The 7 Ps of marketing are a set of key principles that belong at the very heart of your marketing strategy. They are sometimes jointly referred to as the marketing mix.
In this article, we’ll take you through the 7 Ps, and how you can use them to inform your work. Our aim is for you to leave with a better understanding of fundamental marketing theory, and a new approach to try out the next time you put together a marketing strategy.
The original 4 Ps of marketing
In 1960, the same year CERN switched on their particle accelerator for the first time and JFK was elected President of the United States, the marketing professor E. Jerome McCarthy was putting the finishing touches to the original 4 Ps of marketing.
At that time, marketing theory was shifting towards a more strategic, managed approach. McCarthy’s 4 Ps framework encapsulated the new paradigm, quickly gaining popularity with practising marketers and academics alike.
The 4 Ps were powerful, above all, because they concisely accounted for the seller’s most important objectives and the target audience’s most critical requirements – both of which are pivotal to commercial performance. Further, they are all things which the seller can control, and are therefore ideally suited to proactive strategy formation.
These original 4 Ps, which still form the core of the marketing mix to this day, can be defined as follows:
The product should do what the customer wants or needs it to do. Whether it’s a CPG product (Consumer Packaged Goods), a luxury item, a digital service or anything else, it should live up to the expected level of quality.
In order to design or identify a suitable product, the business should conduct thorough research into the tastes, requirements and buying habits of its target audience. This research-backed approach provides a surer path to commercial success than simply creating a product under the assumption it will find its place in the market.
The product should be sold at a price which the target audience deems to be good value-for-money.
When calculating product price, we must take into account all the costs entailed in producing, promoting and delivering that product. If production and promotion are set to carry relatively high costs, this should be reflected in an appropriately high price.
Effective pricing is not a simple matter of offering a cheaper alternative to the competition. Imagine you’re in a supermarket, browsing the wine section. Whether consciously or not, you will likely select a bottle within a quite specific price range, which is habitual to you. You’re highly unlikely to consider the bottles well outside of your habitual price range – even if a cheaper alternative is in-fact better suited to your taste. Thus, the cut-price vintner’s under-pricing of the product causes them to miss out on a sale.
The superior approach, then, is to identify the price your target customer is used to paying for products and services similar to your own, taking into account your costs and the profit margin required.
The product should be available where the customer expects to find it, e.g. in supermarkets, at boutiques, or online. Let’s say you’ve got an amazing sandwich bar in the making, and you decide to place it in a top restaurant district. This would be a serious misplacement, as you’d be targeting the wrong market.
Further, we must identify how the product should be presented in each context. For example, which aisle of a supermarket should a CPG product be stocked in? Should it be sold in a trade promotion? In which contexts should it appear as an online ad?
Place also takes into account the logistical factors affecting a product’s profitability, such as storage and distribution. This is as true of digital products and services as it is of traditional ones, with factors such as website design and hosting costs to consider.
In ecommerce, the device type preferences of the target audience should also be factored into your planning. Your customers’ desktop, tablet and mobile usage habits should determine the level of priority you give to each device in your digital marketing.
The product should be promoted to the appropriate audience via appropriate channels, using advertising methods which resonate with that audience. These channels may include (and are not limited to):
- corporate identity
- social media
- content marketing
- influencer marketing
- sales management
The product/service benefits and features highlighted through promotion should align with the audience’s most compelling requirements. Promotion may differ somewhat in tone and content from channel to channel – but never in such a way as to create contradictions.
The 3 further Ps of marketing
In 1981, twenty-one years after E. Jerome McCarthy’s original four Ps, a further 3 Ps of marketing were put forward by Booms & Bitner in their extended marketing mix. These principles, which reflected the changing reality of marketing theory and practice, are as follows:
The team involved in the delivery of the project should possess the skills and qualities needed to ensure its success (barring unforeseen mishaps).
This is perhaps especially true of customer-facing staff, whose communication and behaviour will greatly impact the audience’s perception of the brand. You could well have developed the best product of its kind – but if your customer-facing people are off-putting to customers, the project will not reach its full commercial potential.
As such, marketing campaign teams must put in place processes and best practices for how customer-facing team members behave publicly and communicate with customers. Methods for doing this include distributing a social media policy, paying attention to communication skills when hiring customer-facing staff, providing training on good communication, and imposing disciplinary measures to deter misbehaviour.
