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What are the 4 Ps of marketing and the marketing mix?

What are the 4 Ps of marketing and the marketing mix? Blog Feature

Liz Murphy

Director of Web & Interactive Content, Speaker, Host of 'Content Lab' Podcast

October 7th, 2019 min read

Technology has fundamentally changed the face of what successful marketing strategies look like for companies in the digital age.

However, there are certain seemingly timeless foundational marketing principles that have persisted through the decades, even as the digital world of sales and marketing continues to evolve at a rapid pace around us.

Two of those are the four Ps of marketing and the marketing mix.

However, in order to understand the context of the four Ps of marketing, you first need to learn what the "marketing mix" is and where it came from.

What is the marketing mix?

In 1964, Neil H. Borden — a Harvard Business School marketing and advertising professor — published a retrospective on the term he coined ("marketing mix") and how it had developed over the years (Journal of Advertising Research).

Borden was inspired in the 1940s by a fellow professor named James Culliton, who had had referred to a marketing manager as a...

..."decider," an "artist" — a "mixer of ingredients," who sometimes follows a recipe prepared by others, sometimes prepares his own recipe as he goes along, sometimes adapts a recipe to the ingredients immediately available, and sometimes experiments with or invents ingredients no one else has tried. (Journal of Advertising Research)

That idea of a marketer being a "mixer of ingredients" stuck with Borden and, according to his account, he created the term "marketing mix."

Borden's original "marketing mix" model was comprised of 12 codependent "ingredients" including:

  1. Product planning
  2. Pricing
  3. Branding
  4. Channels of distribution
  5. Personal selling
  6. Advertising
  7. Promotions
  8. Packaging 
  9. Displays
  10. Servicing 
  11. Physical handling
  12. Fact finding and analysis

Then there were four different "market forces" outlined by Borden that influence the marketing mix:

  1. Consumer buying behavior, motivations, and habits.
  2. Industry and trade behavior, as evidenced by wholesalers and retailers.
  3. Competitor positioning, behavior, and industry response.
  4. Governmental regulation of the industry and/or market.

Of course, those are a lot of "ingredients" to keep track of, in order to easily develop the right "formula" for one's own marketing strategy.

What are the 4 Ps of marketing?

In 1960, another professor named E. Jerome McCarthy simplified Borden's initial list of 12 marketing mix ingredients down to four in his exceptionally popular textbook, Basic Marketing: A Managerial Approach.

Those four simplified categories from Borden's original "marketing mix" are what are commonly referred to as the "four Ps of marketing," and they are:

  1. Place
  2. Product
  3. Promotion
  4. Price

Product refers to the good or service that is designed to meet a consumer need or demand. Price is just that — what someone must pay in order to gain access to or take ownership of the product. Promotion encompasses the marketing strategies used to bring awareness to the product, including sales, public relations, consumer education, and so on. Finally, place (or placement) refers to how a product or service will be provided to the intended buyer.

Are the 4 Ps of marketing and the marketing mix still relevant in the digital age?

Absolutely. 

Do scholars — including a marketing professor I had ages ago — say the literal application of the four Ps and the marketing mix is best suited to companies selling more traditional consumer products?

Yes.

And, for the most part, I'd wager they're right.

With that said, the process to define one's own marketing mix and four Ps for a marketing strategy requires us to do the following:

  1. Articulate the exact market need for our product or service.
  2. Research our consumers and how they, in their words, understand and express their needs, as it relates to the problem our product(s) and/or service(s) seek to solve for.
  3. Create a value proposition that speaks to the consumer needs we've identified.
  4. Research our competition — how are they pricing their product, what messaging are they using, and so on.
  5. Determine what is the "right place, right time" for us (placement) to be promoting our products in services to the audience or pool of buyers we've identified.

Etc., etc., etc.

It doesn't matter what type of product or service you're marketing. The five steps above are essential for developing a successful marketing strategy in any industry.

Even with content marketing strategies, you need to know who your audience is, why they need what you're providing, how they articulate their problems, what your competition is doing, and so forth. 

So, while the concepts of the four Ps of marketing and the marketing mix may seem like academic relics of the Mad Men-age, that couldn't be further from the truth. Consciously or not, they inform the decisions digital marketers and business leaders make today to promote their products and services.

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