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Timeless Marketing Truth #2: Mind Your Ps (not your Qs)

It was stunning. A few years ago I spearheaded a research project in which we polled some of the world’s top marketers. We asked, “Of the four ‘Ps’ of classic marketing, which ones do you have responsibility for?” Naturally, “promotion” (advertising) was their top answer, receiving a score of 91%. Next, 39% of marketers indicated they were responsible for “product,” and 39% said they have responsibility for “place.” “Price” came in last with 22%.

Then we asked, “Of the four Ps of marketing, which one do you want more control of?” I predicted “product” would win. After all, ultimately, “product” represents the keys to the kingdom. Others argued, “price” would be the top vote getter. But when the final results were tailed, we were all wrong.

The “P” most marketers wanted greater control of was “promotion.” Promotion?? This dumbfounded us. How could that be? These marketers were responsible for “promotion.” They told us so. Yet, sill they want greater control of it?? What was going on?

We searched for answers. We read all the verbatims. We evaluated the crosstabs. We talked to more marketers. Through this rigor, the answer became clear. Many marketers don’t really control their destiny. Often they are not empowered to make the final decisions related to “promotion.”

I guess we should have known this instinctively. Yet, our research affirmed that many promotion and advertising decisions are made by product managers, financial executives, or even the CEO—but not by “marketers.” Also revealing was the fact that the majority of the marketers who wanted more control of promotion and adverting, admitted that they didn’t have an understanding of their advertising ROI. 

Without the rigor of scientific marketing and clarity on their ROI, these marketers’ opinions carry limited weight. Unlike at Google where “data beats opinion,” these marketers don’t have a leg to stand on. This is a pity because even if they had real control for “promotion,” these marketers would still be at a great disadvantage. They would only have control of one “P” —and that’s simply not good enough. All aspects of marketing need to be optimized. To have real maximum impact, marketers must “mind their Ps” —all their Ps. This is true today, and it was true way back when.

In classic scientific/direct marketing, we always knew that the most important predictor of success was the essence of the “product.” Second in terms of importance was to whom you marketed your product. (“Place” is sometimes included here.) Next was the construct of your offer and “price.” And last in terms of importance, albeit not unimportant—was the way you represented your product though your creative expression or “promotion.”

To build a sustainable business, what you offer is infinitely more important than what you say.

Think of all the great brands that have been built without formal advertising: Google, Facebook, Amazon, ebay—even Walmart in its formative years didn’t spend a dime on conventional advertising.  Product, place, and price have been the drivers behind these brands’ success.

In the past few years this “Mind your Ps” truth is certainly apparent in social media. As social media developed, many marketers became frustrated that social media wasn’t performing like advertising. They found it hard to sell via social. Yet they were ignoring the other benefits of social media for listening, customer service, corporate reputation, risk mitigation, advocate engagement, etcetera. All these benefits should be fully embraced by marketers.

Lastly, “Mind your Ps” is essential now for a host of other reasons:

  • Now more than ever, we live in a post-advertising world; a world where mobile is key, and advertising in that context is rather inconsequential.
  • We live in transparent times where brand truths are publically espoused and admonished and evident for all to see—and advertising is less influential.
  • These are times when transformational tech quickly uproots long-standing categories, and beloved brands can quickly disappear.
  • This is a period when former category behemoths – Blackberry, Zynga, Groupon, and even Facebook — in a matter of months or even days can suddenly become vulnerable.
  • This is a period when consumer demands for immediacy, transparency, relevancy, and value have never been greater.

Yes, marketers should leverage scientific marketing’s time-tested principles to optimize ROI and garner more credibility in budgetary and strategic decisions, but it can’t stop there.

If you want to really drive your business’ success, you need to mind all your Ps. And hopefully, when you’re armed with holistic solutions and scientific facts, no one in your organization will mind.


Lawrence M. Kimmel is executive director of hawkeye and a frequent keynote speaker at marketing conferences around the world. Follow him @KimmelsCorner.

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