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How Stars, Question Marks, Dogs, and Cows Are All Business-Related

It takes a special marketing class to really learn the in’s and out’s of appealing to customers. If you don’t want to sit through a class, stay right here for a crash course. There’s a direct way stars, question marks, cows, and dogs relate to your business.

Does that sound crazy? It shouldn’t! In 1966, the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) created the BCG Portfolio Matrix to determine each Strategic Business Unit’s (SBU) return on investment, growth potential, and level of risk. Each quadrant was broken down into basic categories that you learned in kindergarten – Stars, Question Marks, Dogs, and Cows.


Updated Chart

You’re probably very confused about what each image means and why it’s broken down this way. As a business owner, you can use this chart to help you determine which of your products are working and which ones are complete duds. Here’s how!

Night StarsStar: This is a fast-growing market leader that yields large profits but needs a lot of cash to finance its growth. If you can catch customers in the product’s prime, you’re likely to strike gold! Think of it like a child actor who loses their fame after they get gray hairs and a deeper voice.


Business QuestionsQuestion Mark/Problem Child: These products show promise because of their rapid growth, but because of their poor profit margins, they end up creating a lot of questions. These unanswered questions could end up affecting your bottom line.



Night DogDog: Products in this category have low-growth potential and own a very small market share. Your only options are to either grab your money and run or completely scratch the idea and move on. In other words, “let a sleeping dog lie.”



Cash CowsCash Cow: This is a product that’s sitting in the pasture waiting to be milked (not literally, of course). These products generate more cash than they need to maintain the market share and the revenue made is used to fund Stars and fix Question Marks.



There you have it! You can break all the products and services you offer into these categories and figure out a better plan of action. If you need a reminder, or want this wisdom to exist in the office every day, you can’t go wrong with a star stress reliever, cow stress ball, or dog stress toy!


What are your thoughts on the BCG Matrix? Do you have any questions about the categories?

Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa loves food. A LOT. Particularly pizza and popcorn, but she knows beggars can’t be choosers. When she’s not stuffing her face (which is rare), she loves watching movies, playing volleyball and softball, and engaging in any number of interesting shenanigans. If she had to pick a spirit animal, she’d be an otter because they are playful and love to laugh. Most of the time she’s laughing at herself, whether other people are laughing with or at her is to be determined.


  1. Jill Tooley

    This is completely new to me! I love your little rundowns at the end; they’ve really helped me understand how this works.

    Can you think of any real-life product examples that fit into these different categories? When I read the “Star” description, all I could think of was MySpace when it was in all of its glory. It surged to popularity but didn’t quite know how to attract more users or innovate the user experience…so it became the virtual-cobweb ridden wasteland that it is today! Would the HP Touchpad be a good example of a “Question Mark/Problem Child,” do you think?

    Interesting stuff, Amy! 🙂

    • amy

      Thanks so much Jill 🙂

      Your MySpace example is spot on! Once other companies jumped on the social network wagon, MySpace could’ve been a contender but since they didn’t attract any new users they fell by the wayside.

      Most businesses start out as question marks since they take a lot of cash to get started. An example would be Apple’s Mac Book Air or Coco-Cola’s FUZE drinks. They need a lot of research, development, and marketing to get off the ground. I would agree that HP’s TouchPad would also be a great example. They needed to research the market, develop the technology, (I’m sure Apple isn’t sharing that) and then advertise the heck outta it. A lot of money is going out, without much coming in. I’m sure that’s why HP decided to divest it and save their bottom lines.

  2. Joseph Giorgi

    Very interesting post, Amy! The BCG Portfolio Matrix seems logical enough, but I probably would’ve had a tough time following it without your anecdotes and comparisons. Nicely done!

    Suddenly I miss John Ritter.

    • amy

      I miss John Ritter too! I can’t believe he’s been gone now for a couple years.

      I’m glad my crazy anecdotes and comparisons helped, I was hoping they’d clear things up 🙂

  3. Amanda

    Nice post Amy! I find these marketing blogs very interesting! I also liked how you gave us examples to relate to–makes it much easier to understand.

    I can agree with the Myspace and HP Touchpad comparisons–those also helped it make a lot of sense! =)

    • amy

      Thanks Amanda 🙂 Some marketing topics are pretty “out there” and difficult to explain, so I’m glad the examples helped. I always do better with real-world examples instead of a stuffy book definition.

  4. Amanda

    I wonder if bananas at Walmart could be considered a Cash Cow. Supposedly, that’s their #1 seller! And that doesn’t take much advertising if you ask me–pretty much everyone loves and buys bananas!

    • amy

      I would agree with you on the bananas at Walmart. Consumers love bananas and will buy them with or without advertising. It makes sense that they’d be their most popular seller, but it’s still funny to think that out of the thousands of products Walmart sells the most bananas hahahaha

  5. haley

    can you give me examples of dog products?

  6. Sissy

    Do you think Apple has any product that would be considered a dog?

    • Amy Swanson

      Hey there, Sissy!

      In all honesty, Apple is the exception to a lot of rules in regards to business I think. From their product offerings on their website I can’t really think of any product that has “low-growth potential and own a very small market share.” Sure, their keyboards, headphones, and speakers aren’t making them millions probably, but they’re still products and accessories that people need.

