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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Snapshot : Everybody knows the 4Ps of marketing. Product, price, promotion and place give you as a useful mental checklist to frame your marketing plan. But we have another 4Ps model we also like to use. This model focusses more on being a marketer, than marketing itself. So check out how these 4Ps – project management, planning, politics and pain management – reflect what marketers actually do day-to-day.

There’s been a recent marketing squabble on Twitter between people who advocate marketers should be trained in marketing, and people who claim you can get all the marketing ability you need through experience. 

In our view, training and experience are both good things. But, surely training before experience is better than the other way around? That’s not just marketing, that’s any skill. 

If you’re untrained in baking, why waste making 100 terrible cakes until you eventually make a good one? 

If you’re untrained in driving, why stall cars and crash repeatedly, before you eventually get good at it.?

And if you’re untrained in marketing, why waste huge amounts of marketing spend, and shit-posting on Twitter and Instagram? Because, marketing training will help you work out quickly that the basics concepts of marketing are there for good reason. 

The original 4Ps of marketing

And one of these basic concepts is the 4Ps of marketing. 

Anyone who’s formally studied marketing can easily talk about these 4Ps of product, price, promotion and place, also known as the marketing mix.  

It’s one of the first things you learn in marketing. The 4Ps help you organise and group marketing activities. Use them as a mental checklist for your marketing activities. You should have a clear plan for each of the Ps. 

It’s like when you learn first aid. The first thing you learn is to check Airway, Breathing and Circulation. Well, the 4Ps is like that, but for checking the state of your marketing plan. If you don’t have a clear plan for each of the 4Ps, then your overall plan needs some attention.

Of course, the 4Ps are not the only way to do this. There are other models, like the 4Cs or the 7Ps. But let’s be honest, these do a similar job, and only work better in certain contexts. You can check these other models out in our guide to the marketing plan

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

In most cases, the 4Ps make a good starting point for brand marketing. They’ve got a long and proven history, and they’re easy to understand. 

But, what started the Twitter squabble we mentioned earlier, was when some newer marketers tried to make a name for themselves, by saying the 4Ps concept was dead.

Their main argument seemed to be that the tool isn’t customer centric enough. Also, that it’s been around so long, it’s become dated, and should be replaced by newer tools like the customer experience journey.

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, and miss the point.

Not customer centric-enough? Well, that’s because when you use the 4Ps of marketing, you should already have done all your work to build your customer understanding already. The 4Ps is one tool you pull out that’s part of your overall brand development process, that starts with you analysing the market.

And out-dated? Well, most customer experience journey models are based on the idea of a an adoption model. A series of steps the customer goes through to reach an end goal. And all of those models are derivations of the AIDA : Awareness – Interest – Desire – Action model that dates back over 100 years.

So, no the 4Ps of martinet is not dead. It’s very much alive and kicking. We know plenty of successful business who structure their plans around the 4Ps. They understand that it does a different job to the alternative tools like customer experience or brand choice funnels.

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with those other tools, but they have a different job. Don’t get them mixed up and don’t use them to structure your marketing plan.

It’d be like getting the uses of your body parts mixed up. You wouldn’t want to get your arse and your elbow mixed up, for example. Though, we suspect some of these “4Ps are dead” numpties might end up doing so.

The 4Ps of marketing is a start point for brand marketing

So, why are the 4Ps of marketing a good starting point?

Well, firstly they are simple and easy to remember. 4 things. All starting with P.

Then, there’s the fact they cover the basic tasks a brand has to do to interact with customers. Every brand needs 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. But, services are typically intangible. To quote MC Hammer, with services, you can’t touch this.   

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

But, all this talk of the 4Ps of marketing got us thinking.

Because marketing is more than just a concept. It’s also way of working in a business. So, just for kicks, we challenged ourselves to come up with an alternative 4Ps of marketing, that cover what it’s like actually being a marketer.

The alternative 4Ps of marketing

In many marketing functions, the original 4Ps is not a tool that gets used every day.

In our experience it only appears on “special” occasions. Like the annual marketing plan, or the launch plan for a new product.

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

You need to make your plans happen. For that, you’re going to be looking 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 recently dusted off our very old copy of Kotler’s Marketing Management book to see how it covered project management. 

Wanna have a 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, whatsoever.

