attempted to maximize their own firms’ profits. In
particular, subjects chose to compete for market share selling similar products rather than take advantage
of profitable opportunities to differentiate their products.
Changes since 1996
We have not found a single paper that challenges the finding that competitor-orientated objectives harm
profitability. While advocates of market-share objectives have provided no evidence to support their
contention, their writings seem to have had a big impact. Ramos-Rodríguez and Ruíz-Navarro (2004)
identified the 50 works that have had the greatest impact on strategic management research by counting
citations in the Strategic Management Journal. Porter’s (1980) competitor-oriented work was ranked first,
having been cited 266 times between 1980 and 2000.
With 44 citations, Buzzell et al. (1975) was also included among the 50 most influential works and was
the eighth most cited work from 1980 to 1986. We searched the Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI) for
recent citations of Buzzell et al. – for the period 2004 to May 15 2005 – and found six. Buzzell (2004)
restated his conclusion on market share and profitability from his 1975 PIMS analysis. He did not cite
Management textbooks repeat the claim that increasing market share will improve profitability. For
example, the authors of Europe’s best-selling strategy text, wrote: “Since companies with higher market
share have more cumulative experience, it is clearly important to gain and hold market share” (Johnson
and Scholes 2002, p. 168). The authors suggested that following their recommendation would lead to
improved profitability: “The link between performance and relative market share, which is emphasized by
the experience curve work, is supported by the findings of the PIMS database…” (p. 365). Readers were
also told that “these benefits of market share can be even more important in global markets” (p. 370).
We like to think that the market share myth can be defeated in the minds of managers when teaching and
textbooks, decision aides, popular books, and investors’ decisions reflect the scientific evidence on the
effects of business objectives.
• Do not advocate competitor-oriented objectives in classes and textbooks.
Economics textbooks already have things right about the theory of the firm. For example,
Besanko, Dranove and Shanley (2000, pp. 98-100) in their textbook, Economics of Strategy,
clarify early confusion about the relationship between market share and profitability: “The
observed correlation between market share and profitability should not be taken to imply that any
strategy designed to boost market share will increase a firm’s profitability … There is no causal
mechanism whereby market share leadership automatically translates to profits.” Unfortunately,
many business school professors do not adopt this viewpoint. They advise students to strive for
market share and they develop techniques to gain market share.
• Develop profit-oriented decision aids
Some decision aids for managers are based on competitor-oriented objectives. For example,
portfolio planning methods examine performance relative to the competitors.
In laboratory experiments with over one thousand subjects, Armstrong and Brodie (1994) found
that use of the Boston Consulting Group matrix as a decision aid substantially reduced the
profitability of subjects’ decisions. Slater and Zwirlein (1992) concluded from a study of 129
firms that those whose strategies are consistent with portfolio planning models had lower returns
to shareholders. Capon, Farley, and Hulbert (1987, pp. 316-17) found that firms that used the
Boston Consulting Group portfolio matrix methods reported a lower return on capital than those
not using them.
The experience curve strategy is another competitor-oriented technique. To adopt the strategy
requires that firms cut prices to build volume in order to propel the firm down its cost curve faster
than competitors can move down theirs. In other words, they should price to prevent competitors
from catching up. Lieberman (l987, p. 451) concluded that the experience curve produces
incentives that “often intensify competition and reduce profits.” To assess the impact of exposure
to the experience curve concept some subjects in A&C received a description from Kiechel
(1981, pp. 139-l40) advocating its use. The decisions of those 97 subjects were compared with
those from 137 control subjects in the same administrations who received no information about
the experience curve. More experience-curve subjects selected the less profitable decision than
did control subjects (59% versus 45%; p < 0.05 using chi-square).
• Disseminate findings through books
Companies still pursue competitor-oriented objectives and business schools continue to promote
competitor-oriented objectives. For example, in April 2005 the Wharton School invited Jack
Welch to talk about his most recent book, Winning (Welch and Welch 2005). In the book, Welch
reveals that he has no knowledge of the research on this issue. Moreover, he advises readers to
follow their gut instincts and implies that research findings are harmful to one’s thinking.