      It’s possible that their less popular iPods (iPod Nano, iPod Shuffle) may some day become obsolete when they become more expensive to produce than to sell them. However, without doing proper research on that claim I can’t say for sure.

      I’m sorry for giving such a wishy-washy response, but Apple is a difficult company to point out their product offering faults. Microsoft on the other hand, not nearly as hard 😉

      Thanks so much for stopping by, hope this helps a little bit!

      • Vanessa

        What company’s products would you classify as a question mark? And also, in your opinion what does a company need to do, in order to turn that question mark into a star?

    • zamu

      have u ever heard apple tv? 🙂

  7. Frank kasunga

    Thank you….AMY……u have helped alot….Appriciate that

  8. Mary

    Hi! Do u think that the XboxKinect could be considered as a dog? And if it is a dog, does it mean that it is a luxury good or does it fall under shopping goods? 🙂

  9. annie

    Hi Amy,
    I’m just preparing a marketing presentation for my business class about amazon. And I just couldn’t remember what my Prof said last week about the dog part of BCG Portfolio Market… so I ended up on your page. thx, so much 🙂 you’re explanations are way better than what my Prof was chewing on for 3 hours….
    So thank you 😀

    • amy

      Hey there, Annie! I’m so glad this blog was easy to understand, I had a few professors in college that talked circles about something but never truly explained it.

      Best of luck with your presentation, I hope you ace it!! 🙂

  10. Martin

    Hi Amy, thank you for a great example of the BCG Matrix, however, I do not agree with the get rid of the dog philosophy. Dog products such as Converse have had extensive surges over the past decades with the skateboard generation of the 80’s, the grunge scene in the 90’s and after Nike bought the logo in 2003. Converse has become a cow. Companies and teachers should never give up on the dog. They can end up paying off with a little confidence, attention, and belief that an ole dog is not a dead dog.

  11. Hans

    While interesting, I don’t agree with the dog philosophy. I was taught that some products can work using the dog.

    The best example would be luxury products – extremely high end things. For example, how many Rolls Royce are sold each year? Very few, I’d imagine. So low market share, check. How many additional people each year can buy one? Again, very few. Low growth potential, check.

    Still the Rolls Royce doesn’t seem about to die just yet.

  12. MANISH

    Hello Amy,
    The way in which you have explained BCG matrix is really wonderful especially when you related the SBUs with examples found in the normal life.

  13. mina

    thank you very much.this is the best illustration ever the example helps a lot . thanks

  14. Max

    Despite of having good revenue compared to other SBU’s, why does a SBU still stand in Question mark quarter???

  15. Noman Hafeez

    V. Nice

  16. Thomas Roque

    Do you have the growth share matrix for Coca Cola products?

  17. Moses Kamaghe

    Great Amy for your encouragement. Please assist me to know the challenges of applying BCG matrix model in developing countries like Tanzania.

  18. Mingol

    Dear Amy,
    Thanks a lot for this post. Your description of BCG matrix concepts was great. I have a question regarding dog and question mark categories:
    Imagine due to a sudden change in industry, the growth rate of an industry increases. Does the “dog” product convert to “question mark”?
    Is such a transition possible at all?
    Thanks a lot in advance

  19. Evie

    Thanks for the description. I’m studying for my midterm in my marketing class and was looking for a good description of the BCG Portfolio Matrix. This really helped.

    My suggestion for and example dealing with kids in the classroom for the cash cow: the kid that sits in class and seems not to ever study or sometimes not even seem like they’re paying attention but always seems to do well on the tests. They’re absorbing the info without expending too much effort. (They’re not making money, but they’re making the grade.)

  20. Demsasaw

    Thank you the article is realy helpfull

  21. fahad hamid

    In cash cow i think there is a kid whose father is a billionaire and he knows that he don,t have to do study because he can have any thing he wants

  22. David

    Hi, wonderful explanation. i have read so many material but couldn’t
    understand the BCG MATRIX. This really will help me in my pending
    exams. God bless you.

  23. crystal

    I am doing an assignment of BCG matrix and it makes me very difficult. could u help me in giving the examples of Stars, Cash cows, dogs and question marks related with the real company or business. could u help me out from this ?

  24. Jacob Kon

    I am pleased by this expalation. Kindly please, help me with example of Cash cow,dog, question mark and star. BCG MATRIX is amazing and need me to understand in depth. What does BCG stand for and what is BCG Matrix being used for. I am BBA graduate.

    Thank you very much for indepth explanation, I really appreciate.

  25. Emmanuel Daniel

    Thanks for your article, you’re doing a great job here…

    please kindly help me with this question…
    features, and level of patronage of cash cow products and dog products…

    Am an undergraduate from the department of banking and finance…

  26. Barima Asamoah

    This really helped me in understanding this concept. This feels more like a breeze than a class. Thanks


    I don’t the cash cow

  28. tinoz empire

    nice presentation amy

  29. Grizene kiewiets

    Hi just a quick question, I got a question mark product, I need to turn it into a star, so how do I use the 4 box model analysis to develop a strategy?

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