When I took my first agency internship as a fledgling marketer in 2016, no one ever sat me down and gave me a proper introduction to product lifecycle marketing. In fact, for the first 4 years of my career, I don’t recall a single mention of the product lifecycle anywhere in any campaign I worked on. Yet if you were to ask the product managers I work with today (most of whom have zero marketing experience) about the product lifecycle, they’d speak to you in the language of marketing—awareness, personas, pain points, growth, differentiation… concepts that most ad students learn in their first 3 months, but never in the context of a product’s stage of maturity.
It’s possible that I’m an outlier, but I think it’s more likely that plenty of well-meaning marketers are being turned loose on product marketing teams and campaigns without a solid grasp of how the role of marketing changes over the product lifecycle. So you and I are going to spend a little time together covering what I wish I’d learned about product marketing years ago—and what the people on your own marketing team might still not know.
First, What is the Product Lifecycle?
Products, like people, are born and perish in a predictable cycle.
- The introduction stage is a product’s infancy. The only people who know about the product at this stage are the people closest to it—the startup founders, maybe the folks who kicked a few bucks into the crowdfunding campaign, or possibly a VC or angel investor that saw convincing evidence that the product will succeed. At this stage, the product’s stakeholders want to shout from the rooftops about their new arrival—because it takes a village to get to the next stage.
- The growth stage is when a product grows into a scrappy tween. As more and more users interact with it, it goes through myriad changes as the product team adds, removes, and changes features according to the preferences of the user base. Ultimately, however, the focus of this stage is to acquire and retain as many users as possible. This stage is difficult to move past, as the product must prove itself to not just be useful in theory, but actually useful to the extent that large volumes of users are “adopting,” or integrating it, into their daily lives.
- The maturity stage is a product’s adulthood. Remember being a teenager and thinking all life’s problems would resolve once you grew up? Yeah. Now the product is constantly in competition with both older, more established products and newer, shinier products in the category. There are investors to please, possibly shareholders, dependents working for the company, and a ton of pressure to remain relevant to the target market.
- The decline stage is the last leg of the lifecycle, when the product “rides off into the sunset.” At this stage, the brand is faced with a few possible outcomes and has to weigh the benefits of each. Will the product be discontinued? Perhaps it will live on life support with a dedicated niche customer base? Or, will the company surprise everyone and reinvent the product, beginning the cycle again?
What is Product Lifecycle Marketing?
Product lifecycle marketing is an approach that ensures you're not just rolling with the punches, but anticipating them. It's about attuning your marketing strategy to the rhythms of your product's lifecycle, shaping your narrative from the development stage through the full spectrum of product life cycle stages.
What is the Role of Marketing in Product Lifecycle Management?
Marketing plays a starring role in product life cycle management. Marketing informs strategy at every stage of the product's life, shaping not only how the product is perceived but also how it evolves.
In the introduction stage, marketing creates product awareness and interest through targeted campaigns. With engaging content and tailored messaging, the goal is to intrigue and educate potential customers, setting the stage for the growth phase.
As the product moves into the growth stage, marketing efforts shift towards capitalizing on the product's momentum. This stage sees an expansion of distribution channels, aggressive promotional efforts, and a push to increase market share.
When the product reaches the maturity stage, the marketing focus is on differentiating the product from competitors and finding new applications or markets. This can involve adjusting the pricing strategy, highlighting unique product features, or targeting new customer segments.
In the decline stage, marketing's role is to make strategic decisions about the product's future. That might involve delivering appropriate messaging about the product’s future state to the product’s remaining customers, directing their awareness to alternative products in the catalog, and finding other ways to offset sunk costs associated with the declining product.
With that overview in mind, let’s take a closer look at the role marketing teams play at each stage of the product life cycle.
1. The Introduction Stage
Signs You're in the Introduction Stage
Just launched a new product? This is where the rubber meets the road. If your product sales are just starting to pick up and awareness about your product is growing, you're most likely in the introduction stage of the product life cycle.
Tasks for the Marketing Team During the Introduction Stage
Let's take a page out of Theodore Levitt's book: successful products don't just push features, they address real customer needs. This phase demands laser-focused market research on your early adopters, refining your pricing strategy, and assessing the target market's reaction to your product's price point.
Questions to Ask At This Stage
In this stage, you should be wrestling with questions like:
- Who is this product for?
- What pain points does it respond to?
- How large is the market for this product?
- Who are our competitors?
- What kinds of campaigns and product marketing software can we use to amplify the success of our product launch and drive rapid growth?
