Are the 4 Ps of marketing still relevant on the web? – Part 1: Product

We’re in the Age of Questioning. We’ve become enamored of revolution. The web that changes how PR and marketing work. The web that changes how the previous web worked. The web that changes how we as people work. And so on…

Mind you, I don’t disbelieve those changes.

I see how Facebook is enlarging that Dunbar number of manageable acquaintances.
I witnessed the incredible surge in worth of mouth arising from the new, social media and its impact on sales.
I experienced personally how the online environment is changing our notions of awareness, notoriety, reputation, interaction and so many more.

But sometimes, I believe we’re being too radical in rejecting what is condescendingly referred to as conventional wisdom. I’ve been stirred into saying something about this by the following post by David Meerman Scott, whose “The New Rules of Marketing and PR: How to Use Social Media, Blogs, News Releases, Online Video, and Viral Marketing to Reach Buyers Directly”  is actually an interesting read filled with useful techniques and a deep understanding of how new media works.

He argues that

I think focusing on the traditional Ps lead directly to failure because the concepts force marketers into a marketing paradigm that just isn’t effective in a social world.

I agree that being hung up on certain ideas impedes our ability to make effective use of new, unusual opportunities, but I disagree with the lack of relevance of the 4Ps.

First, the 4Ps were always more of a mnemonic tool to understand how to structure  and approach marketing, than actual prescriptions for conduct, and as such, they serve the same function in the online environment as in the 1960s markets.

Second, the beauty of concepts is that their content or definition is very user and context specific. Right, justice, morality, love and many other concepts have given rise to sophisticated philosophical constructs that are widely different, although the concept debated is the same.

I propose that that the 4Ps are similar: useful concepts that structure our experience and direct our actions. The mistake is not in the idea of having a concept, or the concepts themselves, but in how they are defined.

So, yes, I agree that we must question our interpretation of the 4 Ps in light of the changes in the marketing environment, but we should not dismiss them out of hand.

Take “PRODUCT”, for example. Meerman Scott argues that “A focus on Product means you create web content about the wrong things.” In fact, in his book he goes on to explain:

Marketers don’t understand buyers, the problems buyers face, or how their product helps solve these problems. That’s where the gobbledygook happens. First the marketing person bugs the product managers and others in the organization to provide a set of the product’s features. Then the marketing person reverse-engineers the language that they think the buyer wants to hear based not on buyer input but on what the product does. A favorite trick these ineffective marketers use is to take the language that the product manager provides, go into Microsoft Word’s find-and-replace mode, substitute the word solution for product, and then slather the whole thing with superlative-laden, jargon-sprinkled hype. By just decreeing, through an electronic word substitution, that ‘‘our product’’ is ‘‘your solution,’’ these companies effectively deprive themselves of the opportunity to convince people that this is the case.

He’s not wrong. Just incomplete.

In essence, marketing is there to facilitate a transaction. Both parties obtain something.

Party A exchanges a good or service of their making or to which they have somehow added something with party B, in return for something that’s of value to Party A (whether that is another good or service, money, or intangibles such as goodwill or reputation). The condition for that exchange is for Party B to desire what Party A has to offer, to have access to the good or service and to be able to offer what party A desires in return. Admittedly, this is a product centric view, where marketing’s role to create that desire, ensure accessibility, and intermediate the equivalence between party A’s value and Party B’s.

Let’s take it from the point of view of party B. Party B needs, desires, or is lacking (without realizing it) something. In one scenario,  Party A independently offers that something, so marketing’s role is to make the two meet.  In another scenario, Party A has the capacity to cater to party B’s needs, desires or subconscious, but does not now what these are. They desire some value from party B, but do not know what to offer in exchange, and that’s where marketing comes in, helping party B understand what they want or need, and guiding party A towards meeting that need.

Regardless of the scenario, the key , online or offline, is to find whatever X meets the parties’ mutual goal (and make sure that they can exchange it or partake in it and establish a fair, satisfactory value for that exchange.) That X is the “PRODUCT” in marketing, and it does not go away on the online environment just because the paradigm has shifted from product-centric to consumer centric.

True, if you do not redefine the content of “PRODUCT” you end up concentrating on the make-up and features of the X rather than on the customer’s objectives and the benefits they seek, especially in writing or describing that X. It does take away from understanding that there is no intrinsic value in what you produce, its only value comes from doing something or offering something somebody wants or needs. Perhaps it is easier for me because I’ve worked with intangibles, like movies. You can’t speak about the features of a movie, it has none, other than technical prowess. Actors names, directors, technology, are code-words for the experience the user has, which is at the center of marketing. But ultimately, it is still a product and saying “PRODUCT” is not relevant in the online environment is throwing the baby (the value for the customer) out with the bathwater  (bad communication).

Similarly, the other 3 PS need redefining, which I will write about in the next few days.

1 Comment

Filed under Communication, Consumer behavior, Reading Lists

One response to “Are the 4 Ps of marketing still relevant on the web? – Part 1: Product

  1. Pingback: Are the 4 Ps of marketing still relevant on the web? – Part 2: Price | CORINA's CONCERNS

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