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The 5 stages of the product life cycle

Test your products before you bring them to market with SurveyMonkey concept testing.

Your marketing plan should include strategies to make the most out of each stage of your product life cycle. But before you can start formulating strategies, you need a clear understanding of the product life cycle stages, how to determine what stage your product is in, and how to use market research to inform your efforts throughout the life cycle. SurveyMonkey is here to help you with that.

What is a product life cycle?

The product life cycle is the progression of a product through 5 distinct stages—development, introduction, growth, maturity, and decline. The concept was developed by German economist Theodore Levitt, who published his Product Life Cycle model in the Harvard Business Review in 1965. We still use this model today.

Basically, the product life cycle is the time from the product concept through its eventual withdrawal from the market. The product life cycle is used for decision-making and strategy development throughout each stage.

Marketers use the product life cycle to customize messaging for each stage, using market research to guide their efforts. Managers use the product life cycle to make strategic decisions about pricing, expansion into new markets, packaging design, and more.

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Advantages of product life cycle management

There are many benefits to life cycle management. Your position in the cycle impacts everything from marketing strategy to profitability.

With product life cycle management, you can:

  • Make informed decisions based on the life cycle stage
  • Increase ROI on product launch
  • Increase company profitability
  • Proactively tweak your marketing messages to stay connected with targeted audiences
  • Maintain and improve product appeal, reputation, and customer loyalty

Those who don’t adequately manage a product life cycle will encounter consequences such as:

  • Failure of the product to meet its potential
  • Reduced shelf life
  • Excess inventory
  • Loss of profits
  • Early entry into the market decline stage

The 5 stages of the product life cycle

Market research plays an integral role in each stage of the product life cycle. Use the ultimate guide to market research developed by SurveyMonkey to help you understand how research is key in managing the life cycle of your product.

Every product spends a different amount of time in each stage—so there is no definitive timeline to reference. Each stage has its own costs, risks, and opportunities, and you’ll have to adapt your strategies depending on where you are in the life cycle. 

1. Market development

The first stage in the product life cycle is development. This is where your market research journey begins. Before your product hits the marketplace, you will be refining your concept, testing your product, and creating a launch strategy. Concept testing with real potential users is an important part of this step. With concept testing, you’ll know your target market’s reaction to your concept and make changes according to their feedback—before you’ve even begun to create.

During this initial phase, you’ll encounter a lot of costs without producing any income from this new product. You may be funding this stage yourself or you may be seeking investors. Either way, the risk is high and outside funding is often limited. Market development can encompass anything from a brief sketch to a prototype of your product. All you need is enough to show potential investors and customers. Validate your market potential early, so you can begin raising funds to launch.

2. Market introduction

When your product launches, you’ve entered the introduction stage of the life cycle. Your marketing team will be focused on building product awareness and reaching your target market. Typically, all content marketing and inbound marketing are based on promoting the product. 

Depending on the complexity of your product, the competition, how new and innovative it is, and other factors, you may spend more time than you expected at this stage. The good news is that if you’re marketing is successful, you’ll move on to the next stage of growth.

Reach out to our sales team to learn more about product optimization after your product has been introduced to the market.

3.  Market growth

At this point in the life cycle, consumers have embraced your product and are buying into your marketing. Demand and profits are growing, and the competition is looking to interrupt your success. 

Marketing in this stage moves from getting attention from consumers to establishing a brand presence. Show them why they should choose you over the competition. As your company grows, you may add new features to your product, beef up your support services, and open new distribution channels. All of these efforts will feature solidly in your marketing.

4.  Maturity

When sales begin to level off from rapid growth, you’re entering the maturity stage. You may have to reduce prices to stay competitive. 

Now, your marketing campaigns focus on differentiation instead of awareness, pointing out your superior product features. During this stage, production costs decline and sales are steady. It’s tempting to sit back and enjoy the steady sales, but you must make ongoing improvements to your product and let consumers know that it’s continuing to get better.

At this point, market saturation can occur. Competitors have begun taking a portion of the market. Although many consumers are using the product, there are too many competitors. The only way out of this dilemma is to focus on your strengths—differentiation, features, brand awareness, price, and customer service—to become the brand of choice. If not, you’ll enter decline.

Reach out to our sales team if your product maturity has led you to re-evaluate your pricing for price sensitivity and Van Westendorp research.

5.  Market decline

If your brand isn’t a marketplace favorite, you’ll start to experience the last stage. You’ll be facing more competition, and they’ll be taking a share of the market. Sales will typically decrease in the face of rising competition. 

Market decline may be related to:

  • Too much competition from products with similar features 

If you can’t differentiate your product, you won’t be able to stand out in the crowd. Think about how the arrival of Facebook as a social media app affected the downfall of MySpace.

  • Outdated or replaced product 

This may be the case if you have a product that has hit the limit of its ability and is just no longer marketable. For example, VHS tapes hit this point when DVDs came out, and DVDs are reaching this stage as more people choose streaming entertainment. Ultimately, it was a bad day for Blockbuster, which was the largest video store in the US.

