The big debate: Are the ‘4Ps of marketing’ still relevant?

The relevance of the ‘4Ps of marketing’ in today’s digital world is a topic that continues to cause much discussion. Should marketers relinquish responsibility or retake control?

4Ps

The famous ‘4Ps of marketing’ are revered by some members of the profession, and scoffed at by others. Some see these fundamental tenets of classical marketing theory – referring to product, price, promotion and place – as the foundations upon which all sound marketing strategies are built. For others, they represent dusty old concepts that have failed to update to the modern, digital age.

Marketing Week was drawn to reconsider the 4Ps recently when analysing the impact of post-Brexit inflationary pressures in the UK and the role that marketers should play in setting prices. With inflation forecast to hit nearly 3% this year, marketers need to display leadership on pricing strategy and work collaboratively with other business stakeholders to offset the effects of price hikes on customers. Marketers who have bypassed more formal routes to training may lack this essential skill.

If anything, the attributes required of marketers are growing all the time. In 2015, the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) published a report on the ‘7Ps’, adding people, process and physical evidence to the list. But at a time when marketing channels and consumer behaviours are changing at speed, should brands continue to pay heed to these formal concepts, or instead rewrite the rules of marketing for themselves?

No ‘one size fits all’ approach

Startup brands are often less likely to stick rigidly to the 4Ps. As they attempt to build an audience in a new or emerging consumer market, these companies may prefer improvisation and experimentation over carefully defined marketing theories.

Louise Pegg, head of marketing at peer-to-peer mortgage lender Landbay, says she is mindful of the 4Ps, but also keen to “follow what we believe to be the right thing for the right stage in our business development”. The company, founded in 2014, is conscious that it is operating in a relatively new industry and wants to evolve and adapt as the market does.

“This means that there is not necessarily a tried and tested method for what we are looking to achieve,” explains Pegg. “Every business is different and so strategies should be aligned with business goals, rather than a ‘one size fits all’ approach.”

It is increasingly hard to separate price and promotion. It is more appropriate to talk about value.

Matt Barwell, Britvic

She adds that while the fundamental principles of marketing have not necessarily changed, the way that marketers perform their jobs has altered drastically as a result of technological change. “These evolutions allow the customer to have a voice and a platform to share it,” she says.

“Marketing is no longer about what businesses want to tell their customers, it is about businesses listening to their customers and responding in a way that offers a meaningful solution to them.”

But it is not just small businesses that are reimagining the fundamentals of marketing. Matt Barwell, CMO at drinks group Britvic, which owns brands such as Robinsons, J2O and Tango, says the 4Ps have “evolved” and are “only relevant within an over-arching marketing strategy”. As a result, Britvic is redefining how it talks about the 4Ps by combining some with others and by adding new principles of its own.

“It is increasingly hard to separate price and promotion. It is more appropriate to talk about value, asking ourselves how we deliver amazing value to consumers through product, through experience and through a combination of price and promotion,” says Barwell.

“We have also added a ‘C’ for communication as we feel that the communications lever is critical to unlocking growth and developing mental availability.”

Britvic has also added two of its own ‘Ps’ in the form of purpose and penetration. The former helps the company ensure that all its activities are consistent, Barwell says, while the latter helps it to reach new customers. “Penetration is at the heart of all our strategies for growing our brands,” he adds.

Ultimately, Barwell argues that a brand must determine its own aims and strategy before turning its attention to broader marketing principles. “Only then do we look at the whether the traditional 4Ps can be used as levers for growth.”

Dangers of dismissing the 4Ps

Pete Markey, brand communications and marketing director at Aviva, is wary of attempts to dismiss the 4Ps or cast them as “unfashionable” in the digital age. He believes they remain “hugely relevant” because they show the extent to which marketing impacts on a business’s performance.

READ MORE: Russell Parsons – Marketers should take control of all ‘4Ps’

“In effect they say marketing isn’t just the job of the marketing department,” he notes. “You can have the best communications in the world but if your price or product is wrong, it’s not going to work. Too often I see marketing teams that are asked to take something rubbish to market with a good advert. That’s why the 4Ps are so relevant now, because they remind us that marketing is so much more than just advertising.”

Markey argues that many brands are struggling because they have ignored the 4Ps in favour of chasing digital audiences. “It becomes about trying to make something go viral but you have to ask yourself why you are doing that. Who needs it? What’s the point?” he says.

