Located in the lower-left corner of a terrain map, mercenary ground is described as specific and static. Mercenary Ground is the home of low or declining revenue growth (static), and commodity-like business models (specific) with minimal differentiation. Mercenary Ground characterizes a competitive environment that is lacking in sustainable qualities. Businesses and industries on mercenary ground are generally experiencing declining or negligible revenues, and substantial losses. Mercenary Ground characterizes a competitive environment of persistently low profitability and unsustainable opportunity.
Mercenary Ground is the short-term home to start-ups and the burial ground for dead and dying businesses. This quadrant is the beginning and the ending coordinate for most business formations. A start-up business begins here with zero revenue and profitability, and a dead business ends here with zero revenue and profitability. Start-ups either quickly accelerate out of the quadrant or die in it.
Maturing businesses are constantly pulled towards mercenary ground. Established businesses end up in this quadrant when growth stops, markets stagnate or decline, differentiation disappears, or when competitive survival stimulates dangerous strategies and tactics. Competitors facing a shrinking customer base, increasing costs, and decreasing prices are found in mercenary ground.
Competitors deep in mercenary ground are typically forced into a cycle of reducing expenses in order to cut prices. Extreme operational difficulties, such as mounting debt service, poor credit, and unresponsive capital markets cause competitors to resort to dangerous survival measures that may further hasten their demise. These measures focus on eliminating the very capabilities a competitor needs to weather mercenary ground, such as research & development, new product introductions, and advertising and promotion. It is a paradoxical environment in that in order to escape the terrain competitors frequently feel compelled to take actions that cause them to drift deeper into mercenary ground.
This is generically how mercenary ground is characterized. However, with respect to any given terrain map, the specific implications of its mercenary ground will depend on how the map is constructed and the continuums are calibrated. But in general, mercenary ground is an industry terrain competitors and industries will try to avoid.