21st-Century Marketing: Do We Still Need The 4Ps?

In a digital age where marketing is all about customer-centricity, how important are the old 4Ps?

20th-century marketing gave us the “4Ps model” of advertising: Product, Price, Promotion, and Place. This was a good strategy for using mass media as tools to reach out to more specific target audiences. Consumers in the last century were informed of product and service news through television, radio, and print media. None of these communications tools offered the ability for direct contact between brands and consumers, and marketing messages were strictly one-way, without any meaningful channel for consumer feedback.

Customer-Centricity Rising

Bob Lauterborn made the first serious assault on the 4Ps in 1990. In a meaningful article that appeared in Advertising Age, he argued that it was time for marketers to shelve the 4Ps and seek strategies better suited to the modern marketplace.

While Lauterborn’s critique landed slightly before the rise of widespread digital communications, the problems he identified proved to be very real. Marketers were seeing tremendous competition in developed markets, with highly-educated and discriminating consumers becoming less and less receptive to any sort of mass media advertising.

Both marketers and their clients realised that changes were required. The customers and their experiences needed to be considered more carefully. This customer focus is most effective when it permeates the entire product/service development cycle, not just the marketing that comes at the end.

The 4Ps eventually gave way to the 4Cs. While marketers as a whole are hilariously unable to agree on exactly what four terms in the ‘4C’ name stand for, they are in universal agreement as to the customer-focused nature of modern marketing. Every aspect of effective marketing can be viewed through the prism of customer experience. Past buying habits, customer needs, value derived from the product, and customers’ sensitivity to pricing are all vital parts of assembling a marketing campaign.

Where Digital Tools Warp the Funnel

A sales funnel is a useful analogy for modelling the way prospective customers are directed toward doing business with you. From the customer’s perspective, the trip along the funnel is a journey passing through several stages:

* Suspect: A potential customer who is unaware of your existence.
* Prospect: The customer is aware of your products/services.
* Sales Lead: The customer is actively courted.
* Customer: Business is done!

Online resources have wrought incredible changes in the customer journey in the past generation. All of us (as marketers, as producers, and as customers) are still struggling to grasp all the ramifications of digital technology in this arena.

Consider how profoundly different the customer journey has become for three classic customers, the holidaymaker, the gamer, and the gambler:

Buying a holiday was, for previous generations, a matter of laboriously gathering comparative information and repeatedly visiting their nearest travel agent.

Buying a video game, in years past, meant consulting retail professionals at local stores or consuming print media to discover what titles would fit your interests.

Gambling has changed most of all, with a fiercely competitive battle exploding in the online arena. Brands offer up endlessly-changing combinations of perks and favourable odds to entice online gamblers.

These customers are far from unique; virtually every customer journey has been changed immensely by the rise of the internet.

It’s not hard to summarise the overall impact of digital resources: They’ve given the customers tremendous control over the discovery and product research phases of their journeys. To thrive, brands must be prepared to respond to this fact effectively.

While virtually all marketers and retailers have accepted this new level of customer control, the number who have truly grasped that information and used it to reshape the top of their sales funnel is much smaller. One significant factor that might give some marketers pause is the understanding that evolving to better fit the current market reality needs to be a continuous, never-ending process.

Marketing Vs. Sales

In earlier generations, marketers invested a great deal of effort in erecting a wall between their job responsibilities and those of sales professionals. If our job is to create the best possible brand experience for our customers, shouldn’t be protected from prosaic minutiae like hitting ROI targets?

This has changed thanks to the rise of digital marketing. While marketers still admire the value of creativity (particularly their own), they now recognise that digital tools, both for doing marketing and measuring its impact, makes it reasonable to push sales and marketing closer together than ever before. Marketing recruitment in London, for example, has skyrocketed as the job has become even more important in the digital age.

The Marketer’s Job as a Generator of Sales Leads

Digital tools allow the customer to exercise more and more discretion at lower levels of the funnel. This means that there is no longer a clean ‘hand-off’ point where they pass out of the marketer’s hands and into the salesperson’s.

There does remain a certain amount of tension because not every part of the marketing job can be as easily measured as sales conversion and lead generation. Building brand awareness, for example, remains a creative and somewhat nebulous job.