The 4 P’s of Marketing (and how they are, and are not, enough to be successful)



How many times have we looked at consumer research for our brand which reflects price as the number one criterion in a purchase decision? And how many times have our sales group come back and say “it always comes down to the price”? (all sound familiar? gosh, its good thing Morton’s Salt never saw that research). Regardless, I would imagine if that were always true than marketing would have been simpler. It would have simply been the One P instead of the 4 P’s of Marketing.

Price is the easy answer for a consumer to answer with. It is rational and even from emotional standpoint everyone wants to feel like they got the best deal they could. But in reviewing business models across a variety of packaged goods, services and retail it is easy to see that while price may appear to be the most important factor it is only of the elements involved in the marketing mix (and, in fact, it appears to be de-prioritized versus other P’s, in the 4 and made up beyond). Therefore, positioning the brand, or product, in the minds of the consumer so it is differentiated, or distinct, from the competition, relevant to the target audience, and offer a compelling enough model to incent trial, repeat, and the ultimate desire, brand advocacy becomes the challenge. In other words, look beyond price to build value in the brand.


Of course, many things depend on the existing business model, the competitive landscape, and current core competencies, but an interesting way to consider the blend of the marketing mix to win big is as follows. After you have nailed down the traditional 4 P’s, look beyond at some additional P’s because they may actually lead to the prize P – premium value.

Everyone knows the 4 P’s of marketing – Product (or service) which includes packaging, Price (couponing, discount, value add, etc.), Place (Distribution) and Promotion (advertising, PR, etc).  The traditional business model suggests that you find the right mix of those four components to build your business.

However, the retail world (and the internet) is teaching us that possibly we should consider another 3 P’s to the mix – Physical Environment, Process, and People – just to make sure as we check the boxes of foundation thinking we do not miss anything in a world that has become increasingly transparent. I bring up ‘transparency’ because while many people have talked about changing the P’s or adding to the P’s they neglect a valid reason why they believe it should be done (and, no, “it’s a different world” doesn’t count as a valid reason). Transparency, mostly through the internet, has made it significantly more important to provide a more seamless brand message and positioning. To me, adding additional P’s is a means to that end. That doesn’t mean the traditional P’s are any less important, in fact, they may be even more important than they ever have been – it’s just that they may need to be supported in a more radically transparent unforgiving world.

Maybe it is no more complicated than isolating all components of the buying experience and trying manage the overall experience, but here is what I would consider round the 4 P’s out with:


The Physical Environment.

Multiple research studies reflect the longer you can keep someone talking about your brand or interacting with the shopping environment the more likely they will purchase something – and purchase more than what they planned on spending. Let’s call this “amount of time spent interacting with the brand.” The longer the engagement time the more dialogue you can have. The general layout and appearance of the business premises (and the website as the digital universe of a commerce environment) can play a significant role and effect how potential customers think about the purchase/brand experience. Important areas for consideration include:

– Color of surroundings and noise levels

– Physical space available for customer (comfort seating available, is the site easy to navigate and appealing, etc.)

– The senses in general (smell, sounds, sight, touch)


These environmental variables affect the overall senses, and perceptions of the consumer (as well as brand people – sale people, floor staff, etc). They provide indirect sales support building relationships with the overall experience. Two retail environments have been quite successful at building a physical environment – The Limited (they actually piped in smells in different parts of the store to accentuate the experience) and Starbucks. I believe it was The Limited that said, “A brand is a promise delivered in the store everyday.” In fact, with little or no advertising their brand is truly represented in their Physical Environment. Interestingly, an online-only retailer, Amazon, also does an excellent job with building a physical environment conducive to enhancing the overall experience. Their “people who bought this product also liked/bought” feature increases the positive experience as well as sales. It also seems restaurants tend to understand the importance of the physical environment experience.

Bottom line. Don’t overlook the fact a great experience not only increases “in the moment sales” but also increases frequency of interaction.

** note: many of the things highlighted in this section actually suggest ‘friction’, not ‘frictionless.’ This does not mean interacting with your product or service should be painful but some friction, or some slowing down in a process, permits you to educate and engage. In general, any time your ‘friction’ offers a ‘slow down to speed up’ benefit the brand will win.


The Process.

The general policies, procedures and activities of how business is conducted should be simple, consistent and reflect the brand essence/character/message. Why? Ultimately, the brand is at the mercy of the process experience. We often hear of buyer’s remorse. Part of the challenge of overcoming buyer’s remorse lies in managing this P. Once the purchaser has made the decision to buy the process should permit the actual purchase (as well as any ongoing questions/issues) to be as smooth and uncomplicated as possible. Complicated is bad friction in that it encourages people to think more about their decision negatively. Simple, but complex, is good friction in that it encourages people to think more about the wisdom of their purchase (this actually adds value). Supermarkets were one of the first to recognize this. Remember all those random items you would start noticing the closer you got to register in the old days? As people stood in line, they started reconsidering items they may have ‘impulse purchased’ and started eliminating those items from their baskets. The process was costing the supermarkets money (as well as the general dissatisfaction of waiting when the purchaser was ready to finish the experience). Enter self-check lines. This P may actually define the e-commerce world and UX & UI in that most Sellers have re-designed process to eliminate barriers and dissatisfaction points (banks are still struggling with this).

Once again, the process is relevant to the online and ‘brick & mortar’ world. In a consumer buying world anything that eases the amount of time to find what it is you want and make the actual purchase enhances the overall buying experience. Of course, it helps if the employees have the appropriate degree of authority to match their responsibility.


The People.

