Here’s Why You Should Forget the “4 P’s” of Marketing

Marketers are familiar with the famous “4 Ps” of Marketing: product, price, placement, and promotion. But in today’s social media-driven landscape, there is a new set of buzzwords in town.

The traditional “4 Ps of Marketing” were first published by E. Jerome McCarthy in 1960 and have since been the dominant, though increasingly challenged, framework for marketing strategy.

Sound vaguely familiar? Here’s a quick refresher on the 4 Ps:

Product refers to both tangible products (goods) and intangible products (services). Tied into this P are concepts such as product design, branding, and packaging.

Price is the pricing strategy of a product including rebates and discount policies and the impact price has on how customers perceive the value of a product.

Promotion refers to how a product is marketed.

Place is about access to a product and, increasingly, about convenience.

The Debate

Defenders of the traditional 4 Ps argue that they are consistently relevant, at least in a broad context, since they act as a crucial reminder that marketing is inextricably connected to other aspects of every business.

Other advocates make the valid point that branding in a digital age can cause more focus on immediate publicity—for example, by creating a viral hit—over more sustained success, which can only come from a product that conforms, at least to some extent, to the 4 Ps.

But while some of the concepts behind these P’s may still be relevant, a lot has changed since they were established in the 1960s.

The Digital Dilemma

Technological innovations and the digitalization of traditional marketing channels have facilitated more direct communication between brands and consumers.

But while marketing channels have been completely transformed, the 4 Ps have endured. Isn’t it time we rewrite the traditional framework to better align marketing strategies with the modern digital age?

To that end, I recommend we scrap the 4 P’s and consider the marketing expertise of Omar Johnson, CMO of Beats By Dre and former VP of Marketing at Apple. After growing Beats By Dre into an industry leader, his tactics are unequivocal. Instead of holding steadfast with the 4 Ps he follows a different formula: product, people, and story.

Product: The product is still “King.” That will never change. If your product is lousy and inauthentic it will fail. Bottom line. Of course, there are ways to make your product stand out and Johnson encourages every company to try to distinguish their products in some way. He credits the excitement around Beats By Dre to the color choices, something that most headphones at the time were lacking.

People: Johnson believes people are the most important of the three focuses. With the change to digital marketing, people want people, not products. Yes, product is still “King,” but even good products won’t sell without the right marketing. With every bit of our lives being shared on social media, people look to celebrities and social media influencers to help make their decisions about products.

Can’t decide on a hairspray? I saw Kim K using this one in a video—buy that. Can’t decide what shoes to strap into? Obviously, be great like Michael Jordan and buy his shoes.

Johnson used influencers and unpaid celebrities to turn Beats By Dre into a billion dollar company. He made a point of aligning his brand with the best people, like when he gave a pair of headphones to all Olympic athletes who went to the Beats Lounge.

Story: Johnson believes the story follows the people. When he came up with his campaign “Above the Noise” he interviewed the best athletes across all sports to find a common thread that tied their experiences together. Through this process, he found all competitors need to focus and drown out the noise around them.

He used his products’ differentiating feature to tell a story the people wanted to hear. With a more connected social world, people’s interest have shifted, as well as their trust. Instead of focusing on the traditional aspects of marketing, marketing experts like Omar Johnson are looking to the people to tell their story and genuinely engage them.