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Taking Marketing Strategy beyond "the 4 Ps"

"Primum vivere et deinde filosofare" (Latin proverb)
(First live and then philosophise. Or: Fundamentals first.)

What is wrong with the "4 Ps Model" of McCarthy-Kotler?

It has served us well during a quarter of a century. If we position our PRODUCT correctly, If we choose the appropriate market PLACE (distribution policy), If we fix the right PRICE, If we make adequate PROMOTION... We have sewed it up. Haven?t we?

Apparently not because you cannot find these days a marketing congress or symposium without at least one new ?P? on the programme: Personnel, politics, policy, pennies, power, principles, practice, public relations, public interest, and plenty of other new ?Ps? that will supposedly give a company the determining competitive edge.

The time has come to accept and respect the ?4 Ps? of McCarthy and Kotler for what they are: a handy operational tool for the professional marketer who has first established his fundamental marketing strategy. This strategy should reflect the essence of the company?s strategy more deeply than the ?4 Ps? can do. As will be shown further in this article, such a fundamental marketing strategy is even more indispensable in International Marketing. There is clearly a need for a strategic structure that takes into account the turbulence that has been caused by the globalisation of business and by the explosion in communication.

Cultures and subcultures emerge and disappear today with dazzling speed. When Kotler wrote his standard work on marketing in 1967, many cultural and social movements with direct impact on marketing did not even have a name, most probably because they did not exist or were not recognized and were therefore irrelevant to marketing. Yes, the teenagers existed already. But what about the ?Baby boomers? (People born shortly after the Second World War), the ?Yuppies? (Young Urban Professionals), the ?Dinkies? (Double Income No Kids), the ?Third age?, the ?Fourth age?, the ?Joggers?, the ?Punks?, and the ?Weight Watchers?? Yet, all of these people have money to spend and are waiting for marketing to pay them attention and respect.

For the international marketer there is the additional spectrum of national cultures. It is true that the Big Mac has achieved some worldwide acceptance but it will still be some time before it will replace the tepanyaki of the Japanese, the chile poblano of the Mexicans, or the Sauerkraut of the Germans. Frankly, we believe it will never happen. Real culture is sitting a lot deeper than the pocket from which a dollar or a euro is waiting to jump to the satisfaction of some consumer need. The Magna Carta has survived a millennium of turbulent history. We believe that the Magna Mac will not last that long.

Yet, culture is conspicuously absent from the minds of many international marketers. How many managers have even thought about their own company?s culture, let alone the many cultures of their international partners and customers? This era is probably not more ?cultural? than previous times. But it looks like ever greater numbers of people are aware of their (sub) culture and want to have it recognised. How else should one explain the proliferation of countless subcultures in our society, each one of them claiming a place in the media and the attention of business, of the authorities and even of the arts?

One and the other leads to the conviction that one cannot even start considering a marketing strategy without a strong awareness of one?s own company culture and the culture of one?s customers. That makes CULTURE, that of the COMPANY and that of the CUSTOMER the first ?C? in ?Marketing in C?.

A second important notion that is missing in the classical marketing mix thinking is that of imperfection. Marketers seem to believe that there is a point of absolute nirvana at which the customer is completely satisfied with the product or the service offered. They even seem to overlook the trivial fact that others, called competitors are also vying for the customer?s favours. This attitude is reflected in the marketing language. There is probably no other walk of life that uses so much superlatives, bragging, bluff and exaggerations in its language than marketing.

Yet, isn?t there a permanent state of CONFLICT at the customer?s level?

Isn?t there a conflict between the customer?s needs and the imperfect solution which any product or service is offering? Isn?t there an additional conflict, namely that of the choice that a customer must make between this product or service and those of its competitors? The modern customer, in consumer marketing as well as in industrial marketing seems to have grown up. He understands that nothing in this world is perfect, not even his problem and consequently also not the solution to that problem. He seems to be willing to settle for the best possible solution offered under these circumstances, at the price asked. And he keeps his eyes wide open for alternative solutions: those of the competition. That makes the second ?C?: CONFLICT, at the level of the CUSTOMER and complicated by the actions of the COMPETITION.

Once all this has been understood, there is the need to communicate about it. Such communication will be determined by the need for harmony between the company?s culture and the culture of the customer. It will recognise the conflict of the customer and the evil deeds of the competition. It will be a vastly different communication from the one that would start with the ?P? of ?Product? which is of course purely a company starting point.

The third ?C? is therefore that of COMMUNICATION, both in its CONTENT and in the CHANNELS chosen to communicate.

The full process of marketing: Attention - Interest - Desire - Action (?AIDA?) is too long, too costly and too hazardous to be followed for each sale. The road should be shortened and this is possible if a CONSENSUS can be reached between customer and company. It means that marketing must turn the customer into a partner who shares the life of the company. Instead of chasing individual sales, marketing should be concerned with developing the customer so that he continues to buy and is willing to give information about the market and the competition, and even about the strengths and weaknesses of his supplier.

That leads to the fourth ?C?: CONSENSUS with the CUSTOMER but also in the COMPANY where everybody will be a member of the marketing function since a company can only exist by the grace of satisfying customers needs.

Thus, the? Marketing in C? model has come full circle.

Quite a number of ? Cs? isn' t- ' t ? it? Yet the term ?Marketing in C? covers more than the coincidental occurrence of the letter C as the first letter of each element of the model. It is also an analogy with music. In music, the scale of C-major is the basic scale, with no sharps and no flats: the basics, the essential. In much the same way, ?Marketing in C? tries to concentrate strategic thinking on the very essential role of marketing in the company?s (international) business.

By Ward Roofthooft, Ph.D., international marketing consultant.

Beerse, April 8, 2004

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