Marketing is more critical today than ever before.
Consumers are bombarded with information—both real and fake—in addition to often-competing opinions, both informed and uninformed.
Another way to think about the role of marketing is to see it as the task of cutting through the chatter and standing out in a positive way to your desired customer group.
The 4 Ps of Marketing
The 4 Ps of marketing compose what’s known as the marketing mix.
- and place,
…and together they form a high-level overview of the considerations that marketers must make when crafting a marketing plan.
Far from being focused on advertising or price strategy alone, the marketing mix is yet another example of the focus on strategy and the ways in which decisions made in one part of the business rely on decisions made in another part.
So far, we have already examined two aspects of the marketing mix:
Keep in mind that your product or service can’t be a solution searching for a problem.
Successful products are ones that solve a problem for customers.
This problem could be…
- a pain point
- or an as-yet-unrealized barrier to better experiences.
Additionally, the pricing of products and services cannot be carried out without an underlying strategy.
Since we have focused on product and price in previous steps, in this step we will examine the two remaining p’s:
- and place.
An important aspect of the 4 Ps is that they represent the marketing mix.
The focus that different firms place on different aspects will vary based on
- the nature of their business,
- their products,
- and their customers.
Promotion includes all of the advertising, sales promotion, and related public relations efforts associated with a product, and it is represented by the promotional mix.
The promotional mix consists of
- public relations,
- personal selling,
- and sales promotion.
The objective for marketers is to find the blend of promotional mix elements that best uses resources while making the biggest impact on the bottom line.
Contemporary advertising encompasses a vast array of ways to reach your customers, ranging from sophisticated high-tech solutions such as digital and social advertising to more traditional methods such as print, radio, and out-of-home advertising (billboards, bus stop benches, outdoor advertising, etc.).
No matter the form they take, advertisements are characterized by the fact that they are openly sponsored and impersonal.
- By “openly sponsored” I mean that they are paid for and that the brand paying for them makes no claims to the contrary.
- By “impersonal” I mean they are not personal selling efforts—advertisements may be specialized to speak to a small group of people, but not just a single person.
A large portion of determining the best advertising and promotion plan is the result of experimentation, measurement, and course correction, but the insights that creating a comprehensive customer avatar produce significantly inform marketing efforts of all kinds.
- Do your target customers spend time on social media, or not so much?
- Do your customers watch TV, or do they consume their media in other ways?
- What magazines do they read, what websites do they visit, what charitable causes or social issues are important to them?
This information helps your advertising dollars go farther—there’s no point in buying ad space on a website your target customers have never heard of!
Public relations (PR) is the management of the spread of information between an entity—it could be a person, a business, or even an idea—and the public.
The key factor that separates PR activities from advertising activities is that PR messages are not sponsored.
Public relations messaging is generally referred to as earned media because it is not bought (paid media), which also means that companies do not fully control it (owned media).
The objective of PR activities is to shape the conversation surrounding a product or a brand.
When successful, news stories, word of mouth, and general “buzz” will reflect a positive impression that is in line with organizational goals.
Because these sources are not paid, they often carry more credibility; therefore, positively impacting them can have a tremendous (and cost-effective) effect on the opinions and general interest of potential customers.
- Press releases,
- news coverage,
- goodwill or charitable campaigns,
- influencers (brand ambassadors),
- and events
are all tools used by savvy publicists.
Traditional personal selling methods include
- sales presentations, telephone or video sales pitches,
- and showrooms or retail spaces.
As our world has become increasingly digital, so too have personal selling efforts.
Sophisticated email marketing tactics blur the line between advertisements, sales promotion, and personal selling.
A new generation of entrepreneurs with increasing social media savvy is transforming the culture of digitally shared experiences into personal selling sessions.
Wireless technology combined with fast and easy online payments drives in-app purchases and transforms mobile devices into one-on-one personal selling tools.
In short, your personal selling efforts are limited only by your imagination.
Sales promotion includes paid and nonpaid media along with non-media messaging and communications that are designed to
- increase awareness,
- induce interest,
- and increase the impact of sales or other promotions.
These promotion efforts are generally time-sensitive—they are only relevant for the duration of the sale—and are often used in conjunction with other elements of the promotional mix.
- pop-up shops,
- and tripwire offers
…are just a few examples of creative sales promotion tactics.
Getting the Most Out of the Promotional Mix
The promotional mix is not a checklist of four areas where your venture should dedicate as many resources as possible.
Instead, matching each of the elements in a way that meets your marketing and sales goals and maximizes each dollar spent will yield the best results.
The exact way these elements fit together is entirely dependent on your product and your customer.
Even better, when deployed to their best effect, each element of the promotional mix will augment the effects of the others.
It is also worth noting that your promotional mix is not set in stone.
