Everything has a life cycle. Be it bees, grass or even us humans, all living beings undergo a variety of ups and downs, an evolution, from our creation to our demise. And though their “life” is a bit different than ours as humans, the exact same thing can be said for products.
The life cycle of a product is not how long a single unit of said product could last. Rather, it’s the lifespan of the product in the market as a whole.
To put it another way, it’s not how long one pair of a specific basketball shoe can last before getting a hole in it and being thrown out. Instead, it’s the lifespan of that model of shoe in the culture. A single pair Jordan 1s, for example, with regular use would have been worn out just a couple years after their introduction. But the Jordan 1s, as a model, are still prized today because they are still alive in the culture and subsequently the market.
Management and marketing professionals use product life cycle stage as a factor in deciding when certain actions are appropriate (for example, when to increase advertising, redesign packaging, expand to new markets, raise or lower prices, etc.). These stages are as follows:
As the name implies, this stage of the product life cycle involves its introduction into the marketplace. In addition to this, however, everything that happens before the launch of a product — research and development, consumer testing, repackaging and marketing — also occurs in this first stage. Because of this, the introduction stage is often the most expensive stage of the cycle for a company launching a new product. Due to it being the product’s debut, this stage also experiences low demand and low sales.
Another stage whose name implies its meaning, the growth stage of the product life cycle is usually characterized by strong and increasing demand and sales. Because of this, the company is able to utilize economy scales of production, resulting in increased profit margins and subsequently higher profits overall.
The prime of its career, during the maturity stage the product is peaking. Demand is near or at as high as it’s ever been, as are the profit margins and profit. At this point, the product has been firmly established in the marketplace, and it is now the business’ responsibility to sustain this height as long as possible. This stage is also the point during which many product modifications and even improvements to the production process occur.
Like any star — be it on the basketball court, on the movie screen or otherwise — the product must decline at some point. This is signified by demand for the project shrinking. This shrinking of demand could be attributed to a number of things — the market becoming saturated, substitute products are on the rise, etc. While this stage is inevitable, however, it is not impossible for the company to continue making money from the declining product. A number of changes in the production process will necessarily have to occur, however.
Here are two examples of modern products and their four-stage life cycles.
When the Nook initially came out, it had a bit of a rocky start because the audience had to be built. Despite other tablets in existence, not everybody was ready to switch from reading physical books and otherwise to reading on a screen. Nevertheless, the audience steadily grew until the point that it reached maturity and everyone and their mom was either requesting or giving it as a gift. This heyday didn’t last long though. With the Nook’s unique ability rendered average in light of the increased functions of other devices — everyone’s smartphones, let alone their tablets, serving as substitute products that were able to do what a Nook could — it’s faded into obscurity. While it still exists, it’s definitely in the decline stage.
The Blackberry was a revolutionary product. Its keyboard, the ability to check emails and more sparked the blaze that other phones have since trailed and surpassed. It's unique in that, due to the innovative design at the time, the Blackberry had a very quick introduction and growth stage, and then an extremely long maturity stage. Eventually, however, the Blackberry failed to keep up with the innovations of Apple, Samsung and other smartphone manufacturers. As a result, though it is one of the more iconic phones in history, it is firmly in the decline stage — even nearly extinct at this point.
Like living, breathing things, products have life cycles. Further, the length of this life cycle depends on how it is continually stewarded. And like humans and the rest of nature, though they don’t breathe (yet), with the proper care, products can live a long and glorious life.
J.P. Pressley is a writer, entrepreneur, filmmaker, and an asthmatic former two-sport college athlete (basketball and track). Is he a jockey-nerd or a nerdy-jock? The world may never know. You can learn more about him at his personal website.