What is PESTEL Analysis?
PESTEL analysis is defined as a business impact study that aims to understand the effects of 6 key external factors, which are politics, economics, social, technology, environmental and legal.
Initially designed in 1967 as a business planning tool, this method was then known as PEST, with environmental and legal factors joining the list as regulations and business environmental factors became larger business influences.
PESTEL analysis technique is a key tool for a company’s management team during enterprise strategic planning. When correctly done, this analysis technique can help anticipate future challenges and opportunities. This technique is especially helpful when formulating a strategic business plan that methodically takes both internal and external influences on the business into account.
Here are the key contributing factors that are analyzed in PESTEL:
- Political: This is by far the largest external factor affecting a business. This includes analysis of local, regional and national political landscape. Government policies directly affect the rate of business tax payable, employee laws, general state of law and order, business compliances and general ease of doing business. For example, if the rate of tax in one state is much higher than a relatively comparable state which charges businesses much lower taxes, then businesses may find it more prudent and competitive to move their business.
- Economic: Economic influences are macro-financial factors such as a state or national GDP growth, inflation or deflation rate, foreign currency debt, federal reserve interest rates and changes, and more. These factors play a key role in determining target markets to sell to and where to distribute the products or services. These economic factors may have varied effects depending on the type of business. For example, for a raw material miner, a rise in prices of the material will have a positive effect on the business, which is basically an inflationary environment. However, other businesses that purchase these raw materials to produce finished goods and products will face business challenges in absorbing these higher prices of production. Often it leads to a price hike of the final product itself which is then borne by the consumer, which may reduce demand for the product/ service.
- Social: While far less widely impactful than political or economic factors, social factors can sometimes lead to significant business effects. For example, the theme and visuals of a marketing campaign for a consumer-facing product would be very different in the middle-east region than that of American or European regions. However, if the product or service is technical and aimed at other businesses, then such a product may run the same campaign across regions with just the change in language. Companies catering to any consumer band will have to keep itself aware of the impact of social movements, cultural shifts and sensitivities, not just for customers but also employees. This is a key impact that factors into enterprise human resource planning, product planning and marketing content.
- Technological: Earlier referred to as simply technical, the technological factors today have a significant impact on any business. From agriculture to SaaS, technology continues to impact product/ service efficiency, disruptive innovations and internal HR management efficiency. A company that is able to study breakthroughs in tech and its impact on the future of its products, services and human resources, will also be able to better plan for business continuity and growth to beneficially leverage these changes rather than get caught off guard by them. For example, companies that already had a remote-work technology stack and policies incorporated into the work culture, managed to handle COVID lockdowns much better. This in turn also proved to be a strategic advantage over any competition which couldn’t service customers or acquire new ones due to lack of technology stack or delay in absorbing new tech and setting policies.
- Environmental: This new addition to the original PEST analysis was done when enterprises in the 21st century began to understand the real and measurable impact of environmental factors on their bottom line. Factors such as carbon tax, natural disasters, availability of water and natural resources and human migrations can have a significant impact especially on certain businesses and their future plans. Additionally, many businesses are placing increased awareness on carbon neutrality and ecological output. This can sometimes alter their manufacturing, distribution, or supply chain processes.
- Legal: These are external factors emerging out of political factors, but are focused on regulations related to labour hiring and firing, business conduct and operations, and taxation. A well known example would be the Euro region’s GDPR regulation, which impacted almost every business website on how they collect visitor data.
Key benefits of Applying PESTEL Analysis
Let’s dive into the enterprise benefits brought about by conclusions drawn using PESTEL analysis:
- Better threat anticipation and management
An enterprise who has planning for all the key 6 external factors highlighted in PESTEL, is in a position where they have a wider and more in-depth understanding of any threats emerging out of external factors. This helps businesses make plans for contingencies, to avoid the threat or to deal with it in the most prudent way possible.
