Are the 4Ps still relevant? You have to be joking.

by Nigel Hollis | February 13, 2017

The fact that a title asking, ‘Are the ‘4Ps of marketing’ still relevant?’ appears on a website like Marketing Week just points to the desperate state of marketing today. If you do not get the 4Ps right you might as well donate your marketing budget to charity. It will generate a far better return that way.

Yes, I know, the world is in changing, everything is going digital, but one thing remains constant; people do not buy your marketing. However, they may buy your brand because of its marketing. Ultimately brands create value for their owners because people find brands valuable – they solve problems, they meet needs, they satisfy desires – and only very rarely is marketing alone going to create enough value in its own right to make a sale (and even then it is likely a short-term win). The primary role of marketing is to enhance brand value, not create it; to improve perceptions of value and encourage people to buy.


I think there is a pervasive belief in the industry that the only job of marketing is to publicize a brand and encourage purchase. Opinions differ on how to do that, there are some who will argue that mental availability is all that matters, and there are some that will argue that only brand love matters, but implicit in these arguments is that marketing is somehow separate from the nature of the brand itself and that all you need to do is to get people to buy the brand. Not so, you also need to encourage people to pay the price asked.

I find it alarming that in an admittedly unscientific poll one in three Marketing Week readers claim not to want responsibility for pricing. Do they not realize that pricing – and how well a brand justifies its price point – is critical to how profitable a brand will be? Deny responsibility for pricing and the brand is likely to end up churning volume but not making any money. However, perhaps more concerning is that only two in five readers claim they have responsibility for pricing. That means that three out of five are trying to enhance brand value with one hand tied behind their backs.

In this post on brand experience I stated,

“Ultimately there is no substitute for a well-crafted product or service to build a strong brand, but how people respond to that experience is malleable, a combination of expectations, impressions and physical experience.”

To my mind it should be the job of marketing to help craft the optimal combination of expectations, impressions and experience to justify the price asked and encourage purchase, and you cannot do that without paying attention to the 4Ps. But what do you think? Please share your thoughts.


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  1. Daria Mironova, February 05, 2018

    Nigel, thanks fo the post as I was really disappointed in what marketers believe now. 

    We can name it any word we want but the concept stays the same. And as I was thinking about 4Ps I've just realised how wise was Mr Kotler because he made a system that explains sales and consumer mind the same dogmatic way as ancient greeks were able to explain Math. Brilliant! 

    These Product, Place, Price and Promotion can describe the whole process why we buy. And it is even true for not only capitalism model of the economy. It is only a matter of Ps interpretations. If you're open-minded these Ps work as they did 100 years ago.

    Evangelism doesn't differ from Promotion, Internet can easily represent Place, Price is a crucial point for some segments and Product has to allure and be valuable to be sold. All stays the same. I was exploring this concept during my study.

    There are those marketers who invented 27Ps, 44Ps.. But the simpler the model the better. And 4Ps explains almost everything in marketing. However marketing lately is being considered as a promotional tool only because the value of 4Ps model is neglected. And we can clearly see that Promotion is not always an answer for the question 'Why it isn't profitable?'

  2. Jane, February 27, 2017

    Hi Nigel,

    Thank you for the piece and comments below.

    Just one more thought --- do you think that the digital environment challenges the definition of Place because the line beteen one place and another may be blurred?

    In the past when marketers talked about Place, it was pretty easy to draw a line between different channels. I said "easy" here mainly for two reasons. Firstly, there were a limited number of brick-and-motar stores and marketers knew exactly where those channels were. By comparison, there are thousands of websites and portals. As a result, it may take more efforts to find the right channels, and even if consumers can be found, their attention are distracted, leading to less effective spendings.

    Secondly, brick-and-motar channel itself help to segment consumers. It's pretty rare that, say, a low-income young man would step into a fancy wedding store, and shop assitants pretty much know who their consumers are by just observing shoppers. Yet in the online environment marketers cannot see their consumers, and consumers can be everywhere. On Instagram there could be both young fashion-lovers and moms aged 30+ who pay more attetion to baby products. 

