THE PRODUCT LIFE CYCLE
A product's life cycle (PLC) can be divided into several stages characterized by the revenue generated by the product. The life cycle concept may apply to a brand or to a category of product. Its duration may be as short as a few months for a fad item or a century or more for product categories such as the gasoline-powered automobile. Product development is the incubation stage of the product life cycle. There are no sales and the firm prepares to introduce the product. As the product progresses through its life cycle, changes in the marketing mix usually are required in order to adjust to the evolving challenges and opportunities. The four stages of product life cycle are:
Nonetheless, the product life cycle concept helps marketing managers to plan alternate marketing strategies to address the challenges that their products are likely to face. It also is useful for monitoring sales results over time and comparing them to those of products having a similar life cycle.
When the product is introduced, sales will be low until customers become aware of the product and its benefits. Some firms may announce their product before it is introduced, but such announcements also alert competitors and remove the element of surprise. Advertising costs typically are high during this stage in order to rapidly increase customer awareness of the product and to target the early adopters. During the introductory stage the firm is likely to incur additional costs associated with the initial distribution of the product. These higher costs coupled with a low sales volume usually make the introduction stage a period of negative profits. During the introduction stage, the primary goal is to establish a market and build primary demand for the product class. The following are some of the marketing mix implications of the introduction stage: •
Product - one or few products, relatively undifferentiated •
Price - Generally high, assuming a skim pricing strategy for a high profit margin as the early adopters buy the product and the firm seeks to recoup development costs quickly. In some cases a penetration pricing strategy is used and introductory prices are set low to gain market share rapidly. •
Distribution - Distribution is selective and scattered as the firm commences implementation of the distribution plan. •
Promotion - Promotion is aimed at building brand awareness. Samples or trial incentives may be directed toward early adopters. The introductory promotion also is intended to convince potential resellers to carry the product.
The growth stage is a period of rapid revenue growth. Sales increase as more customers become aware of the product and its benefits and additional market segments are targeted. Once the product has been proven a success and customers begin asking for it, sales will increase further as more retailers become interested in carrying it. The marketing team may expand the distribution at this point. When competitors enter the market, often during the later part of the growth stage, there may be price competition and/or increased promotional costs in order to convince consumers that the firm's product is better than that of the competition. During the growth stage, the goal is to gain consumer preference and increase sales. The marketing mix may be modified as follows: •
Product - New product features and packaging options; improvement of product quality. •
Price - Maintained at a high level if demand is high, or reduced to capture additional customers. •
Distribution - Distribution becomes more intensive. Trade discounts are minimal if resellers show a strong interest in the product. •
Promotion - Increased advertising to build brand preference.
The maturity stage is the most profitable. While sales continue to increase into this stage, they do so at a slower pace. Because...
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