  • Loss of customer interest

In 2000, Heinz, the maker of food condiments and sauces, introduced EZ Squirt colorful ketchup. Initially, it was a huge success, but the novelty wore off and the product failed.

  • Damaged brand image
  • McDonald’s fast-food restaurants took a blow to their supersize menu after a documentary about the chain’s food affects overall health.

When a company sees market decline, leadership may discontinue the product, sell the company, or innovate the existing product. In the meantime, your marketing may try to foster nostalgia or the superiority of your product to extend the life cycle. 

Companies that are seeking new ways to grow and move out of market decline may try:

  • Extending the product line like soda brands Coca-Cola or Pepsi adding cherry, vanilla, and other flavors. 
  • Repackaging the product as in the example of Listerine, which was formerly a surgical antiseptic. Listerine was then repackaged and rebranded to become a mouthwash that cures bad breath.
  • Trying new pricing strategies as Dollar Shave Club did. The company uses subscription pricing as well as pricing based on the number of blades in each razor.
  • Launching new versions of the product like Apple, which maintains the hype with every new iPhone release.
  • Moving into new product categories would mean moving back to the beginning of the product life cycle—and sometimes that’s what it takes to survive. Nintendo is a great example of this. They went from making video arcade games to video game systems for personal use.

Product life cycle examples

While all products go through the life cycle, some have already gone the entire cycle and fallen by the wayside. Here are a few examples of products that are either currently in their product life cycle or have been discontinued.

Typewriters

  • Christopher Latham Sholes of Milwaukee, WI, patented the first typewriter in 1868. It had been in development for nearly 300 years as inventors tried to perfect a design.
  • By the late 1800s, the introduction stage of the life cycle began when commercial typewriters were made available to the public.
  • Shortly thereafter, in the growth stage, typewriters were used in businesses, homes, and offices.
  • Typewriters lingered in the maturity phase until the 1980s when emerging technologies pushed them to decline. 
  • The typewriter market declined. Typewriters were, for the most part, discontinued in favor of computers, tablets, and smartphones. Most typewriters available today are novelty items and vintage collectibles.

VCRs

  • Believe it or not, VCRs were being developed in the 1950s as a mthod of watching VHS tapes from recorded TV. The first actual prototype was as big as a desk and cost nearly $50k in 1950, which translates to over $500,000 today. All that to record television shows to watch at a more convenient time.
  • In 1977, the first (small and affordable) VCR was introduced to the public for recording and playing back video on television screens.
  • From the late 70s to early 2000s, most homes had a VCR in them, along with a plethora of tapes. This was definitely a period of extreme growth.
  • As the VCR entered maturity, companies were searching for ways to reduce the cost and add features.
  • Technology led to the decline of the VCR, eventually giving way to the DVD and now streaming services.

Electric vehicles

  • Electric vehicles were first developed in the early 1800s. They fell out of favor because charging was an issue for the average consumer. Fast forward to today. Automakers, most notably Tesla, are shifting their focus to all-electric or hybrid technology.
  • They have been introduced to the market with a focus on innovation and eco-friendliness as their marketing messages.
  • Electric vehicles are currently in their growth stage as companies continue to improve the design and features of their offerings. The growth stage is extended because ongoing market innovation leads to improvements, and that, in turn, increases sales potential. For now, they are seeing continued growth and the maturity stage is nowhere in sight.

Artificial intelligence (AI)

  • AI was first conceptualized in the 1950s, but the cost was prohibitive for most companies. Development continued through the 1970s, with better, more affordable computers. One of the most notable proof of concept moments was in 1997 when world chess champion, Gary Kasparov, was defeated by IBM’s Deep Blue chess-playing computer program.
  • There are several types of AI products in the product life cycle. Because of the nature of AI, and the wide array of uses, it’s impossible to classify it into one part of the life cycle. Some products are in development, many are in the introduction stage, and products like Amazon’s Alexa are going through the growth stage. 

How to determine what stage your products are in

Every product moves through the stages at a different rate. There’s no hard and fast rule for how long a product will remain in any given stage—each one could be measured in days or years. Understanding the characteristics of each stage will help, and it’s often easier to look back and determine what stage you were just in to figure out what’s next. 

That understanding of what’s coming can set you up to make adjustments to extend the value of your product or delay it from moving into maturity or decline.

Use market research tools to analyze growth rate, sales trends, competition, and pricing to pinpoint your current stage. 

How to use the product life cycle

  1. Establish competitive authority

In the introduction stage, you’ll focus on positioning your product as the best, cheapest, most luxurious, or whatever benefit you’ve chosen as your focus, in the market. The strategy here is to make your product stand out from the competition and establish your brand as the expert in its industry. 

  1. Build pricing strategies

Your pricing strategies will change throughout the product life cycle. Introductory pricing is about positioning yourself against the competition. During growth, pricing can fluctuate depending on adding features and benefits, availability, and other factors. In maturity, competitive pricing may lead to decreases. And in decline, you’ll almost always see a decrease in price or a return to the introduction to start over again.

