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Original post : 26 Aug 2008

How many Ps in Marketing?

I mentioned before how important it is to have a marketing strategy and plan - no matter how small your business - if you want to grow.  But it can be hard to know where to start.  A framework you might find useful for part of it, and that you might have already heard of, is the ‘Marketing Mix' or 4 Ps. 

It was back in the 1960s that Professor E. Jerome McCarthy of Harvard Business School identified and neatly labelled the key elements of the Marketing Mix: product, price, place and promotion.  Over the years new Ps have been added seeking to improve the way the mix works across all markets, with some text books now listing up to 15!  People, Process and Physical Evidence were created to deal with specific issues in service marketing, and not content with 7 Ps The Chartered Institute of Marketing, in their 10 minute guides, also includes Positioning, specifically for small businesses, which is how your customers see you and your products.  So that brings us up to 8. 

But to me that spoils the original simplicity of the approach and I believe a good start on covering all the bases is to use the original 4 Ps and being specific about the product/service, target market and business goals you are creating the plan for.  Typing ‘marketing mix' or ‘4 Ps' into Google will offer you detailed descriptions and guidance, so I'll just give a quick overview here.  But don't forget, they are all interdependent and a decision taken in one area will likely have implications in another.

Product
This describes the product or service that you are offering that provides value to the customer, and should include how you plan to develop the product to provide new benefits or respond to changes in the needs of the marketplace.  It covers how it looks, feels and is experienced by the customer.  So even for tangible products it will include service elements such as guarantees and after sales service. 

Price
Deceptively simple, but pricing can be a minefield for businesses.  Providing value to the customer is once again a critical objective - you know from your own purchases, I'm sure, that you do not always buy the cheapest.  But aside from having to generate profit, price also positions you against your competitors and sets expectations with customers that you will have to deliver on through the other Ps.  You may need to be flexible in your pricing to win key business, or want to create compelling offers for customers that will speed up their decision to buy.

Place
Shops, online, personal selling are all channels that can be used to distribute products or services and it is likely that your business will be using several different strategies for taking it's services to market.  You may be selling direct or via intermediaries, or both.  But once again your decisions start with understanding how your target customer needs to get hold of your product, and how you can make the experience of buying your product as simple and straightforward as possible.

Promotion
Typically this is what people think of when they think of marketing.  What materials and media are you going to use to get your message in front of your customers?  It covers a wide range of activities including branding, advertising, PR, websites, brochures and events.  It can also be the area where you spend most money so needs to be carefully directed to support the other areas of the marketing mix and, most importantly, the effectiveness needs to be measured so that you can decide what you do more of less of in the future.

Your Marketing Plan can be as long or short as you like, but your aim is to come up with a Mix of Ps that will achieve your business goals (a topic I will expand on another time).  The 4 Ps are internal factors that you can control, but they have to be adapted to what is happening in the external marketplace.  Using this framework will ensure you think of marketing as more than just advertising and selling by forcing you to consider what value you are really offering to the customers you are targeting.

But once you have your plan you then have to make sure you use it!  Don't make it an academic exercise and file it away.  Create a set of actions you will implement and carry them out.  And review it on a regular basis - remember the external marketplace is not standing still and you need to be flexible enough and in touch enough to respond to changes to stay ahead of the game.

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