The Product Life Cycle: When Products Break Free!
What is a Product Life Cycle (PLC)?
We as human, have a life cycle which starts from our birth and follows various stages afterwards like: Childhood, Teenage, Maturity, Adulthood, Seniority and then we leave the earth.
Similarly, a product has also its life cycle, as described in the figure below:
Fig:1) A Typlical Product Life Cycle
The various stages in the Product Life Cycle are:
- Research & Development (R&D) Stage: Where the company invests a huge sum of money in the New Product Development (NPD) process, without any sales. Depending upon the market research and the strategy adopted, the company comes up with a product in the market at the end of this stage.
- Introduction Stage: The company introduces the product in the market using IMC (Integrated Marketing Commuincation) with a proper BPS (Brand Positioning Statement). The company reaches to its potential consumer with the PoD (Point of Difference) their product has over that of their competitors. The sales values remain low, but is expected to pick up in the next stage.
- Growth Stage: The company starts yielding results in this stage if everything goes as per plan. The major course corrections take place in this stage, depending upon the response of various Business (Revenue) Metrics. If the BPS resonates with the consumers, the Brand spreads like forset fire and if not, then company has to come up with the back-up plan to sustain the numbers. ‘Marketing’ as a concept is tested best on all the parameters in this stage.
- Maturity Stage: In this stage, the company keeps on building its sales values by leveraging maximum potential of the product’s value proposition. The major chunk of profit comes from this stage only. The company tries to build its newer consumer base who hasn’t yet tried their products. The saturated consumer base, is provided with better services and maintenance that also helps company in building its loyal consumer base. Brands are build or died in this stage.
- Decline Stage: In this stage, the market is either fully saturated to continue with the growing sales or the product has exhausted its value proposition. The product is not able to compete or sustain after a period of time from its maturity. This leads to continuous decline in its sales values.
Then, what can be an ideal PLC? There are two examples of PLC for a product given below. Choose, which one do you want?
Fig: 2) PLC Example-1 (A Short Maturity Phase!)
Fig: 3) PLC Example-2 (A Long Maturity Phase!)
Of course, the answer should be ‘Example-2’. The longer the maturity phase, the larger the profit share for the company will be.
And, this brings me to the next set of questions?
Is there any way the product never reaches the decline stage? Yes, there is!
Can the product Break Free the PLC after Maturity Stage? Yes, it can!
It is a concept called: Break Free from the Product Life Cycle, illustrated by Youngme Moon (Professor and Senior Associate Dean for strategy and innovation at Harvard Business School) in HBR (Harvard Business Review), May 2005 Issue.
There are three ways in which a product can break free from PLC after Maturity Stage and return back to the Growth Stage. Let me describe each of the three concepts one by one, with the help of a much simpler example of a Smartphone company called: ‘XYZ’ Pvt. Ltd & its competitor ‘IJK’ Pvt. Ltd. (Suppose, XYZ has Smartphones categorized in three brands called Brand-A, Brand-B and Brand-C.)
- Reverse Positioning (Fig: 4): Suppose Brand-A has BSP of providing a very long Battery time. But as soon as it reaches its maturity stage, the competitor ‘IJK’ has also started leveraging the value proposition of its products based on long battery time as well. ‘Long Battery Time’ has become new common. Now, no one wants to talk about it because there is no PoD.
- What ‘XYZ’ smartly does is, instead of talking about the long battery time, they start talking about better picture quality taken by camera. They tweak their BSP and reposition themselves in the market. The consumer suddenly finds the same product (Brand-A) with the new feature (specially focused on, by XYZ). This leads to the rebirth of Brand-A in the growth stage. This concept is known by the name of: ‘Reverse Positioning’.
Fig: 4) Reverse Positioning adopted by XYZ.
- Breakaway Positioning (Fig: 5): This looks similar to Reverse Positioning but it is an entirely different thing. Like in previous example, Brand-A phone was known for long battery time. The company doesn’t want to bring any change in its core competent feature of long battery time. What can the company do?
- What XYZ does is, they rebrand their product as Brand-B, with all features similar to Brand-A. They say, we have an electronic gadget on which you can watch 10 movies in one go, without charging the gadget. They don’t call it as a smart-phone, they call it a gadget. They smartly changed the category, product remained the same (Obvious, bit of tweaking), but sold with different branding.
- That’s how, with the help of Breakaway Positioning, a company can change its category of the product, keeping the product same and enjoys both the previous consumer base as well as newer consumer base. This leaves the competitors in a shell-shocked condition because now they have to also change everything!
Fig: 5) Breakaway Positioning adopted by XYZ.
- Stealth Positioning (Fig: 5): Suppose ‘XYZ’ launched Brand-C, and after some days of launch the sales value didn’t rise as expected to be, due to various factors. Might be, consumer didn’t love the brand, or the features the company thought would give them competitive edge didn’t resonate with the consumer, or already a saturated market was waiting etc.
- What XYZ does is they launch an App which can only be played using Brand-C Smartphone. Soon, the App picks up, starts trending, people start liking it. What this leads to is a sudden surge in Brand-C Sales numbers. XYZ with the help of the app stealthily positioned their Brand-C.
- This is a very risky strategy as it may backfire, if consumer gets to know the reason behind the placement of the app. But, still many companies reap several benefits carefully adopting this strategy.
Fig: 6) Stealth Positioning adopted by XYZ.
That’s how a product can break free its life cycle.
You can also read: Brand Advocate: This is ‘Best’ Brand, You ‘should’ buy it! [Part-1]