Product Life Cycle
What is a Product Life Cycle?
A product life cycle is the timeline of a product in the market. From the moment it’s introduced to the market to when it’s eventually no longer available, a product goes through a few different phases.
Generally, there are four main stages that a product goes through: introduction, growth, maturity, and decline. Some marketers might argue that there are additional stages, such as development or market saturation, but these elements can be incorporated into the four main ones.
The benefit of understanding how a product life cycle works, when it comes to starting a business as a small business owner, is that it becomes easier to make important decisions and build strategies depending on where a product is on its life cycle in the market. For example, a brand’s focus might be solely on brand awareness in the introduction phase, but then shift in the growth phase to expand its offerings.
Ever wonder how a product went from an idea to something physical that can be purchased online or on shelves? Products have a life cycle of their own, and it’s important to understand the different stages they go through in order to properly strategize and market them in each stage of their lifetime.
Strategizing how to market a product takes some careful thought and consideration. For example, a business should consider creating a website and use it to promote their product, especially in its introduction and growth phase.
Here, we’ll go over exactly what a product life cycle is, the different stages products go through, and provide some examples of products and brands that have gone through their entire life cycle.
The four stages of Product Life Cycle
Product life cycles begin to make more sense once it’s broken down into different phases. From start to finish, these are the four stages products go through and some suggestions of different marketing strategies to use in each one.
Of course, a product goes through development before it’s introduced to the market. The development stage itself is full of different phases, especially for those who are starting a business from scratch. In development, brands would need to create a business plan, test, and conduct market research. However, in the introduction phase, a product is made available to everyone for the first time, meaning marketing efforts will be at their peak.
The goal of marketing in this stage is to create as much brand awareness as possible. This won’t translate to a high number of sales right away, but that’s not expected in the introduction phase. Instead, the focus is on reaching new customers and slowly increasing demand. In this stage, marketing teams should aim to grow their campaign on different platforms to reach different audiences, educate them on the product, and gauge customers’ feedback through tools like surveys or social listening.
This is when demand for a product begins to grow. Consumers are more familiar with the brand now that its reputation is more established, and the market expands to make room for the product. This might also mean that competitors are taking notes and releasing their own version of the initial product, so it might also make sense to tweak it to make different versions and increase your line of offerings.
To market a product in the growth stage, it’s time to shift from brand awareness to brand presence with the goal of increasing market share. Make sure the brand is highly visible and always at the forefront of customers’ minds in order to beat out the competition. This might look like establishing more of an online presence through content marketing or seeking out new distribution channels.
Typically, things begin to slow down in the maturity stage. That doesn’t mean that sales start to get lower, rather the opposite. As the market is saturated with the product, sales are at their peak, but they usually stabilize and sales don’t grow at the rate they used to. In order to remain competitive, some brands will begin to decrease their prices to drive more sales. The maturity stage is a good time to focus on innovating the current product or considering new ones to either extend the product life cycle or begin from scratch.
From a marketing perspective, it might seem like all bases have already been covered if audiences are already so familiar with the product and are buying it regularly. However, now is the time to strengthen the brand by positioning it as a leader among the competition. Instead of focusing solely on selling a brand or product, try and enhance other aspects of the company, such as its customer service, to continue attracting customers.
All good things come to an end. In this stage, companies can expect to see a decline in sales, which is inevitable for almost any product. The demand will decrease along with efforts from competitors. This doesn’t mean that the product was a failure, but rather that it’s gone through the whole product life cycle and consumers may no longer have a need for it. Of course, many companies try their best to extend the maturity phase to stay relevant for as long as possible. For example, the Coca-Cola brand went through the initial product life cycle phases but continues to market its product and saturate the market.
When it comes to marketing the decline phase, companies will often try extending the product’s life cycle by launching new ad campaigns, adding new features to a product to make it relevant again, testing out new markets, or even rebranding with the intention of relaunching. Experienced companies will be able to launch new, adapted, or similar products once a product reaches its decline in order to start the cycle anew and continue having its brand’s name out there.
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Examples of Product Life Cycle
There’s no strict timeline for a product’s life cycle as it’s highly dependent on the product itself, the success of the brand, and the company behind it. A life cycle might last from a few months to a year or even several decades. The demand of the times also plays a part in a product’s life cycle as technology evolves and audiences always look for the most cutting-edge item. To illustrate what this looks like in reality, take a look at these examples of products and brands that have gone through the entire product life cycle.
The typewriter was introduced to the general population in the late 1800s and quickly became a staple item in many businesses and households. For decades, the typewriter was in its maturity phase and was being used as the go-to writing tool, seeing total saturation in the market since there was virtually no competition for other writing products. However, in the 1990s, when computers came into the picture, the typewriter soon saw its decline phase. These days, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone using a typewriter for any reason other than nostalgia’s sake since new technologies took over the market.
VCR and DVD
VCR players went through a similar product life cycle to the typewriter, however, were around for a shorter period of time since technology began to advance at a much faster rate. VCR players came out in the late 1950s and became the de-facto way for people to watch films in their homes. For decades, everyone relied on VCR players to play video cassettes, again, with next to no competition for other items. However, in the early 2000s, DVD players and discs began to quickly outpace VCRs until they were virtually phased out. Not too long after, DVD players too became mostly obsolete as people began to rely on online streaming services like Netflix and Amazon for viewing movies and TV shows.
Product life cycles can also sometimes be applied to brands as a whole, as it happened with Border’s. What began as a single bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1971 eventually turned into a chain with hundreds of bookstores across the US. It became one of the main places for people to browse and purchase books and quickly reached market saturation. However, with the rise of Amazon and other online retailers, Border’s and other bookstores couldn’t survive the transition. Sales eventually declined dramatically and Border’s was forced to file for bankruptcy and shutter all its stores in 2011.
Products also don’t need to be physical in order to go through a product life cycle. Technologies like software and apps experience the same series of phases, too. Vine was an app released in 2012 where users shared short videos and memes. The app saw huge growth relatively quickly and soon began competing with similar content-sharing apps like Instagram. However, like many apps, its popularity rose and fell very quickly as it couldn’t compete with bigger platforms like YouTube and Instagram. Furthermore, just a few years after its launch, competing apps like Musica.ly and Tik Tok began to outpace Vine and the brand saw a quick decline.