brand promise

Marketing Principles in an Evolving, Disruptive Marketplace

The 4Ps of marketing have been around for quite a while, but changing customer expectations, new technology and disruptive businesses demand adapting those principles to reach and persuade today’s consumers

The 4Ps of marketing have been around for quite a while, but changing customer expectations, new technology and disruptive businesses demand adapting those principles to reach and persuade today’s consumers

The 4 Ps have been the axioms of marketing for decades, but are they still relevant in the digital age? Sort of.

Product, price, promotion and place provide a framework for marketing plans – what are you selling, at what price, with what kind of promotion and through what channels. It is hard to get more basic than that.

However, the explosion of communication channels and the erosion of traditional media channels has made marketing these days anything but basic.

Jonathan Bacon, writing for Marketing Week, suggests the 4Ps have become more like guideposts than roadways to marketing success. He quotes one marketer as saying, “Marketing is no longer about what businesses want to tell their customers, it is about businesses listening to their customers and responding in a way that offers a meaningful solution to them.” Customer relationship management doesn’t exactly fit into the 4Ps as “promotion.”

Bacon notes that while “price” continues to play a role in customer decision-making, marketers must demonstrate why a product offers “value.”

Matt Barwell, consumer management officer for a beverage company, tells Bacon he has added two of his own Ps – purpose and penetration. Brands need purpose to exhibit consistency in product quality and their brand promise, which is emerging as a critical differentiator. Penetration is essential to the success of any marketing strategy, which translates into putting marketing messages in channels where intended customers are watching.

Ignoring the 4Ps can be risky, Bacon says, as many brands have discovered by chasing, but not catching fast-moving digital crowds. It’s like driving in a strange land without a roadmap.

The solution lies in adapting the 4Ps to the contours of a specific product’s shape or a brand personality. Offering free samples in a grocery store is different, but not that much different than providing samples to an influential blogger who will write a review. Both are promotions, and both seek to build a relationship.

New technology, including artificial intelligence and virtual reality, will profoundly alter the marketing landscape of the future. And that doesn’t take into account disruptive products and services. Who would have imagined Amazon in the food space or SpaceX in the colonization of Mars business? It will definitely make marketing even more challenging.

The 4Ps represent the established wisdom of marketing. Success these days doesn’t require rejecting 4P-principles. Instead, the 4Ps can be a compass of what to watch for in the marketplace so you don’t convince yourself that a low price, a clever ad or lots of followers on Facebook will take you to the promised land.

Marketing principles still apply. They simply have become a whole lot more complicated to apply.


Amazon and Customer Relationship Management

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos claims he does not recognize the Amazon depicted in the New York Times story, which described the company as a "bruising workplace."

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos claims he does not recognize the Amazon depicted in the New York Times story, which described the company as a "bruising workplace."

A Facebook friend posted, "Just purchased items today from Amazon before reading about how it treats its employees. This will be my last order from Amazon."

The post succinctly captures the challenge Amazon and other businesses with questionable workplace standards will face as consumers act on their "relationships" with these companies. It is the downside, if you will, of customer relationship management.

You can spend a lot of time and energy currying relationships with customers, only to see it flash away with a "crisis of confidence" in the relationship. Amazon offers great customer service and value, but it it comes at a price of running the equivalent of a huge sweat shop, then no thanks.

Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos has mounted a vigorous defense of his company and its culture, which the Times' story headline called a "bruising workplace." In a communication to Amazon staff members following the New York Times exposé that relied on interviews of 100 former company employees, Bezos said he wouldn't want to work for a company with the traits described in the article. But he also said that isn't the company he knows as Amazon.

While wise to engage quickly and unreservedly about the issue, Amazon will have to do more than talk about the true nature of its culture. To win back some disenchanted customers, it will need to demonstrate that isn't the company's culture – or won't be any longer.

The distasteful picture of a day in the life of an Amazon worker was magnified by a contemporaneous Netflix announcement that it would grant up to a year's leave for new fathers and mothers. This employee decision was designed in large part to retain and recruit top-flight young talent. But it also showed a positive face externally to Netflix customers. The decision aided customer bonding.

Even by Bezos description over the years of what makes Amazon tick, it is clear the company places innovation and customer service above all else. It may not quite as simplistic as Donald Trump's "I'm a winner and you're a loser" mantra, but it isn't warm and fuzzy either.

Perhaps you can't become the world's largest retailer by being warm and fuzzy, but by the same token you may not keep all your customers by telling a woman who suffered a miscarriage to go on a work trip the next day.

Amazon is extraordinarily true to its brand promise. But as Wal-Mart has discovered, what it takes to achieve your brand promise can get in the way of customer relationships.

Finding Your Trusted Brand Voice

Finding your voice is essential to selling your brand. Your voice must reflect your brand and create trust in your brand promise.

Advertising, political campaigns and events can succeed or fail based on their voices. 

  • The RV industry uses Tom Selleck to extol getting away with family in the rolling comforts of a home on wheels. 

  • The Michigan tourism department relies on Tim Allen to make you yearn for the indescribable delights of "Pure Michigan." 

  • Allstate Insurance draws on the reassuring baritone voice of Dennis Haysbert to let you know you are in good hands.

  • Tina Fey, who describes her own hair color as "grandfather's shoe," is the voice, face and hair pitching Garnier Nutrisse.

Advertisers shelled out money for these celebrities because their voices are familiar, evoke trust and, in the case of Fey, provide a hip endorsement to an establishment product.

The Good Business of Owning Your Mistakes

Lucky passengers booked almost free airline tickets which United Airlines agreed to honor, despite a computer snafu, snatching a business win from a bonehead mistake.United Airlines announced today it will honor tickets purchased Thursday between $0 and $10 as a result of a computer glitch, proving it is smart business to own your mistakes.

Travelocity faced a similar situation a few years back involving $51 tickets to Fiji, which occurred just as it was pushing out a customer bill of rights. The CEO of the online travel agency made an identical decision to honor the low-cost tickets as a sign of her company's integrity.

As painful and expensive as such mistakes seem, they can wind up as relatively inexpensive marketing opportunities. Your company becomes more than a ticket vendor. You become a trusted brand.

United Airlines declined to say how many lucky shoppers snapped up low-price tickets. But chances are there were quite a few and certainly more than enough to scuff up a social media dust storm if the airline tried to weasel out of honoring the tickets.

Earning Brand Loyalty

Southwest Airlines has carved out the position as the low-cost airlines and, with solid customer service, it shows that doesn't mean lowest-common-denominator value.Southwest Airlines has a brand promise of being the low-cost air carrier. It has reinforced that promise by not charging for checked bags.

A recent personal experience solidifies my perception that low-cost at Southwest Airlines doesn't mean lame service.

On a weekend flight through Oakland, California, my wife's and my bags were left on the tarmac in the rain as they were being loaded. Even though we have hard-sided bags, water seeped into the luggage through cloth seams, dampening dresses and suit pants. One of my wife's favorite suit jackets and skirt suffered color spotting.

Southwest Airlines provides a place on its website for complaints. I dutifully sent an email detailing what happened and the $100 dry cleaning bill that resulted. An automated response promised a reply within seven days. Frankly I had some doubts.