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Market Stages

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Your product is dying. With the same inevitability that we humans move
ever closer to death, so does every software application move towards its
eventual demise.

The difference is that we have become increasingly competent at caring
for ourselves and each other with the result that our chances of a longer
and fuller life continue to increase with time.We have learned to
recognise our own and each other's positions in the life cycle, and
become aware that we have the means and ability to provide the care and
environment necessary for our continued survival and prosperity. We
nurture and care for our small children, and accept and encourage their
ability to stand on their own two feet as part of their journey towards
the day they will become are fully self-supporting. In due course, they
will care for us when we become old, and in turn will one day be
supported by their own children.

And so to software. A product's life cycle is not much different from our
own, yet despite our ability to cater for our own changing needs, many of
us are quite oblivious to the needs of our products and software as time
goes on.The concept of the Product Life Cycle is a simple one, and allows
you to see where your product stands at any one time, and to assess what
circumstances lie ahead, by providing the information that you need in
order to react accordingly.In much the same way that we do not wait for a
child`s teenage years before starting their education, or for an older
person to become so frail that they are unable to care for themselves, we
should not wait for the negative points in a product's life cycle to be
so obvious that it is too late to respond effectively.

There are four stages in the Product Life Cycle each with their own
recognisable symptoms, threats and opportunities, all of which should be
addressed individually.

The Early Days
Firstly, the Introduction stage. When a new product is introduced to the
market, the initial impact is usually very slight, and spotting any
emerging patterns is often close to impossible. You're likely to enter
the market with only the barest of ripples, let alone a splash. There are
exceptions to this. Large advertising budgets, hype, pre-launch public
interest and new technologies may all increase the initial visibility of
a product's launch. Yet even a high-visibility campaign will take time
for customers to learn that a product is available, and time for a
significant demand to build up and become apparent. For most of us, even
with the most stringent of marketing budgets, viable profits at this
stage are unlikely, and the possibility of actual short-term loss a very
real one.

So how long should this stage last ? The answer is almost impossible to
estimate with any degree of accuracy, as there are so many variables
involved. So much depends on the market demand for the software, the
marketing budget, visibility and so on.The basic strategy at this stage
is simply to get the product "out there", and draw as much attention to
it as is possible.
Growing Up
Next in the product's life cycle is the Growth stage. If all goes
according to plan, this stage should be easy to recognise both in terms
of sales and profits. But the risk is that many companies will simply sit
back and enjoy the ride and the success. Absolutely not! The growth cycle
is the time to aggressively seek-out new opportunities, and to gain as
much of the market share as possible. Some fairly clear patterns should
start to emerge quite quickly at this stage, and it is usually obvious
what is working and what is wasting your time. Look for three factors.
The “successful” factors need to be looked at, studied and improved. If a
magazine editor gives you a glowing write-up, capitalise on this by
actively seek-out more magazines, more editors and more glowing write-

The "intermediate" factors are a little less obvious. Results in this
category tend to be steady and uninspiring, but can show potential for
improvement – only if you spot them. If for example you're getting a
significant amount of traffic from one or two of the search engines, then
people must be actively seeking what you sell. So get on more of the
search-engines, and spend some time on improving your position.

And finally, the "On the Way Out" factor, which is the easiest to spot,
yet also the easiest to ignore. You may like spending time on constantly
optimising and improving your website, but when you reach a certain
point, the amount of time required to do so outweighs the actual results.
Anything that you're doing that consumes time with nothing or little to
show for it should be avoided. Move on.

The Mature Product
The next point in the product's life cycle is the Maturity stage. The
euphoria of the growth stage slows down to a more steady and sedate pace,
which can often offer an abundance of opportunities, and can also pose
some potential threats. Your competition is likely to be at it's fiercest
during this stage, and the level and success of your marketing will
almost certainly prove to be a critical factor in your product's success.
The Maturity stage is quite similar to human adulthood. Massive growth is
unlikely, and as long as we accept our age and take care of ourselves, we
can reasonably look forward to a long and healthy future, both for us and
our products.

Increasing the market share during the Maturity stage is possible, but
will probably not prove to be very cost effective. Right now, the product
is more likely to be affected by trends in the market than at any other
time. Assuming that demand remains healthy, then marketing, promotion,
advertising and visibility are of the utmost importance in order to
maintain rather than increase. New packaging can help to rejuvenate a
product during the Maturity stage, as may new sales methods, or
aggressive competition either with the product's features or price.

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