Part 3 of 4 Product Maturity: An Anthropologist’s Guide

Jul 10, 2023 | Marketing, Product Anthropology, Product Management

Part 3 Product Maturity: An Anthropologist’s Guide

Of 4 Part Series: Product Life Cycle Mastery: Through An Anthropological Lens

In the dynamic world of product development, understanding the life cycle of a product is vital.  This journey from introduction to maturity and eventual decline dictates many challenges and opportunities businesses encounter.  Yet, as products mature and markets become saturated, maintaining momentum becomes a daunting task.  It is often during these times that there is a cultural shift afoot. At this juncture, the discipline of product anthropology can offer rich insights and practical strategies to navigate these tricky waters.

Product anthropology, at its core, is a discipline that studies the relationship between human behavior and product use.  It aims to understand how people interact with products and how these products fit into their lives.  In doing so, product anthropology uncovers deeper insights that can help companies enhance product design, customer engagement, and overall marketing strategy.  This practice proves especially critical during the mature and saturated stages of the product life cycle when competition is fierce and differentiation is key.

The maturity stage of the product life cycle presents both significant challenges and opportunities.  While businesses benefit from established markets and steady sales, they simultaneously face growth limitations as market saturation sets in.  This stage often results in a tussle for market share, with competitors vying for the same customer base.  However, the heterogeneity within mature markets provides unique opportunities for strategic positioning and customer engagement.

Take, for instance, the experience of Slack and Zoom, both in the maturity stage.  Despite stiff competition and market constraints, these companies have successfully navigated the mature market through product development, market development, and diversification strategies.  Zoom, for example, has expanded its product suite to include new features such as webinar capabilities and a video events marketplace called OnZoom.  Similarly, Slack has forged strategic partnerships to diversify and strengthen its position in the corporate sector.

In the face of such challenges and opportunities, the role of a product anthropologist becomes crucial.  By leveraging the cultural nuances and behavioral patterns of the target market, product anthropologists can help companies develop targeted strategies, cater to evolving customer needs, and ultimately drive sustained growth in mature markets.  As the market becomes increasingly competitive, the insights garnered from product anthropology will undoubtedly become an indispensable competitive tool in the business arsenal.

In subsequent sections of this article, we will delve deeper into the role of product anthropology in refining marketing strategies, enhancing customer engagement, and adapting to evolving market needs in mature and saturated markets.

Refining Marketing Strategies 

In mature markets, the traditional focus on brand awareness must pivot towards brand differentiation, highlighting unique value propositions and tailored solutions that set a product apart from a growing pack of competitors.

The practice of product anthropology delves into the subconscious drivers of consumer behavior, bringing to light the deeper, less obvious aspects that shape buying decisions.  Companies like eBay and Hewlett Packard, who have embraced this approach by hiring in-house anthropologists, leverage this expertise to develop emotionally resonant communication strategies, build stronger customer relations, and optimize their marketing personas.  For instance, Volkswagen has employed the understanding of cultural preferences, a key output of anthropological study, in their branding strategy by designing a logo that resonates with the German culture’s penchant for simplicity.

Another critical tool in refining marketing strategies is social listening, the practice of monitoring digital conversations to understand customers’ perceptions of a brand and its competitors.  Product anthropologists can leverage this technique to identify trends, track sentiment, and uncover actionable insights, enabling companies to pivot and adapt their strategies in real-time.

For instance, Adobe, one of the world’s leading software companies, collaborated with anthropologists to gather customer insights, using the findings to enhance their products like Photoshop.  This level of understanding, gleaned from active observation of user interactions in their natural environment, has led to product improvements that resonate with their target market and offer a competitive edge.

In the mature stage of a product’s lifecycle, the insights derived from cultural anthropology become paramount in making business strategies more customer-centric.  From shaping product design to informing marketing tactics, these insights offer businesses the opportunity to fine-tune their strategies to meet customer demands effectively.

Enhancing Customer Engagement 

As products reach maturity and saturation stages, customer engagement becomes critical in maintaining product relevancy and ensuring continued growth. Customer engagement goes beyond mere customer service; it involves building meaningful and interactive relationships with customers.  Engaged customers are loyal and become brand advocates, providing word-of-mouth advertising and often contributing to the brand’s innovation by providing valuable feedback and insights.

