Underpinning the pattern of sales in the product life cycle is how consumers adopt new products. Not all new products are successful, indeed, most new products will fail. For example, even Apple has its fair share of failed products.
As we know, the product life cycle moves through four distinct phases of introduction, growth, maturity and then finally decline. What is driving the pattern of sales through its shape and change is primarily the number of consumers that are active purchases in the marketplace.
When a brand new product comes to market, it has no customers. Obviously, it has been designed and launched with the intention of generating customers (or selling to existing customers of the brand), but initially nobody has actually bought the product. In terms of the product life cycle, what the marketer is seeking to do is to dramatically change the purchase behavior of consumers. Typically, the market is purchasing an alternative/substitute product, and the marketer is seeking to change that behavior.
Ideally, we are looking for the consumer to “adopt” a new product. That means that the consumer sees the new product as something of value and some think that they will purchase on an ongoing basis. However, we need to transform the consumer’s thinking over time to achieve this goal.
The product adoption process, in most marketing textbooks, follows five distinct steps or stages, namely:
Awareness is a simple understanding of the product. It’s when the consumer has heard of it and has a general understanding of the product (that is, basic positioning). For large brands, generating awareness by bringing out a new style of product under an existing brand is generally quite easy, but carries the risk of contamination if the new product is ineffective and performs poorly in the marketplace.
For smaller firms/brands, generating awareness of the new product is often a challenge. You have possibly watched various reality shows where inventors pitch the new products seeking investment from wealthy people – such as Shark Tank. As you will see from these TV shows, there are plenty of people out there with new product ideas that they are trying to generate awareness and interest in it and hopefully make a profit in the longer-term.
Interest is a progression from simple awareness. It is when the consumer generates some form of curiosity about the new product and considers that it may be a possible suitable solution down the track for them. As a consequence of this slight shift in thinking, the potential buyer becomes more receptive to information and communications about the product and may even conduct some form of basic research and information gathering, such as word-of-mouth discussions.
Evaluation is a natural progression beyond interest, where the potential consumer has gathered basic information about the new product and how it works and what it does and why it is better/different from existing product offerings and solutions. In the evaluation stage there is more critical consideration of whether this is a suitable product for the consumer. At this stage the consumer will decide whether or not they are likely to be a purchaser of the product in the short-term. They do this by considering the potential value (that is, benefits less costs) of the product them, as well as considering it against alternate substitute product alternatives.
The next step is a trial purchase (or a demonstration or other product usage where possible). If it is a relatively low-cost product, then the consumer may purchase it to “see how it goes” If it is a higher cost product, the consumer may try to have the product demonstrated or view it in store or engage with it in some other manner (such as, through friends or reviews).
The trial is the consumer’s first real interaction with the product. This direct product experience will either directly reinforce their views from their evaluation or will change their thinking. Therefore, like all purchases by consumers, the first initial purchase is significant as it drives/determines their level of customer satisfaction, resulting in a significant impact on long-term purchasing behavior.
Assuming that the trial purchase/interaction was positive for the consumer, then the final stage of the product adoption process is the actual adoption. This is where the consumer sees the product as a viable solution and they became a regular purchaser of this style of product.
Keep in mind that product adoption process is across all firms/brands – not just individual brands, as we are considering the overall product category. As an example, a consumer may buy an electric car, where this consumer has moved through the adoption process primarily due to the offerings of multiple competitors in that market – so they are impacted by overall offerings rather than one particular player.
Consumer adoption categories