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The alternative 4Ps of marketing

Man's back with writing - The 4ps of marketing pointing towards elbows, with people who say the 4Ps is dead pointing towards arse.

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Why read this? : We look at why those who say the 4Ps of marketing are out of date have got it wrong. Plus, learn from our alternative 4Ps of marketing what marketers actually do day to day. Read this to learn how project management, planning, politics and pain management matter in marketing. 

We’ve been following a recent marketing squabble on Twitter. It’s between people who think marketers should be trained in marketing and those who say experience beats any training you can get. 

It’s a dumb argument. The norm for Twitter. It’s not either / or. You can be trained AND gain experience in marketing. What’s more important is when you do them. For us, training before experience is the way to go. You get a safe place to practise things before doing them for real.

Yet many businesses skip training on basic concepts. This leads to wasting money on idiotic ideas and excruciatingly bad executions. A marketing fool and his / her budget are easily parted. 

The original 4Ps of marketing

The 4Ps of marketing is one of these basic concepts. Good marketing training teaches you about the 4Ps of product, price, promotion and place, aka the marketing mix.  

It’s one of the first things you learn. The 4Ps help you organise and group marketing activities. You use them as a checklist in your marketing plan, with a clear strategy and plan for each “P”. It’s a key part of any marketing planning process. 

There are variations on it. The 7Ps for services, for example. We’ve also seen a 4Cs model in some categories. However, the 4Ps are still the heart of most marketing plans

Don’t believe those who say the 4Ps of marketing are dead

That’s because the 4Ps are a good place to start your brand marketing. They’ve got a long and proven history. And they’re easy to understand. 

The Twitter squabble was started by newer marketers trying to make a name for themselves by saying the 4Ps concept was dead.

Their main argument was the tool isn’t customer-centric enough. Plus, it’s been around so long that it’s become dated. It should be replaced by newer tools like the customer journey map.

Man's back with writing - The 4ps of marketing pointing towards elbows, with people who say the 4Ps is dead pointing towards arse.

But, those are all poor arguments. They miss the point.

Not customer centric-enough? Well, that’s because when you use the 4Ps of marketing, you should already have your customer understanding. It comes after the market analysis in the brand development process.

And outdated? Well, most customer journey models are based on the idea of an adoption model. A series of steps the customer goes through to reach an end goal. And the original one of these, the AIDA model (Awareness – Interest – Desire – Action) is over 100 years old.

These arguments against the 4Ps of marketing just don’t make sense. Plus, many businesses still successfully structure their plans around the 4Ps. They understand the job it does versus other customer experience planning tools. There’s nothing wrong with these other tools. They just do a different job.

So, don’t get them mixed up, and don’t use them to structure your marketing plan. It’d be like getting your arse and your elbow mixed up, for example. Though, we suspect that’s what’s happened with some of these “4Ps are dead” idiots.

The 4Ps of marketing - a starting point for brand marketing

So, why are the 4Ps of marketing a good starting point? Well, first they’re simple and easy to remember. 4 action areas. All start with P.

Then, there’s their scope. They cover the basic tasks a brand has to do to interact with customers. Every brand has to consider what they sell, where they sell, how much they charge and how they tell customers about it. That’s your basic 4Ps.

If you then need to “stretch” some of those Ps out, because your category is “different”, that’s fine. In service businesses, for example, the word “product” can be confusing. Most people think tangible / physical items you can touch when you say product. However, services are typically intangible. To quote MC Hammer with services, you can’t touch this.   

So if you’re a bank, a hairdresser, an e-Commerce retailer, or even a marketing coach, then adding some extra Ps like people, process and physical location can help. They’re technically part of “product”. But adding them helps make that “P” clearer and more relevant. 

All this 4Ps of marketing talk got us thinking. Marketing isn’t just a concept. It’s something you do. So we challenged ourselves to create an alternative 4Ps of marketing to cover what it’s like to do marketing.

The alternative 4Ps of marketing

In most marketing functions, the original 4Ps aren’t used every day.

It mostly only appears on “special” occasions. Like the annual marketing plan or as part of an innovation launch plan.

Day to day, it’s the recommendations and actions from the 4Ps which take up the most time.

You need to make your plans happen. For that, you look at projects. And that leads us to the first of our alternative 4Ps of marketing – project management.

The alternative 4Ps of marketing

Project management

Out of curiosity, we dusted off our ancient copy of Kotler’s Marketing Management to see how it covered project management. 

Guess how often it got a mention?

If your answer was zero, then go to the top of the class. Look through the index, and it jumps straight from “profitability” to “promotion”.

No sign of project management. None at all. And that’s pretty much what you’d expect from an academic textbook.

Business meeting round with a man presenting in front of a screen to 5 colleagues

But, in the business world of marketing, brand managers and marketing managers spend a lot of time on projects and in project meetings. (For example, see our marketer’s life cycle article).  

Most brand activities in the marketing plan are project-based. There’s a specific end goal. A series of actions to deliver that goal. And a team coming together to make it all happen. 

End goal + actions + team = project

You see this end goal + actions + team = project equation come through in multiple marketing processes. It’s in the market research process. The advertising development process. In fact, you’ll even find it even in creative processes like logo design, and e-Commerce processes like setting up your own store.

Being a marketing project manager starts with defining the goal. Then, you find the right people for the project team to deliver that goal, based on their expertise. You ask them to list all the tasks to be done to reach the goal. And then you manage this list and make sure people do what they need to. 

Simple, right? 