The people involved in the business must display a high degree of customer service and provide value in the experience – this includes sales, service and anyone who interacts with potentials purchasers. All employees should be keenly aware that it is the customer who pays their wages. Critical areas include:

      • Attitude

      • Appearance

      • Degree of helpfulness (empowerment to act)

      • General Personal Effectiveness (task accomplishment)

      • Brand understanding (they are the embodiment of the brand in every interaction)    


This, people, may be even more important in a business-to-business (b2b) environment than even in a retail environment. While someone like the teller in a bank certainly influences the perceptions with regard to a brand, that teller is typically just one component in an overall brand experience with marketing, advertising and public relations. In b2b environment in many cases the sales people ARE the brand. What they say, how they say it and how they act create the overall perceptions of the brand in the target (or their consumers) minds.

Training helps build the “significantly above parity” aspect offered in people’s interactions.  In addition, brands should consider building process into hiring – aggressive vetting for not only on-the-floor personnel, but also the business owners/managers (even up to franchisee owner or distributor if relevant). It may sound like overkill but the more dependent your brand is upon the people who are the face of the brand the more important it is that you insure these people can reflect your brand personality & value. It is not that you are seeking clones, but it is probably important that Amazon books has someone who has some literacy skills answering questions rather than a “some dude whose idea of literature is comics.” Training can insure the ‘listening & responding’ relationship meets the user needs.

And once your people are trained and live, eat & breathe your brand essence, you have the opportunity to give them decision-making responsibilities and make the overall brand even stronger. Ritz Carlton is a perfect example. On their business cards it says “ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.” And each employee has the right to refuse a customer who is not treating them as a lady or gentleman. In Ritz’s situation they realize that building a brand is a dialogue – not a monologue. It is the interaction that creates the dynamic which makes that particular brand so successful. Absolutely Ritz Carlton sets the standard for luxury service, but it is always within a brand character framework where the people recognize the people they serve have a commitment to the Ritz brand if they want to stay there.

Your people embody your brand – the company’s products and services. Their words and actions can often mean as much as how your product/service performs. Find the right people to represent your brand and train them well and your employees become ambassadors.  


Managing the P’s.

I believe there are basically five positions one can take in each of the 7 P categories I suggested. These five positions are illustrated using pricing, but each can certainly apply to the other 6 P’s as well.


    1. Significantly below the market. This is a low cost provider. Lowest price all the time. All other value points take a back seat.

    2. Just below the market average (10% below the market leader price) e.g. a Kohl’s.

    3. At parity.  About the same price as everyone else. e.g., Target, most supermarkets)

    4. Just above the market average (10% above the market leader price) e.g., Bloomingdale’s or Blue Cross Blue Shield)

    5. Significantly above market average e.g., Nordstrom, Ritz Carlton


In a nutshell, “at parity with the market” on some of the P’s is acceptable and certainly is a viable strategy. But it seems seeking situations to be “significantly above market average” on some of the P’s has to be an objective to ensure long term success unless you are low cost all the time. This “significantly above market average” provides the value-add that differentiates a brand/company/store in the marketplace. 

And the ‘rubber meets the road’ by insuring when building the 7 P strategy that we narrow our target toward those people who value this equation.  This transcends gender and age.  It is more about what people value.  In other words, the solution will never be right for everyone. It is about choice. Just as a brand should make choices with regard to a 7 P’s strategy, they should make choices about which audiences to focus building brand advocacy.


Just a note.

Promotion as the Problem P. 

Lastly, let talk about Promotion, the truly tricky P in the equation as one tries to build a brand success. It is the drug P – highly successful in gaining trial and highly addictive if not managed in maintaining user interaction (I hesitate to suggest promotion can ever truly build brand advocacy). In fact, if we look at behavioral research, time and time again different industries have shown that money (either by lower prices or cash rewards) only buys short term behavior. As soon as that drug is taken away people revert back to their more natural habitual behavior. Worse, all that money and energy spent on promotion actually steals away some of what a business, and brand, really desires – long term value.

** note: Binet/Fields, The Long & Short of It, is most likely the best thinking on this topic. All I ask is that you use their thinking, and research, as guidance for thinking and not a formula for action.

Now, I believe a brand needs to spend as much as a business model can afford on promotion with the intent to educate about something new (while always explaining the points where the brand is leader in that category). In fact, to the extent that a brand can investment spend to build the category, they should do so. There is so often a “need for speed to market”, or maybe better said, building critical mass in initial sales, and promotion can certainly play a significant role in doing so. Without trial a brand will die. And simply saying “we will not be a promotion brand” is silly as an all-encompassing statement. Do what you have to do today to insure there is a tomorrow. All we suggest is to plan what you want to be tomorrow and build that into whatever promotional activity you have to do now. 

Aligning the P’s.

Look. I realize that stretching the P’s beyond the traditional 4 may seem silly. But I go back to where I began – as the market becomes more transparent, the business needs to become more diligent.

I realize there is a lot here, but aligning the P’s, all 7 of them, becomes more and more important as the buyer experience becomes more fragmented and as companies start losing control of how, when and where consumers interact with their brands.  I tend to believe marketing departments will need to be qualified to support building a brand through all the 7 P’s and to do so will need to be able to contribute in terms of strategic counsel, research, training, selling techniques, lead tracking, merchandising, interior design, signage, etc.  I would be remiss if I didn’t point out any, and all, of the P’s are not discussed in a void – contextually all demand an understanding of the brand, its objectives and business strategy. It demands identifying what the customer needs, wants and values, and then continue to grow and evolve the business as the customer grows and evolves. Just ponder.


Written by Bruce