    That said, consumers do group; that's why insta-influencers work. And although we say consumers CAN be everywhere online, they ARE NOT everywhere. Certain consumers are attracted to certain social media, and certain consumers use certain services. In China, for example, a recent article on social media used in Tier 4+ cities (mostly sub-urban consumers) went viral because Tier 1-3 consumers (mostly urban consumers) did not understand why it was fun and thought it was creepy.

    So do you think that in the future definitions of Place are closer to (or replaced by) consumer segmentations, such as demographics/interest groups/psychological segments etc?

  3. Nigel, February 16, 2017

    Hi Godfred, the role of marketing in any company is to amplify what is most positive and motivating to the target audience. If a new brand then marketing needs to find compelling ways to enhance perceptions of the product experience and encourage people to try or check it out. If a well-known and established brand then the emphasis will likely shift to reminding people of good things about the experience while seeking to add other, positive associations. I tend to share Marcos de Quinto's viewpoint, no matter how big your brand you cannot ignore the product experience, it is what people really pay for. 

    (Did I just add another E to the Ogilvy mix?).

  4. Nigel, February 16, 2017

    Thanks for the comments.

    When I set out to write this post I briefly played around with reframing the 4P's as something else - I think it was to be a number of Cs - but you know what? It would just be more complicated, harder to remember and ultimately could be traced back to the 4Ps. So why bother? Exchange? I guess you could use "Barter" instead? There better be some money involved somewhere or else the brand is going bankrupt. Evangelism? That's just getting other people to promote your brand for you. Integration? If a product does not add value to people's lives they won't buy it. 

    So let's keep it simple, we might actually remember what is important that way.

  5. godfred, February 15, 2017
    Great piece Nigel. Unfortunately I got a bit confused about the role of marketing in any company. Can you clarify what your exact perspective on this is please.
  6. Cesar Lastra, February 15, 2017
    In my opinion, the 4Ps are relevant but they have evolved.  Pithy as it may sound, I think it was first identified by Ogilvy in 2009 when they said the 4Ps had evolved in to the 4Es, where product became experience, place became everyplace, price became exchange and promotion became evangelism. Here's an article by Brian Fetherstonhaugh which speaks for itself:
  7. Paul, February 13, 2017


    a great post

  8. Feroz Masthan, February 13, 2017
    Couldn't agree more. As the age of production has advanced and USP's reduce between products. It is very important brands are able to stand strong and commands premium. Marketers who are shying away from pricing are neglecting an important P- Price. 
  9. Neil Hopkins, February 13, 2017

    Thanks for this, Nigel.  In answer to your question...

    Yes, the 4Ps are still relevant.  However, I think that they are a blunt tool in a more nuanced age, and so need some redefinition.  (I also think that blaming the 'digital' age is misdirection as it still places digital on an unworthy pedestal.  It is, after all, still just a channel, not a panacea)

    Personally, I'm attracted to the idea of 'value' - which places product purely in psychographic territory.  Is it priced right against market competition? Does it have value to me over and above the price-point?  If it is free, what is the value of my time in acquiring or interacting with it?

    I also like the idea of 'community', which is linked to psychographic value (albeit in a very personal way) - what is the community around the product, or what community does the product fit into?  In this instance, people will often throw the toilet roll test out there (doe you want a community around your toilet roll):  I usually respond with my own buying preference where the brand plats three trees for every one cut down.  Product slots neatly into the environmental community.

    Place is maybe 'channel' these days.  It is no longer the aisle end or line of sight shelf space.  It's a free festival, SnapChat, eNewsletters, monthly subscription models.  

    And so on.  There are lots of ways to argue this.

    Personally speaking, I feel that the 4Ps are be overly focused on acquisition rather than retention.  IT may be just my visceral reaction to them, but I always look at a product I've bought though the P-lens and wonder 'now what' as all of the new customers get the best deals...

    Nearly 7 years ago, I wrote this piece on the 4Ps during a time of similar debate.  I'd love your opinion!

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