The processes involved in a product’s delivery will significantly affect the customer’s experience, level of satisfaction, and lifetime value to your business. These processes may include (and are not limited to):
- Website user experience
- Delivery time
- Delivery methods and service
- In-store wait time
- Communicating with customer support
In addition to the processes used to deliver a product or service, we must also have processes in place for when something goes wrong – for example, the allocation of appropriate compensatory gifts for customers who’ve had a bad experience.
The final P refers to the physical context and paraphernalia (such as receipts, “thanks for ordering” cards, confirmation emails and PDF invoices) that come along with the product. In order to reinforce the product’s and the seller’s credibility, these components should exhibit the qualities customers expect of them, based on up-to-date industry standards.
For example, precious jewellery might be displayed within a locked cabinet; ethical supermarkets might choose to use as little print as possible on their receipts (or offer digital receipts as an alternative), and doctors’ surgeries should look suitably clinical.
In a nutshell, “Physical evidence” is all about ensuring every component involved with the product adheres to the same brand values as the product itself. This creates a consistent, convincing experience for the customer.
Partners: the 8th P of marketing?
Not content with the conventional 7 Ps of marketing, some marketers like to add an eighth factor into the extended marketing mix: partners.
This refers to the third parties involved in the marketing of a product or service – especially referral partners in a digital marketing context. We would tend not to include partners in the marketing mix unless the project relies heavily on referral marketing campaigns.
How to use the 7 Ps in campaign planning
The 7 Ps marketing mix is an ideal framework for marketing campaign planning.
Let’s imagine we are setting out to market a new SaaS product. Draw up a table with seven columns, and use these to sketch out your key strategic considerations for each of the 7 Ps. You should end up with something like this:
|Purpose is to help organisations credit check customers.||Target audience expects to buy similar products for £150 per month.||Product is to be sold via our own website.||Which promotion type/s is/are best suited to our audience?||Our customer support team must be highly trained in our software.||Smaller clients require user account access to our service.||We require appropriate trust badges and client testimonials for our site.|
|Must be user-friendly (suitable for non-expert audience).||One-month free trial is industry standard.||Should our service be available as an app for Android/iOS?||Which key customer benefits will we communicate through our advertising?||Hiring process must be sufficiently quick to ensure we can scale customer support in-step with sales growth.||Larger clients require bespoke portals for all their agents to use.||Our website requires an SSL certificate.|
|Must be compatible with multiple operating systems.||Should we offer economies of scale (discounted rate per user for biggest clients)?||Where else might clients expect our product to be available?||How have our competitors promoted their products?||We require a social media policy for all employees.||Customer support should be available 24/7.||Our client invoices should be smartly presented and on-brand.|
|Must match or beat the quality of the current market leader.||What are our delivery costs and target profit margin?||How will the user’s device type affect their experience of our site?||How will we measure the performance of each promotion method and activity?||What are the values we want our team members to embody?||Multi-lingual support is required for our international customers.||Our company address should inspire client confidence.|
As you can see, we’ve only included four rows of strategy per column in this example. In practice, you may wish to go into more detail.
The great benefit of using the 7 Ps in campaign planning is that it helps us do a thorough job. If any one of the 7 Ps is not thoroughly planned for, the project will invariably suffer. Going through them methodically is a great safeguard against strategic missteps. Be aware that any of the Ps could be more or less important than usual in a given campaign – so sometimes you’ll need to put more planning into one column than others.
As well as helping you to ensure you have the right marketing mix in place, the 7 Ps can also help you evaluate why unsuccessful projects didn’t work out. Simply draw up a table similar to the one shown above, but fill each column with critiques, rather than strategic ideas. This will help you get to the bottom of the issue.
Why you should learn the 7 Ps
We would advise any marketer working on a strategic level to learn the 7 Ps of the marketing mix, whether for use as a basis for testing and formulating ideas, or simply to enhance your understanding of marketing theory.
And make no mistake – the marketing mix is fundamental to the academic side of marketing. The CIM teaches the 7 Ps as part of their Foundation Certificate in Professional Marketing, and the framework is closely linked to the Institute’s definition of marketing, as “The management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably.”
Above all, the 7 Ps can help make the difference between instinct-led marketing and process-led marketing. In most cases, that will mean surer success for your marketing projects.
BONUS: The 4 Cs – an alternative take on the marketing mix
Unsurprisingly, lots of marketing theorists have come up with their own spins on the marketing mix since the 7 Ps grew to become the industry standard.
Chief among these is the 4 Cs, a customer-centric alternative to the original 4 Ps, which involves:
You may find it a useful exercise to try using the 4 Cs alongside the staple 4 Ps, to find out which approach is best suited.