But, what we’ve just summed up in a paragraph, takes weeks, months, even years in real life. A big advertising campaign or new product launch can easily run to 70-80 different tasks, and need a team of 10+ functional experts. All of whom will have different opinions of your marketing thinking.

Legal experts who want to protect the company’s reputation. Supply chain experts who want to run efficient operations. Finance teams who worry about the profit and loss. Sales teams who worry about keeping their trade customers happy. You need good planning skills to navigate past these barriers.

Planning

Planning as a skill doesn’t just mean project plans. It’s much more than that. 

Planning is the ability to think ahead in time. To think about different scenarios which could happen. To work out how each action connects and how it impacts the overall direction.

Planning is about having contingencies for when things go wrong. It’s about documenting and presenting clear plans so everyone understands what they’re supposed to be doing. 

Board level view of a chessboard as you are playing black and your opponent is moving their white queen

Planning is about learning from your previous marketing mistakes so you do better next time.  

The higher up the marketing chain you go, the more time you spend thinking ahead, rather than doing stuff now. Marketing managers spend lots of time on plans, budgets, and business cases. It’s why planning is one of our alternative 4Ps of marketing. 

Planning is about being strategic. Which is why we get frustrated at people who call themselves strategists, but who don’t act strategically. Strategy and planning are not about googling the latest marketing fad. Nor nicking some fancy-looking framework from LinkedIn or repurposing something the agency did for you. Nope, planning is about being prepared for anything. Having the quickness of thought to adapt your game, based on changing circumstances, to move you closer to your goal.

These changing circumstances are usually driven by changes in people. This brings us to the third of our alternative 4Ps of marketing, politics. 

Politics

In marketing, you have to work with other people. Both inside your business and outside your business like your marketing agency.

And you soon work out everyone’s different. They have different experiences, biases and ways of seeing the world. 

It’s part of the day-to-day job of marketing to try to pull these differences together. To establish common principles based on understanding what’ll appeal to, and motivate different people.

Man on stage with a microphone talking to a large seated audience of what appear to be university students

This is basically politics. You’ll spend a lot of time developing “policies” like customer focus and brand identity. But these policies have to take into account the views of the people who’ll work with them. Your legal, supply chain, finance and sales teams must all be on board with your plans. 

Want to make your brand edgy and cool? You’ll need to swing people’s views that swear words in your advertising is OK. Want to launch an online store? You’ll need to use politics to overcome all the barriers you’ll run into. If you can’t get other teams on board, you go nowhere. The critics will block you every time. 

Build support for your marketing activity

Like winning a political election, building support is critical. Making sure the board sign off the budget. Making sure operations can make your new product. And making sure the sales team are pumped enough to sell the plan to customers.  

In our experience, the people who make it to the “top” in marketing, aren’t the ones with the best marketing knowledge. They’re the ones who are best at politics. They know how to build confidence they’re the best people to lead the marketing team. And this is more politics than marketing. 

Think about it. 

Who decides on the appointment of the CMO or marketing director? It’s usually the CEO and the Head of HR (or Chief People Officer which seems to be the hellish new “in” thing in HR these days). In most cases, they’re not from marketing backgrounds. They can’t tell who has the best marketing knowledge. 

So, many who make it to the top in marketing do so, based on reputation and image, not expertise. 

You may not like this. But it’s a fact. To get ahead in marketing, you need political savviness. You have to know how to gather support. If not, you’re in for a painful time.

Pain management

This brings us to our final alternative “P” of marketing. 

Pain might be a weird thing to think about when it comes to marketing.

But, think about what good marketing is. It’s a way to solve problems for your customers. 

You take away their pain. That’s a good thing for the customer. That makes them more likely to buy what you’re selling.

Close up image of a man in a suit wiping away a tear and looking sad

Think about what marketing does for a business. It’s about orienting yourself around customer needs to grow sales. Growing sales takes away a lot of pain from your business.

And here’s the thing. When marketing works well, and sales grow, no one will praise you. Non-marketers take the success of marketing for granted. It’s what marketers are paid for after all, isn’t it? But, when things go wrong with marketing, the company feels the pain. And, marketers feel the brunt of this. Budgets slashed. Jobs cut. Fingers pointed at bad execution. 

And here’s the thing about that. We wouldn’t have it any other way. Genuine marketers thrive in challenging situations. That’s when they show genuine talent. Situations which stretch your thinking, force you to look for new solutions and stop you from being a critic or a coaster.

We’re not one of those motivational numpties who say pain is good. Get up and squat jump at 5am? Feel the burn? No thanks. But when the business feels pain, it’s on marketers to work out how to take that pain away. And that’s why we include pain management as the last of our alternative 4Ps of marketing. 

Conclusion - the alternative 4Ps

Yeah, so you’re unlikely to find these alternative 4Ps of marketing in any textbooks. But take it from us that these are all good additional tools to boost your marketing thinking. 

They don’t replace the original 4Ps of course. They have a different use. Remember, arse and elbow? And that’s probably as good a place as any to call it quits this week. We’re off to exercise our elbows by lifting a nice cold beer at the pub. 

But do check out our marketing plan guide and our example marketing mix article for more on this. Or, get in touch to learn more about how to use the 4Ps of marketing.

Photo Credits

Back :  Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

Business meeting : Photo by Campaign Creators on Unsplash

Chess : Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

Man giving speech : Photo by Miguel Henriques on Unsplash

Man crying : Photo by Tom Pumford on Unsplash

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