Keep Sight of Marketing Fundamentals

Ever notice how marketing in the new economy has grown incredibly confusing? We have initiatives for viral marketing, B2C marketing, affinity marketing, partner marketing, B2B marketing, comarketing, and finally, e-marketing. And we thought technology was difficult to understand at times.

A business professor of mine used to drill into my head his belief in “the four P’s” of marketing. In his opinion, the four P’s are the only things that matter in marketing: product, price, place, and promotion. Now, I’ll admit that I rarely simplify marketing to this basic level when working with clients. Certainly, we have all been at this long enough to know much more about marketing than the four P’s cover. And undoubtedly, we have created all sorts of tactics to successfully market our products and services that transcend such simple guides, haven’t we?

Perhaps not.

Marketing is a difficult task in a landscape as dynamic and competitive as the one in which we are all engaged. Although we certainly should use every resource at our disposal to create competitive advantage and differentiation, it would serve us well to rely on some basic tenets in creating marketing strategies. Though not the final word in marketing, the four P’s should bring a sense of clarity and simplicity to your efforts.

Product

Whether it’s products, features, widgets, or web-based applications, are we providing something that is valuable to customers? One clarifying approach is to map site features back to overall objectives for the business.

Rank each feature against a matrix that calls out feature priority, which business objective the feature supports, operational implications, and metrics for success. In doing so, you will quickly begin to develop a prioritized view of your products, their overall impact on your business, and how to evaluate their success.

Though simple, this matrix can serve as a living reference document as you continually evolve products. The intent is not to replace diligent planning for feature development but to ensure that what you are building makes sense.

Price

Like it or not, the Internet creates the opportunity for buyers to compare prices of innumerable suppliers with very little effort. We can cry foul, but that won’t help us sell any more widgets.

This ease of comparison does not mean that companies will only compete on price. “Mass commoditization” is not the future we are creating. However, price sensitivity will no doubt continue to play a role in the competitive landscape.

What we need to do is price products and services intelligently to take advantage of the same channels that have increased competitive pressure. Determine the best pricing strategy for bringing products to market, be it by auction, with discounts for aggregated demand, or through standard fixed pricing.

Place

Using the Internet, you can sell everywhere, right? Sure, as long as people come to find you. The “if you build it, they will come” approach stopped working quite a while ago.

A better strategy is to identify the best channels to bring products to market. For example, if you are a parts supplier in the highly interdependent automotive industry, it makes great sense to be a member of automotive exchanges. If you are a small gift retailer, creating sales and distribution partnerships with portals and a tier-one retailer is more advantageous than competing with the entire market for eyeballs.

Also think of leveraging the place, the environment, as a catalyst for changing pricing and feature strategy. Is your pricing strategy optimized for the channel? Can you create more demand in a marketplace for excess inventory with an auction or through fixed pricing? If you are bringing a service to market, is it optimized to the channel through which you are selling?

Promotion

As high-profile initiatives, promotions can often be a majority of marketing’s emphasis. Advertising, media, email campaigns, and offline promotions are huge undertakings and often the best way to build brand, create demand, and acquire new customers. But the nature of promotions is changing, too.

Online loyalty programs, viral marketing, and affinity marketing programs have all risen to the surface as effective tools in the quest for customer acquisition and retention.

The Internet enables a level of accountability in promotions that was previously not possible. Effective marketing requires that each initiative be managed and optimized across each channel leveraged. Establish quantifiable metrics and invest in applications and programs that enable you to track behavioral and transactional activity.

Use that information to inform the entire marketing effort, from intelligent product development to accountable promotions.

The four P’s are not a panacea. I’ve yet to find anything that solves every challenge placed before those responsible for marketing in organizations of any size. But these guidelines should help you simplify the foundation of your efforts and provide a basis to which you can return each time you make and optimize your marketing plans. Let me know how successful you are.

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