- Increased chances for business continuity during disasters
Business disasters can be natural, political, geo-political or economical. Companies who are actively aware of these shifting landscapes have more capacity to absorb these challenges and ensure business continuity and perhaps even growth during such periods. A recent example would be sudden rise in Federal Reserve interest rates to tackle inflation in 2022 where many companies who had taken business loans based on floating interest rates (especially to stay afloat during COVID lockdowns) now found themselves paying 3-4 times in interest amount within just a year. This rate hike however was much discussed and anticipated and businesses that repaid or maintained sufficient cash margins accounting for anticipated rate hikes, have a much better chance of ensuring financial stability of the firm.
- Competitive tech-stack
PESTEL analysis included technology as a key factor which keeps the management team aware of the level of maturity of the company’s tech-stack vis-a-vis competition and what is available in the market. Consider this against a CTO trying to convince the board on tech investment without the right macro context.
A company’s management team may be composed of more experienced but demographically older members. A PESTEL analysis enables the management to keep themselves tech-savvy and aware of the latest technology and their benefits to enterprise growth. These tech investments may span across the organization-chart such as improving human resource management efficiency, better employee surveying for feedback, better quality customer data collection, better enterprise data management, planning product and service improvements/ innovations etc.
- New opportunities identification
External factors are not just threats and compliance, they can and often are filled with business opportunities to be explored. A change in the landscape can be an opportunity for the entity who is already prepared to take advantage. For example, while GDPR regulations lead to reduced volume of business enquiries from websites, they also improved the quality of these leads who were now more sales-ready. This was because visitors who gave their consent to be contacted by sales or cookie tracking for better product recommendations or receive newsletters on the product etc, were clearly more ready to make a purchase. Companies who invested more, not less, on website quality and better quality online resources post-GDPR, were able to leverage improved lead quality and therefore better sales opportunities in the European market.
- Focused strategic planning
A company’s strategic plan is the overarching business operations and growth plans that drive every other objective. PESTEL analysis is a primary tool for an enterprise’s management team seeking to create a realistic, achievable and competitive strategic plan that takes into account all external factors. While several other methods also take into account external opportunities and threats, it is only PESTEL that clearly breaks down for the management team the 6 factors that allows for a broad, yet in-depth analysis of external business influences.
Top 5 Best Practices for PESTEL Analysis in 2023
- Get the latest data
Every contributing factor in PESTEL analysis requires the management team to have access to facts and figures. For example, for economical factors, one needs inflation data, central bank interest rate charts, GDP trend etc. Often a small change in this core data collection can lead to significant changes in perception and reality.
For example, if the inflation rate threshold is 2% for the US Federal Reserve, and it changes to 3% in two or three consecutive quarters, it may trigger the Fed to hike rates to bring inflation down. However, if the company only had access to 1 year old data, then this event would not have been factored into the enterprise plan.
It is therefore critical to ensure that the latest released data across all PESTEL factors are accessed and taken into account for planning and analysis stages.
- Prioratize facts over forecasts
Since PESTEL is used for future enterprise strategic planning, by default there is some level of forecasting involved. However, the key is to ensure that facts are not stretched to fit a desirable narrative, especially when evaluating political and economic factors which are quite dynamic and hard to predict by nature.
- Get a second opinion
Whether the management team has hired a consultant, external agency or is conducting the analysis internally, it is always a best practice to get a second opinion before framing final conclusions from the report. This is because, while PESTEL relies on data, many factors have qualitative aspects that can always use a second perspective.
- Incorporate results in all levels enterprise of enterprise planning
The conclusions of the PESTEL analysis are usually directed towards strategic planning, and management needs to ensure that the conclusions are trickled down to all levels of company planning. For instance, decisions stemming out of online legal and compliance requirements need to be streamed down to the execution teams where marketing, web development and legal teams collaborate for accurate implementation.
- Use a visual software for presentation
Visual tools such as FrescoPad have in-built templates to brainstorm and visually present PESTEL analysis results. The technique of PESTEL analysis itself is a collaborative effort across department leaders in the management team spread across geographic locations and requires in-depth qualitative and quantitative discussions. These software help to make the analysis process interactive and makes it easier to save and share conclusions in a visual format.