Why the TOWS Matrix is important to Public Sector Marketers

As someone who teaches marketing I am always surprised that most of the participants at my courses and seminars are very familiar with a SWOT analysis (which stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.) For those who are not familiar with the SWOT analysis – it helps organizations  identify strengths and weaknesses predominantly based on internal factors. Opportunities and threats usually arise from an external environment.

However, very rarely do I find participants who are familiar with SWOT employ  the SWOT/TOWS Matrix or as it is better known the TOWS matrix which is SWOT spelled backwards. Though there is a difference between the two, together they perform a marvelous dance.

Now think about it… what did you do the last time you completed a SWOT analysis for your organization? Did you address any of the weaknesses the threats? Probably not.

A TOWS analysis involves the same basic process of listing strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats as a SWOT analysis, but with a TOWS analysis, threats and opportunities are examined first and weaknesses and strengths are examined last. After creating a list of threats, opportunities, weaknesses and strengths, managers examine ways the organization can take advantage of opportunities and minimize threats by exploiting strengths and overcoming weaknesses.

The TOWS analysis helps you get a better understanding of the strategic choices that you face. (Remember that “strategy” is the art of determining how you’ll “win” in your marketing endeavours) It helps you ask, and answer, the following questions:

How do you:

  • Make the most of your strengths?
  • Circumvent your weaknesses?
  • Capitalize on your opportunities?
  • Manage your threats?

A next step of analysis, usually associated with the externally-focused TOWS Matrix, helps you think about the options that you could pursue. To do this you match external opportunities and threats with your internal strengths and weaknesses. This helps you identify strategic alternatives that address the following additional questions:

  • Strengths and Opportunities (SO) – How can you use your strengths to take advantage of the opportunities?
  • Strengths and Threats (ST) – How can you take advantage of your strengths to avoid real and potential threats?
  • Weaknesses and Opportunities (WO) – How can you use your opportunities to overcome the weaknesses you are experiencing?
  • Weaknesses and Threats (WT) – How can you minimize your weaknesses and avoid threats?

The TOWS Matrix is a relatively simple tool for generating strategic options. By using it, you can look intelligently at how you can best take advantage of the opportunities open to you, at the same time that you minimize the impact of weaknesses and protect yourself against threats.

SWOT and TOWS analysis involve the same basic steps and likely produce similar results. The order in which managers think about strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities may, however, have an impact on the direction of the analysis. Michael Watkins of the “Harvard Business Review” says that focusing on threats and opportunities first helps lead to productive discussions about what is going on in the external environment rather than getting bogged down in abstract discussions about what an organization is good at or bad at.

Once you have completed a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats), the TOWS matrix puts the results of SWOT analysis into an action plan. SWOT systematically sorts out information and sets priorities. TOWS rearranges this information, provides a framework to identify possible strategic options to pursue, and creates inputs for strategic planning.

Used after detailed analysis of your threats, opportunities, strengths and weaknesses, it helps you consider how to use the external environment to your strategic advantage, and to identify some of the strategic options available to you.



When you have many factors to consider, it may be helpful to construct a matrix to match individual strengths and weaknesses to the individual opportunities and threats you’ve identified.

So next time you develop a marketing strategy give some thought to working with the SWOT/TOWS Matrix. SWOT analysis helps to sort out the important information systematically and to set out priorities. Strengths and weaknesses tell us where we are now, whereas opportunities and threats tell us where we want or do not want to be. Then the question, ‘What should we do to get there?’ arises and the TOWS analysis helps to find out the answer.



Back by popular demand , The Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing (CEPSM) returns with an exclusive one day workshop in Ottawa: Social Marketing Planning for Attitude and Behaviour Change

Date: February 26th, 2019

Location: 343 Preston Street, Ottawa, ON, Canada

Seminar Leader: Jim Mintz Managing Partner and Senior Consultant at the Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing  Read full bio

Register: http://bit.ly/2AgWGZx

Private Tailored Workshops

CEPSM’s private, tailored workshop option is well-suited for organizations with groups working on joint initiatives, issues and/or programs. This option allows for the provision of a customized training approach uniquely adapted to your organization’s needs. CEPSM can deliver the training at your location or at one of our facilities.

To learn more about our customized in-house training and private tailored workshops contact jimmintz@cepsm.ca or go to Easy Affordable Marketing Training for Public Sector & Non-Profit Organizations 



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