How to Actually Use the 4 Ps of the Marketing Mix

Using the 4 Ps of the Marketing Mix as a practical guide to nail positioning, rather than just a list of ingredients for creating a product.

6 min read

You’ve no doubt heard of the marketing mix.

Back in 1960, Jerome McCarthy added to the concept of the marketing mix by calling out four Ps.

He described how companies could consistently articulate and position themselves, their brands and their products along four dimensions: product, price, promotion, and place.

The marketing mix has become a staple of academic marketing ideas. Ubiquitous in marketing curricula alongside Michael Porter’s Five Forces and the Lavige-Steiner Hierarchy of Effects Model, the four Ps of the marketing mix and their descendant variants are spread in universities from hither to yon.

The marketing mix is mostly taught and talked about all wrong. Click To Tweet

The marketing mix

Before we go any further, we need working definitions for each of the four Ps.

Product

Is your product the best? Does it deliver the benefits better than competitors? Is it complete in terms of understanding the customer’s job to be done?

Price

The simplest of the four to describe. Are you priced lower than the competition?

Promotion

Are you better at selling than others? Are there benefits to your distribution model? Do you deliver ancillary values as customers buy from you that surprise and delight them? Do you leverage the psychology of sales, events, free gifts, add-ons, and deals? Do you make your customer feel smart by letting them learn and play a game of BOGOs, rewards, loyalty points, coupons, Google Ads, or Monopoly spaces?

Place

Do you win at distribution? Do you have stores, vending machines, power aisles, or websites placed in the most convenient or ubiquitous locations so your customer can get your product when and where they want it?

Since the original, additional Ps have been proposed, streching the number to five, seven, or even eight Ps.

I’m going to include the fifth, people.

People

There’s an argument to be made that the value-add from your people can be lumped in with one of the other four. For instance, if you train your employees to give outstanding service, isn’t that just an extension of your Product? Or, if you depend on a cadre of highly skilled salespeople, isn’t that the same as Promotion?

All the same, I like including people as a fifth P because there is a human component that I don’t think can be simply boiled down to one of the other four. Ultimately marketing is human beings talking to other human beings about transactions that make our lives better. I think the so-called war for talent among tech companies shows a recognition of this at some level.

It’s somewhat popular to add Process, and Physical evidence to bring the total to eight Ps. An argument can be made for example that companies like Amazon or Walmart are more competitive due to their fanatical commitment to process efficiency.

The Process certainly contributes to how these companies deliver their value to the customer. But I’m not convinced that Process is actually a main driver for why customers buy from them.

Adding a bunch of extra Ps takes a core principle and turns it into fashion. Self-congratulatory marketers look down their noses at the poor folks still using last year’s 4 Ps model. In actual use, I find very limited utility in adding process and physical evidence because they seem to be taking the focus from marketing articulation of value to the customer, and focusing the model introspectively to how the company is run—and the four Ps model is not about operations, it’s about psychology.

So, I stick with 5.

“The marketing mix is not about operations, it’s about psychology.” #marketing #marketingmix #positioning Click To Tweet

Positioning 101

I said most people teach and talk about the four Ps all wrong.

That’s precisely because the four Ps are most useful when we think about them in terms of psychology. Positioning is a strategy as native to psychology as anything else we do in marketing.

You don’t want to position your product in the middle of an axis or along a spectrum. The best positioning is binary; it’s at the poles.

The oracles of positioning, Al Reis and Jack Trout taught us that positioning means describing yourself and describing your category in terms where you are #1.

It’s in the extreme ends of the spectrum that positioning potency lives. Srini Rao took this one step further in his book, Only is better than Best.

The 4 Ps are not a framework for articulating the attributes of the thing you sell. They are a challenge for you to commit. They beg you to abandon mediocrity and the indecisive middle by going all-in to deliver maximum value in just one dimension of the marketing mix.

You cannot win at all four.

You must pick one for your main competitive advantage.

For example, it’s easy to tell which P these competitive retailers have decided is their core positioning strategy.

Walmart: price

Kohl’s: promotion

Target: product

It’s easy to get confused. Often price and product play tug-of-war and in the middle is a match for the customer’s sense of value.

In fact, any example you pick has elements of all four. 

How can you label Target as “product,” you say, when they also run promotions and often compete on price? All three of these retailers has thousands of stores. Clearly they’ve made a commitment to “place” as well.

But it’s precisely in the “mix” that we can lose sight of where the competitive differentiators are. That’s where the temptation to avoid committing lies.

You can’t win a position if you don’t take one. 

Beginners try to pick many at once, usually starting with price.

Companies are focused on building products rather than brands. A product is something made in a factory. A brand is something made in the mind. To be successful today, you have to build brands, not products. And you build brands by using positioning strategies…

Al Reis, Positioning: the Battle for Your MindSacrifice, commitment, and getting it righ

Looking at the marketing mix as a recipe for your go-to-market strategy is actually a recipe for mediocrity. Simply adding a little of this and a little of that until you have a unique blend will get you nowhere.

The main thing with the Marketing Mix is to decide. 

To commit.

There is a flip side to making a commitment. Sacrifice.

By choosing one element of the marketing mix as your frontrunner, you are by default also choosing three others that are not. You have sacrificed making the others your main thing. Making a choice precludes making different choices. 

And that is the main thing.

Committing to one dimension of the marketing mix creates contrast which is at the heart of positioning.

Committing to one element of the marketing mix to the exclusion of others creates CONTRAST which is the essence of positioning.  #positioning #marketing #marketingmix  Click To Tweet

I hope you found this useful. What are your biggest challenges with the Marketing Mix? Post them in the comments below.


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P.S. You can read more about the principles of commitment and sacrifice from Scott Bedbury in his classic, A New Brand World.


@cmo_zen is a blog of micro meditations for marketing leaders, designed to help them find clarity and peace in the marketing maelstrom.

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