Last Updated on 22 May 2013

POINT: Paul Williams

As we were taught in our marketing and business classes, there are four basic stages of life for products, services, and companies.

I love the graph below – redrawn from the book Universal Principles of Design by Rockport Publishers.

For each stage in the cycle, the graph not only illustrates the traditional product sales curve, but also describes the audience you attract, your market size, sales volume, amount of competition, and strategic business focus.

What you’ll notice this chart lacks is timing. That’s because that can’t be predicted. Your cycle could last months (what we call a fad) or it could play out for decades.

While the picture is worth a thousand words, I’ll review for clarity…

Introduction – When you first launch (a company or a new product) product sales are at their lowest. Your audience consists of early adopters, your market is small, and sales are low. There is very little competition at this point. Your key business focus is building awareness.

Growth – Ah, things have picked up… Your audience is mainstream and your market is continuing to grow. Sales are high and you’re the competition has picked up the growth trend and is also getting into the game. Your business strategy now is to gain market share.

Maturity – The late adopters have finally hopped on board and you’ve got a large market. The sales climb is leveling off but the competition is high. With fewer new customers to attract, you goal is to keep the customers you’ve got.

Decline – The only new customers you’ve got are the laggards. The market is getting smaller (contracting) as some customers lose interest and drop off. You’re seeing moderate sales of those who have stuck with the product and who stick with you. Competition is only moderate. Once the wave of cash declines, so do the competitors looking to make a quick buck. The traditional strategy for this stage is transition.


My experience tells me brands go through three distinct marketing communication phases:

1. Awareness & Appreciation
2. Emotional Connection
3. Top-of-Mind Reminders

When you first introduce a new brand, marketing communications should focus on Awareness & Appreciation. Once the brand has established awareness and appreciation, it’s time to focus marketing activities on building an Emotional Connection between the brand and customers. The final phase is using marketing activities to keep the brand Top-of-Mind with customers.

1. Awareness & Appreciation
Using Starbucks as an example, when the brand was considered new and emerging the company focused its marketing efforts on educating customers about higher-quality coffee, dark roast flavor, and coffee drinks.

Because its product was familiar but different, Starbucks had to explain why Arabica beans were higher-quality then the Robusta beans found in nearly every home and restaurant in America. Starbucks also had to explain the basic coffee drinks (Latte, Cappuccino, and Mocha) to an unknowing American audience.

Starbucks used PR campaigns, print ads, in-store brochures, and in-store coffee tastings to increase awareness and appreciation for its unique point-of-view on how coffee should taste.

2. Emotional Connection
After the brand had established itself, Starbucks turned its marketing attention to building an emotional connection to the brand. Coffee is unlike any other beverage. It connects the morning to the night. And, it connects people with people. We begin our day waking up to coffee and we close our dinners sipping on coffee. Throughout the day we discuss life and business over coffee with people.

In the late 90s, Starbucks marketing communications made the transition from education to emotional connection. In-store posters began showing how people enjoy coffee. It’s limited advertising also showed how coffee makes one’s life more enjoyable.

3. Top-of-Mind Reminders
Starbucks is now at the point where everyone is aware of the brand and most everyone has had a cup of Starbucks coffee. The brand no longer needs to educate customers about the Starbucks difference. The brand doesn’t need to always reinforce the emotional connection aspect. Instead, the brand uses its marketing activities to remind people of Starbucks in order to keep the brand top-of-mind.