What do pancakes and marketing have in common? With a few simple ingredients, they come together perfectly. In marketing, the four special ingredients collectively known as the “marketing mix" can't be bought off the shelves, but anyone looking to promote their business, or promote their website, can learn the recipe from scratch. All you need to do is remember the four Ps: product, price, place and promotion.
Whether you’re working on a social media campaign or creating a website, the 4Ps are there to help you with every aspect of your promotional efforts. These ingredients represent the very pillars of the art of marketing, helping you consider the ins and outs of your goods and services in order to market them effectively.
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The four Ps of the marketing mix
The idea of the marketing mix was first popularized by Neil Borden, a professor of advertising at the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration. In 1964, Borden published an article titled “The Concept of the Marketing Mix,” which discussed different advertising tactics that companies could use to target consumers. It was here that he highlighted the marketer as an artist—a mixer of all the ingredients needed to achieve the firm’s marketing objectives.
Still, there was no real consensus about what should be included in the mix until 1960, when E. Jerome McCarthy, a marketing professor at Michigan State University, identified four basic ingredients known as the four Ps of marketing. Since then, the four Ps have been widely adopted by marketing professionals as the core pillars of an effective marketing penetration strategy. And while there have been a few changes and additions over the decades, the fundamental principles remain the same.
What are the four Ps of marketing?
Below we’ll define the four Ps of marketing and show you why each ingredient plays an important role in increasing sales, building a competitive advantage and building a smart strategy for promoting your business.
This one’s easy—products refer to the good or service that you offer to customers. Whether you’re launching a new product or seeking to improve an existing one, making sure that it meets the demands of consumers is a core pillar of marketing. For your product to be effective, it should either satisfy an existing consumer need or create demand so that people believe they need it. Familiarize yourself with product differentiation and what it means for your marketing efforts.
In addition, you should be familiar with your product’s life cycle—meaning its introduction into the market, its growth, maturity and decline. From a marketing standpoint, this lets you adapt your messaging, KPIs, pricing and target audience according to each life cycle stage.
To master the product element of the marketing mix, ask yourself the following questions:
What is your product?
Who is it for?
How and where do customers use your product?
What existing needs does your product satisfy? If it doesn’t satisfy an existing need, how will you create a new need in the market?
What specific features does your product have that will directly address those needs? Are there any features you may have missed?
What are the key elements of your product design and user experience? Do they work together to meet the needs of your consumers?
What is your product called?
How will you brand your product?
How does your product differ from the competition?
When you create a marketing plan for your business, the answers to these questions will help form a set of guidelines.
The price is what consumers pay for your product. As simple as that sounds, determining what to charge can be tricky. You’ll need to make a profit, but you also want consumers to feel that the price corresponds with the product’s value.
Whether your product is a budget option, luxe option or somewhere in between, the price you charge greatly affects the language you use in your promotional messaging. It’s also deeply interconnected with the kinds of customers you’ll market to, as well as the country or region where you plan to sell your product. It might also impact your customer acquisition costs as well.
To come up with the pricing, ask yourself the following questions:
What is the perceived value of your good or service to the buyer? How will you align your marketing strategy with consumer perception of the price of your product?
How does the price compare with that of your competitors?
Is your audience price-sensitive? Will decreasing the price help you capture more customers, or will it decrease your profit margin? Conversely, will increasing the price gain you more profit margin, or will it result in a loss of customers?
Can you use different pricing tiers (for instance, a basic versus premium package) for different customer segments depending on how you understand each customer journey?
The third P of marketing is place. This refers to the location of your marketing and distribution activities. Place can be a physical location, like a brick-and-mortar store that primarily targets local community members. But it can also refer to online locations, referring to the various platforms and marketing channels you use to promote and sell your product.
Place is an important factor to consider as you market your product or services, since it helps you understand what kind of buyer persona has access to it. The bottom line is to promote and sell your product in view of the types of people who need it and can get it. If you market to an audience who ultimately decides that your product is too hard to find or inconvenient to purchase and use, you’ll likely hit a wall with your marketing efforts. Are you focusing on local marketing, or something broader?
Similarly, this concept applies online when you determine the most effective channels for promotion. If your product is U.S.-only, there’s little reason to promote it on an Italian news site. If you’re selling a product for grandparents, you probably shouldn’t start by creating paid ads on TikTok.
When factoring place into your marketing strategy, ask yourself the following marketing intelligence questions:
Where do people look for your product? If they look in a store, what kind (e.g., a boutique versus a large chain)? If they look online, what platforms are they using? Use these to build better customer segments to target.
What kinds of distribution channels and outlets can you use to sell your product?
Where are your competitors selling? What physical locations and online channels are they using?
Promotion is the 4th P of the marketing mix. This all encompassing ingredient involves using the factors you identified in the previous three Ps—product, price and place—to craft your messaging and spread the word about your product via advertising and marketing campaigns.