  1. Create a successful marketing strategy

Your product’s performance is directly related to how you market it. Each stage in the product life cycle offers opportunities to test and refine your marketing strategy. In the introduction stage, you’ll be exploring channels, testing ads, and working to connect with your target audience. The growth stage finds you using great content to connect on your chosen channels. In maturity, you may try different channels, new messaging, and other ways to delay the slip into decline.

Factors that affect the product life cycle

Internally, you can control your concept, positioning, and marketing efforts, but there are external factors that also influence your product’s life cycle.

Ease of entry

Are you entering a very competitive market? The competition can directly affect your product’s success. If small competition, low expenses, small market size, and other barriers to entry are low, your product’s life cycle may be shortened. If these factors are higher, your entry may be more difficult, but your lifecycle will probably be longer.

Advancements in tech

If your product is in an industry that has fast tech advancement, such as cell phones, tablets, or computers), your product’s lifecycle will probably be quite short. To stay relevant for as long as possible, you need to understand how fast tech evolves, what changes your target market is looking for, and when you need to make improvements to your product to remain competitive.

Rate of market acceptance

The rate at which consumers accept your product is another factor that influences life cycle. Look at life cycles of similar products to estimate what your acceptance rate might be. Market research will help you predict how quickly your product will be adopted and accepted.

Economic forces

The state of the economy can directly impact a product's life cycle. Let’s look at the pandemic. For the most part, people spent less or were more selective in their buying habits, extending new products’ introductory phase. A good economy can shorten the introductory phase and extend the growth phase due to increased spending. The effect of economic forces hinges on your product, target market, and industry.

Market research throughout the product life cycle

No matter what your product is, you’ll use market research throughout the life cycle to aid in the evaluation of your current market position and to aid in decision-making. Your research will increase your chances of success at every stage.

Market research to support market development

When your product is in development, your research is focused on the current market for your product, who will purchase it and why, whether the idea is viable, and what kind of competition exists. SurveyMonkey has solutions for each of these types of research:

  • Market sizing helps determine the market size for your product.
  • Competitive intelligence shows you who your competitors are and how they are marketing their products.
  • Consumer segmentation data assists you in personalizing your marketing and advertising.
  • Usage & Attitudes helps you understand the market and opportunities for growth.
  • Concept testing lets you put your product idea in front of real potential customers to find out if your product is viable.

Market research to support market introduction

During the market introduction phase of your product’s life cycle, you’ll need to find out what advertising messages resonate with your target audience, verify any claims that you’re making about your product, and feedback from initial customers. This research will help you adjust for entering the growth stage.

  • Messaging & claims testing measures the effectiveness of your message and verifies your product claims.
  • Ad testing analyzes digital ads, web pages, and more for effectiveness.
  • Customer feedback collects information from real potential customers about the need for your product or service.

Market research to support market growth

During growth, you’ll still be monitoring customer feedback, but you’ll also want to track your brand performance for awareness, competition, public perception, reputation, and more. This is also a good time to evaluate your packaging design to maximize your product’s appeal.

  • Brand tracking finds trends and follows metrics to give you insights into the public perception of your brand.
  • Package design testing provides feedback on your overall package design for optimal customer appeal.

Market research to support market maturity

Keep an eye on your brand, competitors, and trends to help you decide where to take your product next. Maybe your brand needs a refresh, introduction into a new market, or an extension of your product line.

  • Brand tracking helps you stay on top of your metrics to see how your brand is evolving and find trends you may want to incorporate into your marketing.
  • Competitive intelligence to stay on top of the pricing, marketing, and product improvements your competitors are implementing.

Market research to support market saturation

When your competition has grown so much that the market is saturated with products like yours, you can use our tools to help change your trajectory. Check out the size of the market, research consumers segmentation to add new markets, identify new features, and look for ways to innovate on a product level.

  • Market sizing will help you see if there is still a market for your particular product.
  • Consumer segmentation studies will show you if there are new groups who might be interested in your product.
  • Usage & attitudes data may suggest new features your customers would like or innovations you could make to your product.
  • Concept testing can help you hone in on innovations that will make  your product stand out.

Market research to support market decline

Find out why sales for your product are dropping. SurveyMonkey can help you see if your message is still resonating with your target market, whether your products claims can be backed up, if you need new advertising, or if customer feedback can pinpoint the reason for the decline.

  • Messaging & claims testing to see if your messaging and claims are still applicable and attractive to your target audience.
  • Ad testing to find the most effective way to appeal to your target audience.
  • Customer feedback to find out the perception of your product and inform any changes or updates.

Get started with product concept analysis

When you’re ready to embark on your product life cycle, start with our Product Concept Analysis to test your product concepts, features, and ideas. As you move through your product’s life cycle, our agile market research platform will help you make better strategic decisions and drive positive results.
Contact us today to find out more about our marketing solutions.