Rumors of the Death of the 4 P’s are Greatly Exaggerated

With all of the excitement of Social Media and Digital Marketing, there have been a lot of articles and commentary lately about the demise of the 4P model.  For those that don’t know or need a refresher, the 4P model stands for Product, Pricing, Placement, and Promotion.  A good, simple overview of the 4P model is presented on the NetMBA site.images

Ogilvy and Mather published an article about the 4Ps being out and the 4Es being in.  While I agree with the value of the 4E model as an extension or addition to the 4Ps (I have this as required reading in the undergraduate digital marketing course that I teach), it does not replace the 4P model.

There have been numerous attempts to EXTEND the 4P model over time.  There have also been arguments about what constitutes the main P’s with some arguing that People should be added (for customer segmentation).

Some argue that the 4Ps have been replaced by the 7Cs.  An alternative way of thinking about this is that the 4Ps approach the marketing mix from the vendor/producer viewpoint while the 7Cs approach marketing mix from the Customer/Consumer standpoint.  I think that this is another model that goes deeper and is complimentary to the 4P model.

As a way of highlighting the continuing importance of the 4P model, I point to the recent issues in the marketplace around Microsoft’s Surface RT tablet launch as a way of showing how critical the 4Ps really are to successful marketing.  Regardless of your personal viewpoint (Pro or Con) regarding the Surface RT platform, the product has had a challenging launch and ramp by any objective measure and it can be clearly tracked back to three of the four P’s.

From a Product standpoint, the Surface RT has had strong positive reviews for it’s industrial design but has also had negative responses to it’s lack of available apps and inability to run legacy Windows applications.

From a Pricing standpoint, there has been strong pushback from reviewers on the initial pricing for the Surface RT.  While there have been pros and cons about the Surface RT pricing and price positioning (with and without keyboards), the fact that it is raised as a value concern in various reviews shows that Pricing and price-positioning is an important part of the marketing mix.

Finally, Placement has been a major issue as the product was initially available only in Microsoft’s stores and online.  There was some commentary early on in the announcements that this was a point product for Microsoft and would not be available through broad distribution as a way to minimize competitive conflict with Windows 8 OEMS but that has proven to be an issue for the product’s acceptance in the marketplace.

From a Promotion standpoint, Microsoft has done a good job of building Awareness.  Using the 4P model it is possible to see clearly the challenges that they have in driving Consideration and, most importantly, Conversion.

While there is always value in extending models and creating complimentary models, the claims that the 4Ps are irrelevant are questionable at best.  Like good brands, good models stand the test of time.

Web 2.0 challenges traditional marketing approaches

The traditional four P’s of marketing championed by Phil Kotler of Kellogg have been a cornerstone for many years. Product, Pricing, Placement, Promotion. At least TWO and maybe three of the P’s are much more difficult to manage given the changes driven by the internet and specifically Search Engine Optimization and Search Engine Marketing.

Pricing is not as straightforward and direct as it is for traditional bricks and mortar (and even web 1.0) businesses. There are multiple levels to get to the paying customer. The revenue is much more indirect than in any other business. For example, if a web 2.0 site is dependent on advertising revenue how do you control the ‘P – Price’? Yes, once you get to a certain size you can demand higher CPA or CPC rates, but you are still dependent on generating traffic to show the ads and even then your ability to drive the conversion rates necessary to recognize the revenue is semi-passive at best. And this is AFTER you have reached a traffic level where you can even set a price at all. Is this truly ‘Pricing’ in the traditional sense? Instead of focusing on the traditional levers of COGS (cost of goods sold), Gross Margin targets, and variable sales and marketing costs the web 2.0 marketeer has to focus on traffic, eCPC (effective CPC) rates, Click through rates, and ad priorities. And where the site actually generates direct revenue (such as subscriptions or premium features) there are additional metrics and drivers that the marketeer needs to focus on that are far outside the realm of traditional marketing.

Placement also has a very different meaning in the web 2.0 world. There is no shelf space (relatively) with the exception of search engine rankings and banner advertising locations. Banner ad locations also present a challenging difference. Does Banner Ad location represent Placement or Promotion? A/B testing is so critical in web 2.0 marketing! Unlike traditional advertising A/B testing where the marketing professional is testing both creative and media in the web 2.0 world the marketeer is testing location (placement) on page, media, specific site results, and creative. All of this with very questionable and inconsistent metrics between different sites and tools.

So, what does this mean? In my mind we’re beginning to see a new paradigm develop. Marketing will be much more dependent on analysis of metrics such as click through rates, exit rates, and time on site. Rather than being able to run focus groups to find out what customers ‘want’ the web 2.0 marketeer is going to have to be able to do in-depth statistical analysis to understand how the customer ‘want’ is translated into actions and web development.

Deepak Jain, the Dean of Kellogg’s School of Management, has a Masters in Mathematics and Statistics and is a top professor of marketing. I had a class with him early on and he spoke about the increasing integration of math and statistics into the marketing process. I didn’t get it at the time because I was in a traditional business. Now I do. He’s right and it’s moving faster than even he suggested.

Are others finding similar things? I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts. We’re beginning to look for more quant-friendly marketing interns here. Are you? Mail me at