You have got to look at a lot of the really terrible marketing out there to see how much we have lost the plot on the 4Ps.

Pete Markey, Aviva

“I read an article recently about the fact that a lot of content that’s distributed online is just garbage, so you have got to look at a lot of the really terrible marketing out there to see how much we have lost the plot on the 4Ps – we’ve forgotten them.”

Despite his attachment to the 4Ps , Markey does not see much need to extend the list to seven, preferring instead the simplicity of a shorter set of principles. He argues that when all of the classical theory is stripped away, the 4Ps are essentially about understanding the wants and needs of customers, and how to extract value from that.

As a senior marketer with over 20 years of experience, Markey is concerned by what he sees as a lack of sufficient training in the 4Ps among the new generation of young marketers coming into the profession.

“I don’t think it’s their fault,” he says. “I see a lot of brands hiring now on a skill set – be it programmatic or [their knowledge of] Adobe systems. Tech and digital are more important than ever but you can’t forget the basics of marketing. We need to do more to raise the bar of marketing excellence and get the 4Ps back where they belong.”

READ MORE: Mark Ritson – Maybe it’s just me, but shouldn’t an ‘expert’ in marketing be trained in marketing?

Preparing for the future

So where do we go from here? Will the 4Ps endure as marketing leaders reassert these principles, or are they destined to disappear from boardroom conversations as ‘digital natives’ take over? A recent Marketing Week poll revealed that only 44% count one of the 4Ps – price – as part of their job mix. Meanwhile, 27% don’t have control but believe they should, and nearly a third (29%) don’t have primary responsibility for pricing and don’t want it.

Sarah Lawrence, marketing director at gym and private hospital operator Nuffield Health, is respectful of the 4Ps, but also keen to reframe the way that marketers think about customer engagement. “We have to think much more about how we influence consumers through communities rather than the traditional approach of ‘target audiences’,” she says.

“Consumers now interact and engage with products and services through multichannel, multi-platform searches and ‘real’ influencers such as ‘insta-influencers’.

By being transparent she says bloggers have the ability to expose the good and bad in brands and their products and services. “This creates real challenges but also massive opportunity as technology such as AI and customer engagement platforms become more able to engage with consumers in a meaningful way,” she adds.

READ MORE: 60% of content created by brands is ‘just clutter’

Lawrence argues that this new approach will help to ensure that marketing remains vital and relevant to businesses. “I do believe we have more influence and certainly a voice at the table that is heard [but only for] for those marketers that understand the complex nature of bringing companies and brands to the front of consumers’ mind in a relevant and meaningful way,” she says.

Similarly, wireless charging startup Chargifi – one of Marketing Week’s 100 Disruptive Brands – is mindful of the need to closely track new technology, while staying true to marketing best practice. Founded in 2013, the business provides technology that allows people to charge their phones in public places over wireless internet connections.

CEO and co-founder Dan Bladen says the business was recently encouraged by the launch of Dell’s first laptop incorporating wireless power, and is planning certain strategies on the basis that Apple may include wireless charging as a feature in the next iPhone. “Being responsive is one of our fundamental marketing principles,” he explains. “If we’re not up to date with advances in the industry and the wider news agenda, we can’t recognise opportunities for expansion or promotion.”

Despite this technology-oriented approach, Bladen believes the 4Ps “still offer a strong backbone to a marketing strategy”. Combining responsive activity with an ongoing attachment to the fundamentals of marketing is likely to be a strategy that many brands will pursue as they seek to balance innovation with profitability and growth in the years ahead.

“The two ‘Ps’ we focus on most are product and placement – both are vitally important to the service we provide,” says Bladen. “Chargifi spots bring free, convenient power to people where and when they need it most, so it’s important they are available in venues with high footfall like coffee shops and restaurants. Promotion and price ensure we compete effectively.”

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Comments
  • Jonathan Robbins 9 Feb 2017 at 8:11 am

    Why does everyone dismiss the 8th P? It’s the P that transformed the business I worked for and my professional career.

    Not recognising this P seriously dates and fragments the CIM and the other Ps, in my humble opinion.

  • Jim Norris 9 Feb 2017 at 8:37 am

    In the 70’s we had rampant inflation – if we had not stuck rigidly to the 4P’s we would have gone bust.

