Marketing Strategy: Are the 4P’s of Marketing Obsolete?

the new marketing mix
the 4 p's of marketing
Image courtesy of Business2Community

Since the dawn of marketing time, the 4P’s formed the nexus of the marketing strategy we teach students and if you ever took marketing you’ll recall these elements are: product, price, promotion, and place (OK, distribution, but we needed another P).  Of course, marketing is only about 75 years old (born of Economics and Psychology, which is some really strange inter-species relationship) so there’s a certain fluidity in our theories.  And, the 4P’s, or the marketing mix, have come under attack many times.

The newest competitor is a different kind of 4P’s — the 4P’s of a Fully Lively Business, introduced by John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing.  While I hate the name, I think there’s a lot to recommend the P’s introduced — Passion, Personality, Positioning, and Purpose.

However, I don’t think there’s any real threat to the original 4P’s from this model — not that I think the original 4P’s are all that great. But, the Duck Tape Marketing 4P’s don’t propose to deal with marketing, and instead reflect something he calls a Fully Lively Business, which has no meaning beyond his perpetual need for attention by being contrary while working the SEO to get more visits based on the popularity of searches for the 4P’s. Notice, I don’t even provide a link to his article since I don’t find it contributes to the theory of marketing.

The 4P’s of Marketing and Beyond

The concept of a marketing mix was introduced by Neil Borden in 1953 and the 4P’s construction introduced by Dr. McCarthy in 1960, although some authors trace the roots of the marketing mix back to the 1940s (before there was a marketing discipline) where Chilliton discussed a marketing manager as a mixture of ingredients. Despite disagreements over the 4P’s of marketing over the years, they still form the organizational foundation of marketing.

But, have the 4P’s become obsolete, as proposed by Mr. Janetsch in the following quote?

In fact, the very definition of marketing has changed dramatically enough to render the original Four P’s somewhat useless as a foundational marketing and business strategy concept.

Well, let’s take a look at the new definition of marketing to see if, in fact, the old 4P’s of marketing are obsolete.

Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large [source]

This definition comes from the American Marketing Association, the leading group of practitioners and academics practicing marketing. The old definition explicitly included the 4P’s of marketing as part of the definition. This one, although less direct, still includes the 4P’s implicitly, since creating offerings looks a lot like product; communicating offerings look a lot like promotion; delivering offerings looks a lot like place; and exchanging offerings looks a lot like price.

So, while the 4P’s still fit the definition, are they obsolete for other reasons?

Other Constructions of the Marketing Mix

4P's of marketing
Image courtesy of Professional Academy

Of course, Mr. Jantsch isn’t the first person to come up with an alternative view of the marketing mix. There are the 4 C’s (consumer wants and needs, convenience, cost, and communication), designed to put the consumer in a more central position in the marketing constellation, and the 7 P’s (the original 4 P’s plus people, process and physical evidence), as reflected in the image above. And, these are but a few of the alternate constructions of the marketing mix.

The 4P’s and Marketing Strategy

The 4 P’s of marketing was never meant to reflect the whole that is marketing, so the actual number of elements in the mixture or where they’re P’s or some other letter to reflect the higher-level expression of marketing doesn’t really matter much.

Instead, these 4 elements form the marketing mix — the controllable elements in the organization’s marketing quiver. Controllables are elements an organization manipulates to meet customers’ needs and respond to competitive pressures.  And, while the existing 4 P’s are not the only way of looking at building marketing strategy, they’re as good as any for organizing our marketing tactics. They’re also very flexible, recognizing that different consumers buy for different reasons and different industries operate in different ways.

The marketing mix is a crucial tool to help understand what the product or service can offer and how to plan for a successful product offering [source].

Thus, the marketing mix, often portrayed with the consumer in the middle, helps marketing managers as they construct a strategy for success, recognizing that my target market is at the center of my planning process and determines the appropriateness of all my actions.

As a consumer, for instance, I don’t always want to engage with every brand — it’s too exhausting. For instance, paper isn’t the type of purchase I get all excited about. I just need paper and I don’t need a thesis on how your paper is better than your competition. I need the right product at the right price in the right place. Period.

As a business, I don’t want to tell a story (containing elements about the people, process, physical environment) in every context, as it wastes time for both the consumer and my marketing staff. I need to consider the consumer and what it takes to motivate them to purchase my brand over the competition. In my paper example, the business needs to price their products competitively, offer it in the colors and weights that suit my needs, and make availability ubiquitous. That’s it. Don’t tell me a big story about how your product originated with a small tribe in XYZ land (people). Just sell me the paper.

Of course, sometimes I want paper for special projects, like wedding invitations or company brochures. That’s the time to bring out your stories and wow me with their environmental friendliness, the elaborate process you go through to manufacture the paper, and put your paper in a gorgeous store, ie. Paper Source. There’s room for both types of marketing, just don’t get confused as to which type reflects your business.

Does the 4P’s of marketing work in all contexts?

Moreover, the original 4 P’s still work in these contexts, no matter who your target market is, how they want to purchase, or what key drivers they use to make purchase decisions. The key to success is to adapt your 4P’s strategy to the specific target market and competitive environment facing your business.

Value, an overarching goal for consumers, underscores the pricing element in the 4 P’s construction.  Promotion includes social media, as well as traditional media — and using the 2 synergistically likely has a greater impact than either one separately.  Product revolves around solving consumer problems. And, distribution includes electronic delivery, web design issues, and other online delivery methods, as well as traditional distribution methods.

So, I don’t think the 4 P’s of marketing are perfect, nor are they the sum total of marketing, but they still work as a way to think about competing in today’s marketing places. What do you think?

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