To incorporate this final pillar, ask yourself:
Where can you get your message across to your target market? Online channels like social media? PR? TV, radio or podcasts? Print advertisements? Email marketing?
What sort of language, media and personas does your audience connect to most in these online and offline locations?
When is the best time to promote? Is your product seasonal? Are there events or other external factors that might affect your messaging?
How, when and where do your competitors promote their products?
The answers to these questions—as well as the ones listed earlier—will help you to to create a strong small business marketing strategy that promises to meet consumer needs, offers value in relation to its price, reaches consumers using the right channels and uses the right messaging.
Examples of the four Ps of marketing
To help you better understand the four Ps of marketing and apply them to your business, let’s go over some real-world examples:
Apple has a top-notch marketing strategy, especially when it comes to its popular iPhones. Certainly, a big reason why consumers love the iPhone is because Apple used the four Ps of marketing to put together the ideal product, price point, distribution channels and brand messaging.
Product: The first iPhone directly addressed consumer needs at exactly the right time. Cell phones were already becoming more stylish (who can forget the appeal of the Blackberry?), and Apple took full advantage of that trend. But the iPhone wasn’t only sleek and well-designed. It also addressed the need for an improved user experience. The product eliminated the hassle of a keyboard or stylus, reduced the need for a separate music device and added other key features (on-the-go internet, a decent camera, fun apps and a user-friendly screen).
Price: The iPhone became a pioneer in the mobile world, promising quality and extra value that prior mobile devices didn’t have. On top of that, it was produced by a reputable and well-loved company. As a result, customers were willing to pay a premium price compared to other brands. This pricing strategy worked well for Apple and continues to do so over the years, attracting middle and upper class consumers thanks to maintaining the brand’s high-end appeal.
Place: Apple has cultivated an aura of exclusivity by authorizing specific stores to sell their products. While this might limit their reach, it helps establish the company as a designer brand. This also lowers the brand’s distribution costs so that it can invest in other areas instead.
Promotion: Apple’s promotional strategy for the iPhone often takes the form of commercials and print ads. Their advertisements tend to be highly visual, emphasizing the high-quality screen and camera features while showcasing the brand’s sleek, stylish aesthetic. Their goal is to prove to their audience that their product stands out against the competition. The brand further promotes their products through Apple Keynote events, presentations given to the press two to four times a year. This is a great opportunity to supply them with quality PR while establishing Apple as a thought leader and visionary.
Spotify is another big brand that’s achieved success by strategically applying the four Ps. Here’s how:
Product: Spotify’s main product is music streaming. Before this technology came along, people could only hear their favorite artists by purchasing CDs, buying digital albums or songs, listening to the radio or pirating music. Music streaming solved this problem, filling an important niche in the music industry by providing consumers affordability and convenience.
Price: Spotify has a broad audience—everyone who listens to music—and it maintains a wide reach by offering various pricing tiers. Using a freemium model, they allow users to listen to content for free, but offer extra perks (such as ad-free listening) to those who pay for a premium subscription. They additionally upsell their product by offering bundle packages to couples and families, and incentivize young adults to go premium with student discounts.
Place: Music streaming solved a huge accessibility problem. People no longer needed to go to the store to buy a CD, find music to download illegally, or listen to the radio in hopes of finding their favorite tunes. Spotify made its product available online so that it can be instantly accessed in nearly every country.
Promotion: As an online platform, Spotify does most of its promotions on the web with the goal of driving traffic to their website. Because the product satisfies an important consumer need and is easy to use, fans of the platform also tend to spread word of the product to their friends. This makes social media marketing—and influencer marketing in particular—an organic promotional strategy for the brand.
5 quick tips for applying the four Ps in your own marketing
Now that you’ve seen some examples of the four Ps in action, think about how to apply these principles to your own marketing strategy. This marketing mix can be used to improve existing marketing campaigns and products, or starting a fresh one from scratch.
Identify the good or service you want to promote.
Identify each of the four Ps above as they relate to your chosen product.
Review your answers to the four Ps and challenge them by providing alternatives: What would happen if you raised or dropped the price, changed the color or design, advertised on a different platform, or sold through a new channel?
Put yourself in the shoes of your target audience. As the customer, does the product meet your needs? Is it priced according to your values and perceptions? Can you learn about the product or service and purchase it in places that are relevant and accessible to you? Do marketing promotions reach and resonate with you? This might mean conducting market research and user testing your product.
Iterate the process and don’t hesitate to run A/B tests with your pricing, promotions and messaging along the way. Keep asking questions and tweaking your answers until you’ve created the optimal recipe. Run marketing audits of your campaigns and approaches regularly.
Finally, remember that even once you’ve created your ideal marketing mix, the journey isn’t over. Your product will most likely evolve, new marketing trends will take hold, and your customers, competitors and the environment will change over time.
Because of this, it’s important to revisit your marketing mix on a quarterly, biannual or yearly basis, depending on your product’s lifecycle. The four Ps of marketing aren’t static, and should be continually strengthened to adapt to the changes around you.