Pretty much what you’d expect from an academic textbook. But, in the business world of marketing, brand managers and marketing managers spend a lot of time on projects. 

If you look at brand activities which come out of the marketing plan, almost all are project based. There’s a specific end goal. A series of actions needs to happen to deliver that end goal. And, a team of experts need to come together to make those actions happen. These things scream project.

End goal + actions + team of experts = project

If you look at most of our guides, you’ll see this end goal + actions + team of experts = project equation come through in the processes which sit behind key marketing activities. 

It’s there in our market research process guide. It’s there in our advertising development guide. In fact, you’ll even find it even in our creative guides like logo design, and our e-Commerce guides like setting up your own store.

Being the project manager on one of those types of project means defining the goal. You need to identify the right people for the project team to deliver that goal, based on the expertise they bring. You then need to get those experts to map out all the tasks that need to happen to reach the goal. And, then you need to organise the task list, and make sure people do what they need to. 

Simple, right? 

But, what we’ve just summed up in a mere paragraph, in real life takes weeks, months, sometimes even years at a time. A big advertising campaign or new product launch can easily run up to 70 or 80 different tasks, and need a team of 10 or more different functional experts. All of whom are likely to have different opinions to 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 margins and ratios. Sales teams who worry about keeping their trade customers happy, and need to give them months of notice about any changes. 

So, to navigate through these challenges, you need to build some damn good planning skills.

Planning

So, planning as a skill, doesn’t just mean project plans. For us, planning is much more than that. 

Planning is the ability to think ahead in time.

To think about different scenarios that could happen.

To work how each action connects, how it impacts on the overall direction.

Planning is about having contingencies in mind when things go wrong. It’s about documenting and presenting clear plans, so that people can clearly understand 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

The higher up the marketing chain you go, the more time you spend thinking ahead, rather than just doing stuff now. Marketing managers spend a huge amount 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 think or act strategically.

Strategy and planning’s not about googling what’s the latest fad in marketing. It’s not about nicking some fancy looking framework you saw someone talking about on Twitter or Reddit. Or repurposing something the marketing agency has dug out for you. 

Nope, for us, planning is all about preparation and being prepared for anything. It’s having the quickness of thought to adapt your game, based on changing circumstances, to move you closer to your end goal.

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

Politics

In business, you have to work with other people. That might be people directly inside your business, or people outside your business like your marketing agency.

And what you’ll find when you work with people is everyone’s different. They have different experiences, different objectives and different 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 the people involved.

This is basically politics

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

If you can’t get other teams on board, you’ll never make progress. The critics will come after you. And, they’ll block you every chance you get. 

Build support for your marketing activity

Like winning an election in politics, building support is critical. Making sure the board  sign off the budget. Making sure the operational teams will support you with the right expertise at the right time. And making sure the sales team are pumped up to sell the plan in 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 in others that they are the best people to lead the marketing team. And this comes more down to politics than it does 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 be the hellish new “in” thing in HR these days). In most cases, they don’t come from marketing backgrounds. They can’t tell who has the best marketing knowledge. 

So, many of the people who make it to the top in marketing do so, based on their reputation and image. And this won’t always be based on marketing expertise. 

You may or may not like this, but it’s a fact. To get ahead in marketing, you need political savviness. You need to know how your business works, and how to gather support from others. 

Because otherwise, all you’re going to run into is a wall of pain. 

Pain management

Which 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 in to what you’re selling.

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

Think about what marketing within a business is. It’s about orienting yourself around the needs of the customer, so that you grow your sales with them. 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 really 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. 

We wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Because, genuine marketers live for challenging situations. That’s when they show genuine talent. These are the situations that stretch your thinking, that force you to look for new solutions, and stop you becoming a critic or a coaster.

We’re not one of those motivational numpties that says pain is good.  Get up and squat jump at 5am? 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

Yeh, so you’re unlikely to find these alternative 4Ps of marketing in any text books. But take it from us, these are all good additional tools to think about as you do marketing. 

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 lifting a nice cold beer at the pub. But do, check out our guide to the marketing plan. Or, contact us, if you want to know more about the 4Ps of marketing, both the original or our alternative ones.

Photo Credits

Back :  Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

Chess : Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

Man crying : Photo by Tom Pumford on Unsplash

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