Reading: Marketing through the Product Cycle

There are some common marketing considerations associated with each stage of the PLC. They cannot be used as a formula to guarantee success, but they can function as guidelines for thinking about budget, objectives, and potential opportunities and threats.

Keep in mind that we will discuss the new-product development process later in this module, so it is not covered here.

Market Introduction Stage

Think of the market introduction stage as the product launch. This phase of the PLC requires a significant marketing budget. The market is not aware of the product or its benefits. Usually a promotional budget is needed to create broad awareness and educate the market about the new product. Often a product launch includes a new Web site (or significant update to the existing site), a press release and press campaign, and a social media campaign.

There is also a need to invest in the development of the distribution channels. For a B2B product, this often requires training the sales force and developing sales tools and materials for direct sales. In a B2C market, it might include training and incentivizing retail partners.

Pricing strategies in the introduction phase are generally set fairly high, as there are fewer competitors in the market. This is often offset by early discounts and promotional pricing.

A bald man, whose entire head, face, and neck are covered in silver paint, wears a pair of Google Glass glasses and smiles.

Google Glass

It is worth noting that the launch will look different depending on how new the product is. If the product is a completely new innovation that the market has not seen before, then there is a need to both educate the market about the new offering and build awareness of it. When Google launched Google Glass—an optical head-mounted computer display in 2013—it had to not only get the word out about the product but help prospective buyers understand what it was and how it might be used. You can imagine that this was very different from the launch of Wheat Thins Spicy Buffalo crackers, which were an extension of an existing product line. The Google Glass situation was also different from the launch of Tesla’s home battery.  In that case Tesla was offering a new product line of home products from a company that had previously only offered automobiles. As you might expect, the greater the difference in new products from a company’s existing offerings, the greater the complexity and expense of the introduction stage.

One other consideration is the maturity of the product. Sometimes marketers will choose to be conservative during the marketing introduction stage when the product is not yet fully developed or proven, or when the distribution channels are not well established. This might mean introducing the product to only one segment of the market, doing less promotion, or limiting distribution. This approach allows for early customer feedback but reduces the risk of product issues during the launch.

While we often think of an introduction or launch as a single event, this phase can last several years. Generally a product moves out of the introduction stage when it begins to see rapid growth, though what counts as “rapid growth” varies significantly based on the product and the market.

Growth Stage

Once rapid growth begins, the product or industry has entered the growth stage. When a product category begins to demonstrate significant growth, the market usually responds: new competitors enter the market, and larger companies acquire high-growth companies and products.

These emerging competitive threats drive new marketing tactics. Marketers who have been seeking to build broad market awareness through the introduction phase must now differentiate their products from competitors, emphasizing unique features that appeal to target customers. Pricing also becomes more competitive and must be adjusted to align with the differentiation strategy.

Often in the growth phase the marketer must pay significant attention to distribution. With a growing number of customers seeking the product, more distribution channels are needed. Marketers will have to develop and support new distribution channels to meet demand. Through the growth phase, distribution partners will become more experienced selling the product and may require less support over time.

The primary challenges during the growth phase are to identify a differentiated position in the market that allows the product to capture a significant portion of the demand and to manage distribution to meet the demand.

Maturity Stage

When growth begins to plateau, the product has reached the maturity phase. In order to achieve strong business results through the maturity stage, the company must take advantage of economies of scale. This is usually a period in which marketers manage budget carefully, often redirecting resources toward products that are earlier in their life cycle.

As mentioned in the previous section, this late in the life cycle, promotional tactics and pricing discounts are likely to provide only short-term benefits. Changes to product have a better chance of yielding more sustained results.

In the maturity stage, marketers often focus on niche markets. Since there is no new growth, the emphasis shifts from drawing new customers to the market to capturing more of the existing market. The company may extend a product line, adding new models that have greater appeal to a smaller segment of the market.

Often, distribution partners will reduce their emphasis on mature products. A sales force will shift its focus to new products with more growth potential. A retailer will reallocate shelf space. When this happens the manufacturer may need to take on a stronger role in driving demand.

We have repeatedly seen this tactic in the soft drink industry. As the market has matured, the number of different flavors of large brands like Coke and Pepsi has grown significantly. We will look at other product tactics to extend the growth phase and manage the maturity phase in the next section.

Decline Stage

Once a product or industry has entered decline, the focus shifts almost entirely to eliminating costs. For goods, distributors will seek to eliminate inventory by cutting prices. For services, companies will reallocate staff to ensure that delivery costs are in check. Where possible, companies may initiate a planned obsolescence process. Commonly technology companies will announce to customers that they will not continue to support a product after a set obsolescence date. Marketers will manage communications with customers to transition customers to newer products that are earlier in the product life cycle and have more favorable economics.