When consumers have little choice or when a product, technology or service is at the very beginning of the Product Lifecycle (also termed the Product Life Cycle), quality is not as an important differentiator as in mature products or markets. Quality becomes increasingly important as the product or market matures and moves through the Product Lifecycle stages.
The Product Lifecycle (variously attributed to Levitt, Bartels, Converse and others) has four stages; Introduction, Growth, Maturity and Decline (the Lifecycle is sometimes presented as a five stage model; Introduction, Growth, Maturity, Saturation and Decline). A new product or service moves through the Lifecycle stages and each stage has distinct characteristics. The purpose of this article is not to explain the Product Lifecycle in depth but there are various excellent resources which explain this model.
Quality Management is about improving the quality of products and services and ensuring that quality meets defined criteria. The quality of a service or product is a differentiating factor as may be seen with the success of Japanese Auto companies and the decline of the American Auto giants (e.g. GM and Chrysler). Japanese Car makers such as Toyota realized that competitive advantage may be attained through manufacturing Cars of a superior quality to those of American competitors. This quality focus has certainly shown its market relevance.
Quality becomes an increasingly important consumer decision factor as a product or service moves through the Lifecycle. In the Introduction and early stages of the Growth stage of the Product Lifecycle, consumers are ‘early adopters' and are generally willing to accept quality flaws as a trade-off to being the first to own or use the new product. As the product moves into the Maturity stage and beyond consumers have more product choice therefore are more quality conscious.
As an example of this think of early Cellular/Mobile phone networks. Early adopters accepted poor reception however consumers will no longer consider poor reception.
Here is a topical example of the importance of quality and how it relates to the Product Lifecycle: Google originally gained search market share quickly based on two quality basics; search speed and search accuracy. Before Google arrived, Lycos, Yahoo and other major search engines of the time offered slow and inaccurate results on the Search Results Pages (SERPs). Google appeared at the beginning of the Growth stage of the Search Engine product lifecycle and is a great example of the fact that being first to market is not necessarily as important as ensuring quality. Google Search is also a very good example of ongoing quality improvement. Google is constantly updating its search algorithms in order to best deliver the most accurate results to people as quickly as possible.
Twitter looks to be in some trouble! Sure the number of Twitter users is increasing at an impressive rate however the micro-blogging industry is in its infancy (i.e. the Introduction stage). There aren't many viable/realistic micro-blogging competitors out there. If Twitter is to micro-blogging what Yahoo was to Search in the 1990's, then Twitter needs to concentrate on quality … and fast. Twitter is storing vast and escalating volumes of data. Increasingly low quality or ‘spam' type data is appearing on Twitter and the recent ping attack on Twitter shows that it is in the sights of disruptive predators. Google is also making its search far more time relevant which has been one of Twitter's key strengths up until now.
As micro-blogging progresses along the product Lifecycle consumers will want increasing quality in terms of relevancy of data. Just at a time when quality is becoming more important, the quality of Twitter content is subsiding. Micro-blogging competitors and new entrants must be feeling rather positive at present just as Google felt when they took on the giants of Search of the time in the form of Yahoo and Lycos.