By studying customers’ habits, preferences, and motivations within the cultural context, product anthropologists can identify opportunities to create deeper, more meaningful connections between a brand and its customers.  These insights can shape products, services, and marketing messages that resonate on an emotional level, stimulating deeper engagement and loyalty.

Adobe is one case where the company has utilized anthropologists to improve customer engagement.  Through active observation and user interaction, Adobe has improved its products like Photoshop, enhancing customer satisfaction and encouraging continued interaction with the product.

In today’s digital age, social media platforms offer a powerful tool for fostering customer engagement.  They provide a space where companies can have direct conversations with their customers, gather real-time feedback, and adapt their offerings to meet their audience’s evolving needs and preferences.

One notable example is the way Zoom, a video conferencing software, used social media to engage with customers during the global shift to remote work.  They leveraged social media platforms to communicate updates, address security concerns, and roll out new features in response to user feedback.  This proactive engagement helped them sustain their growth in a highly competitive market and foster a sense of community among their users.

Adapting to Evolving Market Needs 

As market conditions shift and consumer preferences evolve, businesses must continually adapt to stay competitive.  By studying social and cultural shifts, product anthropologists can glean deep insights to understand and address those customers’ evolving needs.

Take the case of Hewlett-Packard.  The company hired in-house anthropologists to delve into the consumer psyche, aiming to understand not just what customers need but also why they need it and how these needs might change over time.  By tapping into these deep-seated insights, they were able to create more impactful marketing strategies and develop products that resonate on an emotional level with their target audience.

Product innovation plays a pivotal role in addressing these evolving needs.  As products reach maturity, the initial excitement wears off, and the risk of consumer boredom increases.  Businesses must continuously innovate by improving existing products or introducing new ones to keep customers engaged and interested.  A great example is Google’s approach to mobile interactions.  By using anthropologists to observe and understand users’ habits, Google has made significant strides in improving the user experience of its mobile interfaces.

Moreover, product anthropologists contribute significantly to product excellence, an essential element of the McKinsey framework, which refers to a business’s ability to produce and deliver superior products and services.  Procter & Gamble provides a stellar example of this.  Based on observations and research conducted by anthropologists, the company identified a need for a better floor-cleaning solution, leading to the creation of the Swiffer.  This product not only addressed the customer’s need for an effective cleaning tool but also took into consideration cultural and behavioral aspects such as the desire for convenience and speed.

The field of product anthropology that I champion plays an integral role in navigating the multifaceted and often challenging landscape of product maturity and saturation.  As we have seen throughout this article installment, product anthropologists are at the forefront of understanding and addressing customers’ evolving needs, driving innovative solutions that meet these needs, and continually elevating the standard of product excellence.

In the stages of the product life cycle, including development, introduction, growth, maturity, and saturation, product anthropologists contribute critical insights that guide both the product’s trajectory and the strategic marketing approaches employed at each stage.  With in-depth understanding of human behavior, cultural nuances, and societal trends, we have the skills to anticipate and interpret market shifts, allowing businesses to adapt and respond effectively.  This responsiveness ensures that products retain their relevance even amidst rapidly changing consumer demands and market trends.

In conclusion, the central role of product anthropology in navigating product maturity and saturation is undeniable.  Its emphasis on a consumer-centric approach and its ability to adapt to evolving market needs are instrumental in maintaining product relevance and driving innovation.  Moving forward, the field of product anthropology promises to be an indispensable tool in shaping the future of business, product development, and consumer engagement.

If your company is looking to capitalize on these opportunities and harness the transformative power of product anthropology, there’s no better time to get started.  We invite you to contact Paula Gray, the Product Anthropologist at Gray Global Consulting LLC, for expert guidance.

With a deep understanding of the intricate dynamics between people, products, and cultural landscapes, Paula and the team at Gray Global Consulting offer a wealth of invaluable insights and actionable strategies to elevate your product design, marketing, and communication.

Experience the transformative power of product anthropology in action and drive your business success to unprecedented heights.  Contact Paula Gray and the Gray Global Consulting team today.