Are The 4 Ps Dead?

(The following is an excerpt from the Introduction of the upcoming book Marketing From the Navel: How to Become a Company Worth Talking About and Arm Customers to Spread the Word)

The 4 Ps

In 1960, a concept was introduced by E. Jerome McCarthy that identified the four basic tenants of marketing as Product, Price, Place, and Promotion or, as it is more commonly known, the 4 Ps. Anyone who has ever taken a marketing class from then until now is taught the 4 P’s as the basic overview of marketing. These simple questions are what make up the basics of marketing:

  • What kind of product are we going to produce?

  • What is the right price for this product?

  • How are we going to distribute this product?

  • How are we going to promote and sell this product?

The purpose of McCarthy’s model was to further the understanding that marketing is much more than selling and advertising. In actuality, Selling and advertising only make up the promotion component of McCarthy’s model. According to McCarthy in his book Basic Marketing: A Global-Managerial Approach, “The aim of marketing is to identify customers’ needs – and to meet those needs so well that the product almost sells itself.” Easy enough, right?

The truth is that today many marketers are declaring the 4 P’s dead, or at least no longer relevant. There are many marketers who have even added more P’s to the mix, such as people, process, physical presence, or (as the word-of-mouth/social media crowd like to say) participation. The big question is can any product almost sell itself, or are there other critical factors in the new reality of the consumer movement?

The Missing Ingredient

While the 4 Ps offer a good basic framework for understanding the all encompassing nature of marketing, they are missing one key ingredient that has been made blatantly apparent by the consumer revolution – the consumer’s involvement in the process. The 4 Ps are segmented like an organizational chart, chopping up the functions of marketing in 4 bite-size chunks. But what about the fickle nature of the consumer? What if what meets their needs well one day doesn’t the next? What if your product is priced correctly, but so are the other 123 options on the market? What if the best person to design your product is the consumer? What if the consumer discovers your product is manufactured in sweat shops in India by 8 year-olds because someone walked in with a camera phone and then posted it on YouTube, their blog, and their Facebook page?

As I mentioned before, the world has changed since advertising’s glory days in E. Jerome McCarthy’s 1960s. However, many marketers have not. I have had the opportunity on many occasions to guest lecture in a university marketing class or judge a high school or college marketing class and am disappointed, to say the least, to see that our marketing education has not kept pace with the changing nature of marketing. Marketing educators still spend the majority of their time on the 4 Ps (with some attention paid to segmentation) and then dive into advertising. Some might say that this is indicative of the average age of the tenured professor, the fact that so few educators are practicing marketers within the wild west of the last 5 years, and some might even say it is a flaw in the system.

According to the existing system, educators lump this new reality of the consumer revolution into “interactive marketing”, because a significant portion of it occurs online. What they fail to see is that we need to re-address the underlying models upon which marketing is based. It goes beyond adding more “Ps”, but needs to address the new reality that we as marketers face today. We need a model that helps us understand the X factor that the consumer plays in the marketing process. We need a model that helps us connect with and engage the consumer in ways that they are most comfortable with. We need a model that helps cut through the clutter that exists in the commoditized markets in which we compete by tapping into the ability of human beings to influence each other.

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