Goodbye to the Four Ps: what marketing means today

So you know all about marketing? Time for a rethink, says Guerric de Ternay.

By Guerric de Ternay 25 October 2016


Everyone who works in marketing knows the marketing mix. The four Ps aim to help you define what your company offers – product and price – and how it does – place and promotion. But this founding framework of marketing no longer encompasses what marketing means today.

This isn’t just a theoretical issue. The way a company defines marketing shapes the scope of its marketing activities and the way it organises its marketing teams. And problems arise when a wrong definition is used and therefore doesn’t make marketing fit well within the overall business strategy.

Two major things have changed since the inception of the four Ps. First, the scope of marketing is much broader. It doesn’t only encompass products. Second, marketing strategy has switched from a linear approach to an experimental approach. Real data is now available to support marketing decisions.

What marketing means in 2016

As marketing guru Tim Ambler, a former Senior Research Fellow at LBS, explained, the essence of marketing is “the sourcing and harvesting of cash flow”.

This definition is a starting point to how marketing has to be seen today. It is the bridge between the organisation and its customers – a commercial relationship that leads to providing a business with cash flow.

Further inspiration comes from Al Ries, the great mind who popularised the concept of positioning. He recently challenged the four Ps, suggesting an alternative framework, the four Ms: merchandise, market, media, and message.

This is an interesting idea. It illustrates how marketing today has a much broader scope than it did in the dark days before digital. But Ries’ framework is missing the modern approach to marketing that tech companies have developed over the last 15 years.

So let’s define today’s marketing mix using the four Ms.

The Four Ms: today’s marketing mix

1 Market

The first step of developing a successful business strategy is to understand who your customers are.

Defining and understanding the market first helps you avoid the pitfalls of marketing myopia, a term coined in 1960 by Theodore Levitt, the then editor of Harvard Business Review. Businesses that focus on selling products rather than serving their customers limit the scope of their market. Customer-oriented businesses work on helping customers achieve what they want to do and don’t limit the market to a certain category of products.

Gaining insight into your market means identifying who your customers are and empathising with what they want to achieve. It requires you to understand their problems. You can’t limit yourself to segmenting the market based on demographics. There is, of course, some correlation in the way 30-to-45-year-old men tend to live their lives. But it’s not enough. Demographics is a shortcut to segmenting the market but it gives little insight.

GoPro doesn’t focus on selling cameras to people in their twenties and thirties – the so-called “millennials”. Its focus is to help people record the cool things they do, including extreme sports. It’s easier for GoPro to sell its HERO5 camera to passionate surfers and skiers than for it to attempt to identify who the “millennials” really are.

Three major benefits for using your market as a starting point for your marketing strategy are as follows: One, the size of the market is not limited to a product category. Two, it reduces the risk of ignoring what your market really needs. Three, it makes it easier to understand how to sell your merchandise and build relationships with your market.

2 Merchandise

Marketing goes beyond the concept of products. As marketers, we’ve changed our thinking from the physical object that is being sold to the overall experience that we offer to our customers.

This is why marketers often refer to “product and services” but marketing also applies to ideas, movements, organisations, cities, countries and even people.

Tailoring the right value proposition for your merchandise requires you to understand the market very well. You gain insight thanks to experimentation – an iterative process of running insightful market research and observing how your market reacts to different versions of your merchandise.

Tesla is a master at the iterative process of constantly testing and improving its merchandise. Every now and then, the electric carmaker updates its software to add new features to the car. It has also recently leveraged the power of crowdfunding, another way to engage its market and experiment with coming merchandises. So far, hundreds of thousands of Tesla Model 3 have been pre-ordered, a great way for Tesla to evaluate the demand for its new car before producing any.

The merchandise is what marketers tailor and offer to create a set of experiences for their customers.

3 Message

Your message is what you tell your market so they can tell themselves a consistent story about your merchandise.

There’s a natural misalignment between the story you tell and the one people tell themselves. They only get a portion of your message. Nobody has enough time and energy to know the whole story, so they make up things with the portion they know. As a result, your message needs to be very simple and consistent across all media.

Think about it. How much do you really know about, for example, Amazon, Apple, or Samsung? Probably just enough to tell yourself a story that makes sense and convinces you to buy from them.

So your marketing strategy needs a simple and memorable message.

4 Media (and MarTech)

Many companies fall into the trap of wanting to be everywhere. But this dilutes the ability to reach the market effectively.

Choosing the right media depends on four elements: who is in your market, what is your merchandise, what message you are sharing, and what do your competitors already do?

Today’s analytics tools – the so-called MarTech tools – are essential to figuring out the best way to share your message. Thanks to an experimental approach, your team can find out how to improve your marketing campaigns over time.

Well managed, Google Analytics can tell you exactly how a specific digital marketing campaign drives your sales. You can then experiment to figure out how profitable each channel is. This is how I know for sure that SEO is a more profitable channel than PR for GoudronBlanc. Having this level of precision helps to make better informed marketing decisions.

MarTech tools are very useful in the process of gaining insight about the market. But they are also great in terms of competitive intelligence.

For example, a tool like SEMrush allows you to get insights into your competitors’ strategies in display advertising as well as organic (SEO) and paid search (SEM). You can find out the keywords people have used the most to land on your competitors’ website. It’s a handy way to inform your digital marketing strategy and leverage the best media.

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