If you have ever taken a marketing course, chances are that you have heard about the 4 Ps. The 4 Ps is a marketing framework that was first introduced in 1960 by American marketing professor Jerome McCarthy.
The 4 Ps are Product, Pricing, Place and Promotion. The 4 Ps are also referred to as the ‘marketing mix’ and guide the marketing strategy for a product or service. It’s like a four-legged chair that will need all four legs for the right balance. If one leg (or P) is weak, or another is over-emphasized, the chair, or the marketing mix wobbles.
Industry West reached out to two Saskatchewan marketing professionals to ask their thoughts on the 4 Ps and whether the popular marketing framework is still applicable in today’s business environment. Ben Tingley is the founder and CEO of BravoTango, an advertising agency based in Regina and Kelowna, B.C. Jill Sauter is a marketing professional in Saskatoon with many years’ experience in marketing, sales, business development and helping clients with their marketing needs.
Both Tingley and Sauter passionately maintain that the 4 Ps are still relevant and applicable today. “I believe strongly that the 4 Ps are imperative for any marketing strategy,” Tingley said. “[Entrepreneurs, business people, marketers] absolutely must analyze the 4 Ps. They have to go through each P or each facet and answer the questions.” Sauter agrees with Tingley “Absolutely, without question,” she said. “You have to spend the time on all of the elements of the 4 Ps.”
“When business owners and those with ideas…don’t analyze [the four Ps] deep enough, that’s when they get into trouble,” Tingley said. “You can’t say that one is more important than the other. If you cut corners on one of them, it will come back and bite you.”
For the product P, Tingley explains: “You might be selling widgets, but what is it that the people are actually buying from you? Are they buying convenience, or are they buying time savers, are they buying efficiency, peace of mind?” A product or service has both tangible and intangible attributes that need to be considered.
“Pricing is [the P] that is often overlooked,” said Sauter. For commodity type products, some companies will simply adopt the competitor’s price instead of thinking about how they could add value to the product. If the price is higher than that of competitors’, it has to be clear why the product is worth more. Tingley recalls a group of students that developed a product which they differentiated based on using recycled materials. By connecting a fairly simple product to a greater cause (recycling and reducing waste), the intangible value justified a higher price.
Place, or distribution, has changed with online shopping. It changes things both from a competitive point of view (everything can be available from anywhere in the world), but also from an opportunistic point of view (reaching customers in new locations).
Promotion is what most people think of when they hear ‘marketing’. It’s an important P but not more important than any of the other three.
To determine how to promote a product it all comes down to the analysis of the 4 Ps, proving exactly why they are still so important. “There is no one size fits all,” Sauter said and Tingley agrees. “Find out who your target market is, and your demographics and what makes them tick,” Tingley said. “And when you answer all these questions and do a competitor analysis, and a pricing strategy and you figure out where you are selling and why you are selling…that’s how you find out how you need to promote it! There is a good chance the answer will be digital and a mix of something else.”
Digital and social media advertising add more promotional options but marketing budgets remain relatively the same. “The pie has a few more slices,” said Tingley. Some people think that social media is the cheapest, most cost-effective way to advertise but it still has to fit with the overall marketing strategy.
Tingley advises to be mindful of what social media is. It’s an online environment where people socialize and connect with other people, not a place for hard selling. “When you start pushing ads towards [social media users], you are kind of interrupting what they are there for,” he said. “You got to be delicate, balanced. The ads have to be engaging providing a service that is answering their needs [and] their wants.”
Sauter has also seen companies that think that social media and digital advertising is the universal solution to promotion. “Yes, there are new ways of getting your message out, but social media isn’t the end…ten years from now it will be something different,” she says. Sauter compares this to a few years ago when everybody saw a need to develop an app for basically everything.
In smaller companies, marketing is sometimes overlooked and falls down the to-do list. “[Business owners] are looking for that silver bullet,” said Sauter. “They are looking for the formula that says if you do ‘x’, ‘y’ and ‘z’, then you will increase your sales and profitability.”
The magic silver bullet probably doesn’t exist, but going back to the 4 Ps as a basic marketing framework can help in figuring out a marketing strategy with the right balance of promotional tools.