Rather than giving support to such views, business schools should emphasize evidence-based
books and give evidence-based advice. For example, Kotler’s Marketing Management text
included the BCG matrix from the 1980 edition on. Anterasian, et al. (1996, p. 74) wrote “…we
suggest you find the portfolio models section and rip those pages out.” Students are now saved
that trouble: Kotler and Keller removed mention of the BCG matrix, the market share-
profitability correlation, and references to Robert Buzzell’s work from their 2006 edition.
Two books (Miniter 2002 and Slywotzky et al. 2001) argue against market share as an objective.
However, as with the pro-market share publications, the authors present no evidence on
performance. Nevertheless, both books have received much attention judging from the results of
our 3 August 2005 Google search for references to each of the books. We searched for Miniter
and his book title, The Myth of Market Share, and for Slywotzky and his, The Profit Zone. The
searches identified 979 and 4,800 sites, respectively.
• Encourage improved investment decisions
One way to gain acceptance of these findings would be to show how they might be used to make
more profitable investments. We conducted an unpublished analysis of the twenty companies in
Lanzillotti’s studies and found that the firms that cared most about profits yielded higher stock
market returns than did the firms that cared most about market share. The sample size was small
and the variance was large, so the first author attempted to expand the sample size by classifying
firms according to their objectives. Unfortunately, hardly any firms reveal their objectives in
annual reports, so it would be necessary to conduct interviewers such as those done by Lanzillotti.
The pursuit of competitor-oriented objectives is contrary to economic theory and lacks empirical support.
Nevertheless, such objectives have been adopted by businesses. Miniter (2002), a former Wall Street
Journal reporter, observed that market share was a common mantra used among business leaders and
wrote that this was a contributing factor to the dot.com bubble.
Despite evidence from diverse laboratory and field studies demonstrating that competitor-oriented
objectives harm performance, the myth of market share lives on among business leaders who prefer to
follow their gut instincts. We expect economic losses to continue at least until textbooks, business school
courses, decision aids, and investors’ decisions reflect the evidence that pursuing profit, rather than
defeating competitors, is the proper objective of businesses.
Appendix: Literature search procedures
In May 2005, we used the terms “market share objectives” and [“market share” and “profit”] in a Social
Sciences Citation Index (SSCI) search of titles, abstracts and keywords in articles published between 1995
and 2005. Aside from A&C, we found no relevant papers. We found no articles using the term
“competitor-oriented objectives.” Using JSTOR, we found only A&C and a review using both sets of
search terms. We used Google Scholar to look for occurrences of the phrase “competitor-oriented
objectives” and found none. Using the terms [“market share objectives” plus “profitability”] and
“competitor orientation” with Google Scholar, we found 52 potentially relevant articles, of which two
proved to be relevant.
An SSCI search for papers that cited A&C revealed 24 papers (excluding self-citations) that cited A&C.
Three were germane to the question of what effect competitor-oriented objectives have on outcomes. A
JSTOR search for citations of A&C did not find any additional articles. A Google Scholar search for
A&C citations found 32 papers, of which 19 had not been found by the SSCI search; three of these were
germane to our topic. Most authors who cited A&C accepted their findings.
We looked for the term “market share” in Harvard Business Review, Strategic Management Journal, and
Journal of Marketing. These searches identified 9, 12, and 13 articles respectively. Only one was
We identified other relevant articles from citations. Following our search, we sent email messages to 27
researchers who had done research on our topic asking them to identify recent research that we might
have missed in our search for evidence. We received helpful responses from nine researchers, but learned
of no new research that was relevant to this paper.
Finally, we sent requests to email lists for additional studies. To aid in this, we posted a draft of our paper
at http://conflictforecasting.com and requested additional peer review.
We are grateful for the information, helpful comments, and suggestions we received from Charles
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