Are the 4P’s Still Relevant for Today’s Marketers?


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(The concept of the “marketing mix” has been a staple of marketing for over 70 years. It’s discussed in virtually all marketing textbooks and taught in virtually all introductory marketing courses. But does the marketing mix idea still have a place in 21st-century marketing? The answer is “yes,” and here’s why.)

The marketing mix construct has been part of the marketing landscape for more than seven decades. The origin of the concept can be traced to 1948 when James Culliton, a marketing professor at Harvard, wrote an article in which he described the marketing executive as a “mixer of ingredients.”

Culliton’s article inspired Neil H. Borden, another Harvard marketing professor, who began using the phrase “marketing mix” in his teaching and writing in 1949.

Borden developed a model of the marketing mix that included 12 elements – product planning, pricing, branding, channels of distribution, personal selling, advertising, promotions, packaging, display, servicing, physical handling, and fact-finding and analysis.

In his 1960 marketing textbook, Basic Marketing:  A Managerial Approach, E. Jerome McCarthy introduced a simpler model of the marketing mix that contained only four elements – product, price, place, and promotion. McCarthy’s model quickly became popular and has been so widely adopted by academics and practitioners that the “4P’s of marketing” have become synonymous with the concept of the marketing mix.

Despite its popularity and longevity, the 4P’s model has been criticized for several reasons. Given how much marketing has changed over the past several decades, it’s legitimate to ask whether a sixty-year-old marketing mix model is still relevant. My answer to this question is an emphatic “yes,” provided you keep a few things in mind. 

The 4P’s Include More Than the Terms Suggest

One criticism of the 4P’s is that the ingredients used in the model don’t adequately capture the complexity of today’s marketing environment.

The response to this criticism is that the terms used in the model should be viewed as flexible category labels that can encompass more than the literal or common meanings of the words would suggest. For example:

  • Product – The “product” element can be used for both products and services, and for complex “solutions” that consist of multiple products and services. In essence, this element can refer to whatever a company sells.
  • Price – This element can encompass any type of price and virtually every aspect of pricing strategy – for example, cost-plus vs. market-based vs. value-based pricing, premium vs. discount pricing, unit pricing, subscription-based pricing, and pay-for-performance pricing.
  • Place – “Place” can encompass any method or channel of distribution a company is (or could be) using. Importantly, place can also encompass distribution via the cloud.
  • Promotion – This element is intended to encompass all of the ways a company can communicate with its customers and potential buyers. This would include all online and offline “marketing” communication channels and tactics, and personal selling, but it would also encompass communications that are “non-promotional,” such as customer service and customer success communications.

The 4P’s Describe Factors Marketers Can Manipulate and Control, Not What They Must Achieve

Another criticism of the 4P’s model is that it focuses on the decisions and actions of the selling company, but doesn’t address what is required to be successful with customers. This criticism is factually accurate, but that doesn’t mean the model is flawed. It simply means the model was never designed to prescribe what will be effective with customers.

The 4P’s model is like a list of available ingredients a chef can use to prepare a variety of dishes in a variety of ways, but it doesn’t provide recipes for specific dishes that diners are guaranteed to like. It’s up to marketers to decide what specific ingredients will produce a “meal” that will appeal to their target buyers.

To make these decisions wisely, marketers will need to use other methods and tools to identify the needs and preferences of their potential buyers. It’s noteworthy that, in his marketing textbook, E. Jerome McCarthy did not discuss the 4P’s model until after he had explained the importance of understanding the needs and attributes of the potential customers in the selling company’s target market.

The Marketing Mix Concept Is Still Relevant

Even if you think the 4P’s model is outdated, it’s important to recognize that the basic idea of marketing leaders as “mixers of ingredients” is even more valid today than it was when it was introduced more than 70 years ago.

Regardless of company size, the resources available for marketing are rarely sufficient to enable marketing leaders to do everything they’d like to do. Deciding how and where to invest finite marketing resources has never been easy, but these decisions have become more complex because today’s marketing leaders have more options than ever.

The challenge facing marketing leaders is to use their finite resources to implement the combination of marketing activities and programs that will produce maximum results. Therefore, the task of a marketing leader is similar to that of a professional money manager.

The job of an investment manager is to construct a portfolio of investments that will produce the highest risk-adjusted rate of return. In today’s environment, as in the past, a primary job of a marketing leader is to construct a portfolio of marketing activities and programs that will maximize the return on marketing resources.

So, James Culliton’s 76-year-old description of marketing executives as “mixers of ingredients” is still accurate.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

David Dodd
David Dodd is a B2B business and marketing strategist, author, and marketing content developer. He works with companies to develop and implement marketing strategies and programs that use compelling content to convert prospects into buyers.


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