Consumers buy thousands of different CPG products from hundreds of different brands yearly. Recently, consumer buying behavior in the CPG sector has broadened due to the increased availability and discoverability of new brands via e-commerce and social media.
This trend is compounded by the fact that Millennials now have more spending power than any other generation. Additionally, Millennials are the first digitally-native generation, and, because of that, 67% of them prefer to shop online rather than in store. Furthermore, a recent Daymon Worldwide global study showed that Millennials have the lowest brand loyalty of any generation.
This collection of statistics should be alarming to CPG brands, because they likely signal increasingly shortened product lifecycles in the future.
The Product Lifecycle
To review, the business concept of a product’s lifecycle explains how a product progresses through a sequence of stages from introduction to growth, maturity and decline. This sequence is associated with changes in the marketing situation, thus impacting the marketing strategy and the marketing mix.
Stage 1: Market Development
The market development stage is when a new product is first brought to market. Generally, demand must be created during this stage. The amount of time that it takes for a product to mature out of this stage depends on its complexity, its degree of newness, its fit into consumer needs, and the presence of competitive substitutes of one form or another.
The usual path of a successful new product is a gradual rise in its sales curve during the market development stage. At some point in this rise, an increase in consumer demand occurs, and sales take off.
Stage 2: Market Growth
The market growth stage is when potential competitors start to launch similar products. Usually, these new competitors either offer almost identical products or make functional and design improvements. Additionally, as the rate of consumer acceptance accelerates, it generally becomes increasingly easier to open new distribution channels and retail outlets.
Stage 3: Market Maturity
The major evidence of this stage in a product’s lifecycle is the apparent market saturation. This means that most consumers that are sales prospects own or use the product. Sales now grow very slowly, and there is little to no more distribution pipelines that need to be filled. Price competition now becomes intense. Competitive attempts to achieve and hold brand preference now involve making more differentiations in the product, price or both.
Stage 4: Market Decline
In the final stage of the product’s lifecycle, demand declines, and the overcapacity causes prices and margins to depress even lower. This is the preverbal graveyard for products. There are very few cases where there is any relief from this stage. The most common example is in “retro” fashion CPG or nostalgic CPG, where products are relaunched decades after their popularity.
How to Overcome Shorter Product Lifecycles
Continuous Product Improvements
Millennials are more conditioned to expect continuously improved products because of an affinity to their smartphones. Being the first digitally-native generation, Millennials live in a world with software and apps that are updated almost every day. Though that speed of improvement is unrealistic for CPG products, it does create an elevated level of expectation of the products bought today.
CPG brands can borrow Lean Startup principles from the technology industry and apply them to their own. One of the best Lean Startup principles that can be applied to the CPG industry is the “build-measure-learn feedback loop” concept. This concept is about creating a minimum viable product (MVP) that begins the process of learning from your potential customers as quickly as possible. Once the MVP is established, a CPG brand can start measuring and learning from actionable metrics that can demonstrate a cause-and-effect question. This feedback loop has become easier with the popularity of direct social media communication and e-commerce marketplaces like Amazon that share ample sales data and customer reviews.
A breakaway product is one that escapes its current category by deliberately associating with a different one. According to the Harvard Business Review, products communicate their category membership in many ways, including their design, distribution channels, promotions and pricing. Breakaway brands essentially stretch the boundaries and challenge the conventional patterns of consumption in the category by proposing new patterns to consumers that they would not normally apply in that specific context. To break the paradox of different, brands must become the exception in their category and not the rule.
An example of a recent breakaway brand is Warby Parker. Warby Parker not only completely changed the eyeglass distribution model, but it positioned its pricing in a way that allowed glasses to become a fashion item that you change frequently to update your look.
Take Inspiration From Fast Fashion
In recent years, fast fashion retail brands like Zara and ASOS are growing fast, compared to much of fashion retail industry that is struggling offline. In a world where every other consumer industry is moving to an on-demand model, fast fashion comes the closest to delivering against those new customer expectations.
Fast fashion brands have been inspired by the shortened “clockspeed” of other industries, like technology, and applied it to disrupt traditional fashion. “Clockspeed” is a term that describes the difference in pace between industries. Fast fashion works in weeks, while traditional fashion works in months. More than just lightning lead times, their entire business models are oriented around agility; they scan the market for new trends, and build, design and establish supply chain cycles that can respond rapidly.
Finally, fast fashion brands are vertically integrated to store-level ownership. Many CPG brands might not want to open physical locations, but they can take that lesson and apply it to focusing on their direct-to-consumer websites that can facilitate additional assortments and provide the ability to launch new products at a much faster pace than previously established sales channels.
Joshua Schall, MBA has an 11-year background in the emerging and intersecting CPG/FMCG categories of functional food and beverage and nutritional products.
He currently is the owner of J. Schall Consulting, an Austin, TX-based boutique management consulting company that focuses on digital growth strategies for CPG/FMCG brands that range from pre-launch to portfolio companies with $500M in yearly revenue.
Joshua enjoys an active healthy lifestyle but still finds himself spending way too much time scanning social media and digital grocery aisles for new consumable brands.