As your business grows and your objectives change, your promotional mix needs will change as well.
Your promotional efforts are business activities, and, like any other business activities, they should be carried out deliberately, with a strategic mindset and clear objectives.
Define Your Goal
Think SMART when setting goals for your promotional efforts—specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.
Effective goal setting is not only a business best practice, but it also avoids “scope creep,” or the tendency that projects have to bloat in scope.
Setting a goal at the outset of promotional efforts will also simplify the measurement process and make it easier to understand if your efforts were successful or not.
Define Your Target Audience
Different messages resonate with different people based on the problem they have that your product solves for them.
Any promotional messaging (indeed any communications) that you share with customers must be crystal clear and focused.
A garbled message will not only produce lackluster results, but it will obscure the results of your measurement efforts.
Before committing to a major ad campaign or sales promotion, test your concept.
- Target a subsection of your audience to see what the response rate is.
- Test coupons with your email subscribers before taking them public.
- Use polls and surveys to gain insight, and base decisions on data as often as possible.
Don’t be too conservative in your tests, however—too small a sample may not yield helpful results one way or another.
Not every promotional effort is easily measured; this is especially the case with public relations efforts.
Try to gather as much information as you can regarding effectiveness to not only help you understand the success of your efforts but to create a reserve of information that can be used to inform future campaigns.
Generally speaking, use advertising to introduce new products to your target market or to introduce new features or applications.
Use it to persuade your target market to select your offering over those of a competitor by summarizing your value proposition to them—a message that resonates with them and demonstrates how you are different from the competition.
Also use advertising to remind your target market that you are…
- open for business,
- how you solve their problems,
- and what separates you from the competition.
Keep in mind the medium where the ad will be featured, and don’t let your ego get wrapped up in your messages.
Your advertising efforts should be designed to speak to your target market and to accomplish your promotion objectives—ads aren’t the place to make emotional decisions.
Maintain consistency with your brand and keep the message front and center.
Use Public Relations
PR is something that you can’t always control.
In fact, the credibility it garners stems from the very fact that it is unpaid-for and authentic.
Keep an eye out for newsworthy developments as they unfold for your venture and be mindful of the optics of your actions.
An unfortunate part of public relations is that sometimes it is necessary to backpedal from public missteps.
In the digital age, everything has the potential to be amplified.
It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.Warren Buffet
Use Personal Selling
No matter how clever your advertising, it will always lack the human touch.
Yet a focus on personal selling isn’t always appropriate for every business or every product.
- Is a proactive sales force appropriate for your business model?
If your products are high-ticket and infrequently purchased, you may need a more hands-on selling approach.
- Do your competitors use a sales team (internal or otherwise)?
If they are selling to similar customers, you may need a sales team of your own.
- Do your customers come to you, or do you have to go out and find them?
The more you have to work to reach your customers in person, the more sophisticated your sales team will have to be.
Use Sales Promotions
Sales promotions are great tools for building relationships with sales partners.
They are useful for enticing new customers to try your product and for generating excitement around your products and your brand.
Sales promotions may seem straightforward—give your customers your product at a discount—but many of the same strategic factors that impact your pricing decisions come into play when planning and executing sales promotions.
- How much of a discount is too much of a discount?
- Are you running promotions so frequently that your customers are trained only to purchase when your products are on sale?
- Does the frequency of your sales promotion give your target customers the impression that you are not a premium brand?
All of these factors should be considered.
Choosing your methods of promotion is not a stand-alone decision.
- The attributes of your target customers,
- details of your pricing strategy,
- aspects of your distribution strategy,
- and current stage in the product life cycle
…all inform the way your promotional material communicates with and convinces customers that what you have for sale is the best solution for the problem(s) they have.
The 4 Ps of marketing may seem product-centric, but they translate easily to the world of service-oriented businesses.
A framework with a service-focused twist is the 4 Cs Model.
This customer-forward approach translates the product-centric marketing mix into a high-level overview of similar components for service providers.
The final P in the traditional marketing mix is place.
Place is short for “placement,” as in a placement strategy.
Placement is all about your channels of distribution—the means by which your products actually get to the customer.
This could be…
- in a retail store,
- directly via a website,
- via an online marketplace such as Amazon or eBay,
- or through a wholesaler.
Just as your promotion strategy must reflect the characteristics of your customer avatar, your placement strategy must also be customer-focused.
Placement is about where your products are bought and how they are bought.
Earlier, I suggested that to avoid making your core product or service a solution in search of a problem, it is best to start with the problem and work backward from there.
Your placement plan is no different.
Start with the places where your target customers already spend time and money and work backward into your placement plan from there.
Select a distribution strategy that makes sense for connecting your products with your customers.
In the next step we will take a closer look to your marketing distribution channels.