  • Victoria Hamilton 9 Feb 2017 at 9:13 am

    You can’t get much closer engagement with a brand than putting it in your mouth or on your skin. It’s entirely possible to optimise your product and pack so that they become distinctive brand assets in their own right, working alongside communications and delivering and enhancing brand equity.

  • Carl 9 Feb 2017 at 9:24 am

    I was trained to use the 7Ps and believe they are still as relevant today as ever before. IMO, they offer a solid framework to build strategy and organise marketing activity.

    • Nick Turner 9 Feb 2017 at 9:59 am

      I have to agree Carl – the key is as you say that they “offer a solid framework to build strategy and organise marketing activity.”

      IMO it really doesn’t matter whether you favour the 4Ps, 7Ps, or even the more recently popularised digital 7S framework – it is all about having a platform for your creative thought processes. Any of these alternatives will flounder without the creative mind.

      Personally I favour Lauterborn’s (1990) 4Cs – Customer Need (meeting them), Cost (not purely financial), Convenience (accessibility) and Communication (2-way, feedback, responsiveness).

  • Simone Castello 9 Feb 2017 at 1:53 pm

    Funnily enough I wrote an article on LinkedIn asking that question, in the contest of the new buzzword… Marketing v4 : https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/professional-networking-masterclasses-go-simone-castello?trk=prof-post

  • pamela danziger 10 Feb 2017 at 12:59 pm

    I believe the old 4Ps model of marketing has been disrupted. It isn’t about product, price, promotion or placement anymore. I think a far better approach is that of the 4Es, proposed by Brian Fetherstonhaugh, Olgivy & Mather. Where Experience replaces Product; Everyplace is the new Place; Exchange is now Price; and Evangelism is Promotion. I’ve written about it referencing the luxury market, but it applies to all marketing. Marketers that continue to rely on the 4Ps are going to lose their way, as the consumers have certainly moved on to a 4Es way to thinking and engaging with brands.

  • Jonathan Robbins 10 Feb 2017 at 2:55 pm

    Everybody seems to forget the 8th P.

    Purple Cow

  • alan tapp 10 Feb 2017 at 4:26 pm

    I despair. Marketing is chock full of an army of workers who have no idea what marketing is. just one example from the rubbish above: Price + Promotion = value? WTF? Value, as any MBA grad should be able to tell you, is quality divided by price. Quality is the benefit of the product or service as defined by the recipient – i.e. what it ‘does’ for the customer.

    No wonder most companies won’t let marketers near anything important like pricing. They’d go bust in weeks. Instead, marketers are sent away to play marbles at the other end of the playground while the grown ups get on with business.

    Ritson is bang on: “I think before you become an expert/ninja/guru/visionary in marketing you should learn the discipline. I think before you start creating new rules and insights you should know what the existing ones are. I think before you explain how marketing is changing you should understand what it was before you started announcing the change. I think you need a qualification to be qualified”.

    This old fashioned idea of knowing what you are talking about as a good start point seems to apply to every discipline I know except marketing. The result of not valuing a proper education is the utter chaos and crap thinking that underpins this piece and most of the contributions that lie within it.

    • Simone Castello 19 Feb 2017 at 10:03 am

      We are in post-truth society, experts are not wanted. I weep at the dross I hear from marketing pros at networking events. I get pipped to the post a lot of bullshitters, my next article or book could be Bullshitting for Business… a new approach for a post-truth society….

  • alan tapp 10 Feb 2017 at 4:30 pm

    by the way the 7Ps, 4Es, … for god’s sake they are all decades old. Kotler came up with 4Cs in the 1980s. To add to their total ignorance of the subject they presume to sout about, marketers are the best – the BEST – at pretending the discipline only began a couple of years ago and then f—ing well reinventing it.

    Read a book for crying out loud…

  • Jaafar El-Murad 12 Feb 2017 at 3:11 pm

    I totally agree. Those who equate the 4Ps (7Ps) to “one size fits all’ clearly never understood the original concept. The same goes for those who replace P with E or C then define it to mean the same thing – it’s still the marketing mix.
    This is all just about fashion. As Chanel said, fashions come, and go. Marketing is not a fad. It is a discipline. Technology changes and the world evolves; marketers need to recognise the new techniques for what they are, and adapt their marketing mix accordingly.

