We talk a lot about the customer life cycle, but let’s not forget another critical cycle that’s key for strategizing your marketing plan: the product life cycle.

When preparing for a new product launch and devising how you’re going to build and maintain momentum, it’s crucial that you understand the full product life cycle. Doing so ensures that you set yourself up for success. It’s also a helpful exercise in better grasping the developmental stages that dictate how you should be phrasing your marketing copy.

Below, we’ll cover the basics of a standard product life cycle, including the six stages that every marketer should know about.

What Is The Product Life Cycle?

The product life cycle features unique steps with unique opportunities for storytelling and brand growth. All products follow a life cycle, and all steps within this life cycle offer you a chance to optimize your message and facilitate more interest.

An excellent way to understand the importance of the product life cycle for marketing purposes is to look at times when it wasn’t capitalized on. For example, look at Blockbuster. Netflix, Redbox, and the rise of streaming content were the death knell for this ubiquitous brand; despite the fact that before the introduction of these other companies, it was a total market mainstay. Instead of adapting their marketing — and their inventory — to align with their product life cycle, Blockbuster stayed steadfast in their message and purpose — and lost their foothold in the process.

We’re not all Blockbuster, and we’re not all peddling in products that are becoming obsolete. Regardless of your product and your industry, it’s incredibly important to understand the cycles that products take, from their peak popularity to their inevitable decline.

The Six Stages of a Product Life Cycle

Now we can get to the good stuff, namely the life cycle stages themselves. 

Stage 1: Development

This is the stage when an idea turns into action. There’s not any outbound marketing to be done since the product is not complete. However, what you can and should be doing, is focusing a lot of your time on market research. Development should be all about defining and distilling the audience for your product as well as you can so that when it does launch, you can hit the ground running. 

Don’t be afraid to put a lot of time and effort into this stage. The more you take your time and truly understand your audience and the need your product meets, the stronger your product will be. 

Stage 2: Introduction

This is a major moment for your company and your marketing team, with a surge of initial promotion that could make or break the success of the product’s performance.

Are you up against a lot of competition, or are you bringing something totally novel to the stage? Is your product designed for a wide audience group, or do you have a very specific subset of potential customers to target? However the chips fall, maximize marketing potential as much as you can, utilizing all of the channels at your disposal to introduce your product to the world.

Map out your promotional plan of attack, so you’re clear what channels you’ll be using and how. Consider your content marketing strategy, and what pieces of new content you want to create to promote your product. Weave those pieces into your editorial calendar so you can be as prepared as possible. 

Here are some promotional channels and tactics to consider:

Stage 3: Growth

Your product is taking off, and that’s great news. To keep the momentum going, utilize all channels to facilitate growth and broaden your pool of prospects. This includes social media, reviews and roundups, blog posts, newsletters, and standard print and digital advertising. The more people you can reach, the more growth potential you have.

It’s also important that you listen to the feedback you’re receiving from your customers and users at this stage. When people begin using a new product, they can sometimes pick up on issues or inefficiencies that the product creators missed. If negative feedback goes unresolved, it could drastically affect the trajectory of your product’s life cycle. Make sure you provide customer surveys and ask your customer-facing teams what people are saying about the product. 

Stage 4: Maturity

Your product will spend a lot of time in this stage, which is when it hits its peak and is just riding the wave. You’ve still got to keep the momentum going though, even if you’re not quite as aggressive in your marketing efforts as you were before. Look carefully at the data you’ve gathered around performance and reviews to dictate your strategy here, since ignoring these key data points could lead to a shorter, less profitable maturity stage.

While it’s fine to ride the wave of success for a bit, you also want to make sure you don’t become too complacent. Think ahead and about your product’s lasting power. Anticipate the market and how it may evolve, and ultimately, how that may affect and shape your product. 

Stage 5: Saturation

Competition is all part of the game. In this stage of the product life cycle, you’re up against other, newer, cheaper options pulling your prospect’s attention in other places. How you respond will make a big difference. Think innovation: mixing up a product feature and/or how you market your product can create a ripple of interest and keep your prospects’ interest.

You must maintain some sort of competitive advantage to keep your product desirable and offer value to your customers. This should always be top of mind with your marketing team; otherwise, you risk product decline.

Stage 6: Decline

Even the best waves don’t last forever. The decline in the product life cycle refers to when interest wanes and sales start to falter. Your job here is to come up with ways to stay relevant. Sometimes this means a brand new marketing campaign that puts a fresh light on your product. Other times it means pulling the product entirely and accepting the loss. Whatever you do, do it with purpose and ensure there’s a clear end goal in mind beyond just dragging the product out as long as you can.

How you tackle the life cycle and how well you tap into the market and your audiences’ needs greatly determine the success and lasting power of your product. Never get complacent. Instead, foster innovation and continue to entertain ideas for improvement. Oh, and whatever you do, don’t be Blockbuster.