- What sets our product apart from the competition?
- How does our product pricing compare with similar products on the market?
- Which non-competitive products share our target market?
Your answers here will shape your marketing strategy and help build a solid foundation for your product.
Signs You’re Headed to the Growth Stage
Buckle up, because as your brand preference increases and sales volume ticks up, your product is ready to transition from the introduction phase into the growth phase.
2. The Growth Stage
How to Identify if You’re in the Growth Stage
Experiencing a surge in sales volume? Rapid market growth? A consistent uptick in product sales? Welcome to the growth stage, a thrilling ride reminiscent of Apple's early iPhone days.
Tasks for the Marketing Team During the Growth Stage
This phase is about amplifying your success. Your research should aim at maximizing market share and investigating new markets. Successful growth marketing hinges on your org’s ability to analyze what works in your marketing campaigns and how your audience responds to different content and messaging types.
Questions to Ask At This Stage
Now, you should be asking:
- How can we leverage our success to penetrate the market further?
- Do we need to adjust our messaging to improve our position in the market?
- What knowledge are prospects and new customers missing that is keeping them from becoming adopters?
- How can we work with the product team to create marketing pushes around major feature releases and updates?
- What kinds of assets and collateral need to be created in order to support the sales and customer success teams?
Your answers here will help maintain momentum and extend the product's lifespan.
Signs You’re Hitting the Maturity Stage
When sales growth starts to plateau thanks to market saturation, it's time to gear up for the maturity stage.
3. The Maturity Stage
How to Identify if You’re in the Maturity Stage
At this stage, your product is recognized, and sales are stable even though market growth has slowed. This stability is the hallmark of the maturity stage.
Tasks for the Marketing Team During the Maturity Stage
This is the moment to focus on product differentiation and responding to the competitive environment.
Questions to Ask At This Stage
Consider questions like:
- How can we differentiate from the competitors?
- Can we cater to untapped audience segments?
- Who are our most profitable customers?
- How can we leverage our maturity to build brand trust and thought-leader authority?
Your aim in this phase is to extend the maturity stage while maximizing profit margins.
Signs You’re Hitting the Decline Stage
When sales begin to dwindle and profit margins shrink, you're on the cusp of the twilight of your product: the decline stage.
4. The Decline Stage
How to Identify if You’re in the Decline Stage
Ultimately, despite your best marketing efforts, sales begin to slide without recovering. This decline could be gradual or steep, but it's an inevitable part of the cycle.
Marketing Tasks During the Decline Stage
In this stage, strategic decision-making is paramount. You might need to uncover niche markets that still value your product, cut production costs, lower prices, explore new markets, or even plan for the product's eventual discontinuation. Use marketing channels like social media to engage with your target audience and explore potential new applications for your product.
4 Examples of Product Life Cycle Marketing
Now let's bring the theory to life with five real-world examples of product lifecycle marketing in action, featuring renowned brands such as Apple, Coca-Cola, Kodak, Netflix, and Fitbit.
- Apple's iPhone - Growth Stage: Apple masterfully navigates the growth stage with each iPhone iteration. Through marketing efforts that generate buzz, they continually spark product awareness and demand, positioning the iPhone as a must-have gadget. Apple’s product development includes new features in each model, driving sales and growth. Their pricing strategy ensures premium positioning, appealing to the target market ready to pay for cutting-edge tech.
- Coca-Cola - Maturity Stage: Coca-Cola's marketing strategy exemplifies how to thrive in the maturity phase. Through memorable marketing campaigns and brand preference among a broad demographic, Coca-Cola maintains a massive market share. Even in market saturation, Coca-Cola finds new markets, develops new flavors, and maintains a robust distribution channel, extending its maturity phase considerably.
- Kodak Film - Decline Stage: Once a household name, Kodak film faced the decline phase with the digital photography revolution. Kodak's decline stage is a sobering reminder that even giants can fall if they fail to adapt to technological changes and shifting consumer trends.
- Fitbit - Different Stages in Different Markets: Fitbit offers an interesting case of a product in different life cycle stages in various markets. In saturated markets like the US, Fitbit is in the maturity or even the decline stage. In contrast, in emerging markets where wearables are just catching on, Fitbit is still in the growth stage. This highlights how geographic segmentation can impact a product’s life cycle stage.
By understanding the demands of each stage and adapting your strategies accordingly, you'll be ready for whatever twists and turns the narrative takes. Who knows? With agility, insight, and a little bit of courage, your product could be the next game-changer.
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