Marketing White Belt: The 4 Ps of Marketing

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This post is part of the Marketing White Belt series.

One of the earliest lessons I learned from my master teachers Ken Savage, Mark Davis, and Stephen K. Hayes was that in order to develop wisdom, you need an even balance of theory and application. Theory provides you with models, frameworks, forms, and methods to learn. Once you’ve gained competency in the basics in their textbook formats, you learn to apply them. You try them out, take them apart, vary them, and see how they work in application. After learning form and variation over a very long period of time, you transmute them both into experience and wisdom.

Boston Martial Arts class

Martial artists and marketers tend to go wrong in similar ways when it comes to understanding how these two broad concepts work. Some folks think that theory is useless, that all you need to do in order to be effective is just put some gloves on and get into the ring, to wing it and hope. Other folks think that application is just a polite word for chaos and incompetence, deriding its lack of structure and “purity”. Both limited points of view are, of course, are wrong.

Generally speaking, you need to start with theory, with models, with something to hang your hat on. Knowing what a house should look like and how it should function is generally a better place to start than simply nailing together wood beams and hoping it turns into a place to live. So for this week on the blog, we’re going to look at some of the basic frameworks and ideas that make up marketing theory. Like white belts in the dojo, don’t expect these frameworks to instantly revolutionize your social media or marketing efforts without extensive application and trial. Like white belts in the dojo, don’t rush into social media or marketing, hoping you’ll just learn it magically along the way.

Marketing Mix, or the 4 Ps

The most basic framework in marketing is the 4 Ps. Here’s how it breaks down:

  • Product
  • Price
  • Place
  • Promotion

Let’s review these basic components:

Product. This is the thing that you want to sell to people. It can be a book, a service, even an emotion. Everything that provides value is bundled up in product, from packaging to features & benefits.

The most common mistake made by companies? Attempting to use marketing to fix a product problem. The bottom line is that if your product sucks, if your product is something that no one wants or needs, you won’t develop growth. Yes, you’ll sucker a few people here or there into buying your stuff, but they won’t buy again and they won’t tell their friends anything positive about you.

Price. How much do you sell your product or service for? More broadly, how much value does your product or service deliver?

Pricing is its own science, but one of the key things marketers get wrong is failing to connect price to value, to the benefit delivered for a price. If, as an example, you’re trying to sell a financial service, and your price is 1 but your service delivers value of4 for every 1 spent, then you can raise your price and still deliver value to your customers. Conversely, if your service costs1 but delivers 50 cents of value, you’ve got a long death spiral ahead of you. Marketing can slow it down, but you’re still doomed.

Place. Where can someone get your product or service? This is a much trickier question in marketing now than it used to be. In the early days of the industrial revolution, place was simple. You went to a store to buy products. In the information age, place can be virtual.

One area that gets especially murky in marketing (and martial arts!) is that place also has a time component. Yes, you can market on Twitter or Facebook, but to make your marketing effective, there is also a time in a relationship you’ve built to do that marketing. If you understand place but not time, you still won’t get the results you want, even though you may be standing in the same place as a competitor.

Promotion. This is the mainstay of marketing, the part that has all the visibility and attention – rightly so, because it’s the part that generates the most results and the part that’s hardest to gain proficiency with. Promotion is telling the right people about your product or service’s very existence so that they can learn more about it and ideally buy it from you.

If you left off promotion, you’d have a marketing strategy known as “build it and they will come”, assuming that great product in the right place at a fair price will automatically attract qualified buyers. Nothing could be further from the truth in today’s attention-deficit world. Promotion is largely about attention – whose attention should you be getting, and how will you get it? Promotion is the heart and soul of marketing, and the part you’ll have to work hardest at to develop excellence in.

This basic framework, the 4 Ps, is a good place to see the biggest possible picture of your marketing efforts – what you’ll be marketing, where, at what price, and to whom. Once you understand this, you’ll be ready to dig into individual areas to accentuate strengths and firm up weaknesses.

We’ll continue with some more frameworks and marketing basics tomorrow.

This post is part of the Marketing White Belt series.

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6 responses to “Marketing White Belt: The 4 Ps of Marketing”

  1. Several places to go with this one, including and not limited to, one of the seven blogs I write for and/or own….

    How many steps to black belt? What are the colors in between? How many levels of black belt available?

    I’ve always like Bruce Lee’s theory, that it is better to create your own discipline, than to follow others….

    We can all write our own version of The Tao of Jeet Kune Do in that case 😉

    If what you’re giving away, meaning, “It’s Free!” is something that you should be charging for, how do you change that model?

  2. Can you share an example of a product that is an emotion? I don’t refer to something like a U.S. flag or a coffin that can evoke emotion, but an emotion itself?

    1. Insurance. It sells primarily on peace of mind, and until you invoke the actual mechanics of a claim, it’s really intangible.

      Check out the TED talk Rory Sutherland did on intangible value for some REALLY good examples.

  3. Can you share an example of a product that is an emotion? I don’t refer to something like a U.S. flag or a coffin that can evoke emotion, but an emotion itself?

  4. Thank you for the refresher on the four P’s. Great post.

  5. […] for understanding the – pun intended – landscape of the industry. Pull out classic models like the 4 Ps, Porter's 5 Forces, SWOT and PESTLE analyses, etc. and do your research. Determine where the gaps […]

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