  • Daleep Chhabria 12 Feb 2017 at 5:15 pm

    During the digital age, the marketing landscape has evolved into a minefield whilst causing a lot of confusion and led to some serious budget wastage.

    It’s evident when you look at many of the marketing approaches taken these days, their corresponding goals in my view are lacking ‘something’.

    Everyone would love a silver bullet, an easy, preferably cheap path to achieving your goal. But, can this be a strategy? It probably can, but it can’t be a good one.

    Anyone for 10,000 Instagram followers / monthly website visits / email addresses, etc? There’s so much talk like this. As part of an overall integrated strategy, these are mere components. However, individually these are nothing more than tactics underpinned but thin air. But so many marketers think about these things in isolation.

    So I think it’s great to ask this question!

    The 4Ps is a great framework (as said in the comments) upon which marketers can build out their marketing strategies, all the way through to a tactical plan and workstreams.

    Britvic’s addition of ‘communications’: For me, the Promotion P is not all about sales promotion! Pre-digital, it included things like PR, word of mouth, etc. Post-digital, I put everything from Social Media to PPC in there. It’s about promoting your offering, so I see these things as channels of communication to get your desired reaction. Even though I keep communications within Promotion, Britvic has made it their own by breaking out a segment to help them get a tight grip on how they communicate their brand in a noisy marketing landscape within the highly competitive soft drinks FMCG category. Therefore framework + adapt = result.

  • Hailey Fink 13 Feb 2017 at 2:52 am

    As a current college student studying marketing, this article immediately caught my attention. The 4Ps of marketing was one of the very first topics that I learned in my courses and something that has been promoted and referred back to often during my learning. I was taught the original 4Ps but was also told to recognize that today the marketing world seems to shifting towards the use of 7Ps and that people are generally recognizing more than just the original four. I’m sure that curriculum varies throughout colleges, but I believe that I have been well trained on how to use the four, or seven, Ps to my best advantage in order to market successfully. As our society grows and changes it is understandable that every business must find its own way to take the foundation we have been taught and build from that in order to stand out and be successfully in the competitive business world. Today’s business may still use the 4Ps but apply them in different ways than how it used to be done. With the introduction of the internet it is easy to see how marketing may have become lax due to the easy access of the public attention by just widely distributing information on the web.

  • renzo rizzo 15 Feb 2017 at 4:00 pm

    On a historical note, the 4P’s where adopted and publicised by Prof. Kotler and first proposed by Prof McCarthy in 1960. They defined the marketing mix (a concept first described in 1950), and never included the strategic part of marketing like branding, positioning and the old concept of segmentation. In this day and age the 4P are obsolete, and it surprising that they are still studied other than as part of the history of our discipline. Products – as placeholder for the offering of a company- still holds, obviously.

    But promotion, placement and price are gone: today it is necessary to work on relationship with customers, not just promoting what we have to sell; instead of mere placement we have to work on reaching the customer working with physical stores, web retailers and our own e-commerce adopting sophisticated in store and web merchandizing tactics; and price is more about how we build a revenue stream – some products do not even have a price anymore. Besides, the 4P don’t even mention positioning and branding, not to speak about customers understanding and defining a value proposition.

    So while we should be thankful to the 4P model, one of the most robust in the history of marketing, and adopt a more up-to date model – that in my opinion should include at least 6 activities that are both strategic and tactic: prospecting as the search and understating of the customer, product as the definition of the offer, positioning & branding, and then revenues definition, relationship building and – finally – reach.

  • Tony Petruzalek 25 Jun 2017 at 11:08 pm

    It appears this article just encourages us all to show how smart we are. The real issue is a subject matter as complicated as Marketing can not be explained by any 4 words alone. Product will always be fundamental as without one what do you have? I am sure some clever people will tell me I am wrong as they sell a service (semantics;) Price comes hand in hand with product as whatever you do to your product will influence cost and hence price – assuming making money is part of the business model. Promotion and Place and two logical partners to help get the product to market. I do not believe any of us are dismissing other fundamental concepts such as competitors, customer, research (all the various types),segmentation, break even analysis, targeting, positioning, etc, etc. This all comes back to my first point that marketing can not be explained in 4 words;)

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