Letter-based frameworks like “the 4 C’s” and “the 4 P’s” can be great tools for learning and memorising marketing strategy. However, this format can be a victim of its own popularity, insofar as totally different frameworks sometimes end up with the same name. That’s precisely what has happened with the 4 C’s.
There are two popular marketing strategy frameworks currently referred to by this name:
- The 4 C’s of the marketing mix;
- and the 4 C’s of marketing communications.
Both these frameworks are renowned for helping marketers do a better job, so let’s take a detailed look at each one.
The 4 C’s of the marketing mix
The original and most fundamental of the “4 C’s” frameworks is the 4 C’s of the marketing mix (Lauterborn, 1990), which sets out four crucial factors which can determine whether or not the marketing of a product or brand is successful. These are as follows:
1. Customer wants and needs
What does the customer want or need that they are not currently getting, and what can we do to serve that need?
The first of the 4 C’s works on the logic that making a product or brand to cater for existing customer needs is a superior approach to simply making a product or brand, then identifying or manufacturing demand for them.
This theory lends itself to a specific order of planning and production. First, we use market research (e.g. sector-specific consumer surveys, or website data insights) to discover what the brand’s existing or prospective audience wants or needs. Then, and only then, can we plan, produce and market the solution.
What is the total cost of the product to the customer? In addition to the product’s retail price, this must factor in the time and effort required to get and use the product, plus any additional expenses that come with it.
Let’s consider how the cost-to-consumer of a video games console might break down:
- Console retail price
- Cost of games and accessories
- Need to stay at home to take delivery of console/to visit video games store to collect
- Setup time
- Cost of online subscription
- Cost of in-game purchases
As we can see, the true cost of the purchase is far greater and more complex than the price on the box.
Consumers are aware that the true cost of a product is often higher than its RRP – and the “Cost” category of the 4 C’s marketing mix reflects this reality.
The third C is all about ensuring the brand/product is available as conveniently as possible to each customer persona/demographic in the target audience.
This is primarily a matter of understanding how a brand’s customers shop. If your target audience prefers to shop online, the item should be available to order online with flexible delivery options. Or, if they prefer to try in-store before they buy, that option should be available too.
Customer convenience can come at a high cost to businesses. For example, clothes retailers offering free “try before you buy” services to online customers could see their volume of returned stock quadrupled. In light of this effect, we would phrase the question of convenience as follows:
“What’s the most convenient service we can afford to give customers, without causing business harm?”
This comes with the caveat that too-little convenience can also cause business harm, in the shape of lost custom.
How will the brand interact with customers? Advertising is an important part of this, but we must also consider other touchpoints such as social media messaging, in-store, automated marketing communication sequences and customer support helplines. Every interaction between the customer and the brand can affect customer satisfaction, the likelihood of future sales and the likelihood of customer referrals.
Communication isn’t just about how a brand communicates with its customers: it’s also about what customers communicate to the brand, and how that information is used.
This is particularly important to the delivery of tailored multi-channel communications for individual customers or sales leads, which works roughly as follows:
- Set up gathering of data on customers’ online behaviour, tastes, and interactions with the brand. Bring all this information together in one system to create a single customer view (SCV).
- Identify correlations between customer characteristics and the favourability of their responses to certain communications (e.g. Customer Type A are all aged 18-24. This group show an increased likelihood of unsubscribing from our mailing list if we send two emails in the space of a week.)
- Tailor communications accordingly (e.g. send fewer emails to those identified as Customer Type A).
From verbal feedback to online behavioural metrics like dwell time and bounce rate, everything the customer says and does can teach the brand to communicate better to that customer and others like them. Having a process for “listening” to customers and utilising insights from whatever they communicate is just as important as actively communicating through ads and content.
The 4 C’s vs. The 4 P’s
Some of you may have noticed the 4 C’s sound an awful lot like another framework used to create the marketing mix: the 4 P’s.
This is no coincidence, as the 4 C’s were designed specifically as a more customer-centric alternative to the classic 4 P’s framework.
The 4 P’s have been consistently popular with marketers and marketing theorists since the sixties – particularly in their extended form as the 7 P’s of marketing. However, critics of the P’s framework argue it places too much emphasis on the marketer’s perspective, at the expense of the customer’s. This is wrong, they would say, as the needs of customers are usually more business-critical than the needs of marketers.
It was with such thoughts in mind that the legendary marketing theorist Bob Lauterborn proposed an alternative marketing mix, called the 4 C’s. This new framework was built to help brands focus on what matters most: the customer.
Here’s how the 4 P’s and the 4 C’s compare:
|4 P’s of marketing||4 C’s of marketing|
|Product||What is it?||Customer wants and needs||What does the customer want or need?|
|How high-quality is it?||How does our research support that?|
|What makes it unique?||How can we serve the want or need?|
|Price||What will be the product’s RRP?||Cost||What is the product’s price?|
|What will our profit margin be?||What are the additional financial costs?|
|How does the price relate to similar products on the market?||What are the costs to customers in terms of time and effort?|
|Place||Which touchpoints will we use to communicate the product offer to customers (e.g. social, direct mail)?||Convenience||How will customers want to buy/order the product?|
|What will our messaging be?||How should the product be delivered?|
|How will we ensure satisfactory customer experience?|
|Promotion||Which touchpoints will we use to communicate the product offer to customers (e.g. social, direct mail)?||Communication||How will we communicate with the customer at every touch point (advertising, social, customer service, etc.?)|
|What will our messaging be?||How will we use C2B inputs to optimise B2C comms?|
How to use the 4 C’s of the marketing mix
The most common use of the 4 C’s is as a set of criteria for planning and evaluating marketing campaigns. Marketers who use the 4 C’s can check and optimise their strategy for a product or campaign against each C to ensure they’ve covered all the bases. If one of the Cs has not been accounted for, that could be cause for concern.
The importance of each C will vary case-by-case, so don’t fall into the trap of weighting them equally by default. It’s down to the marketer’s judgement to determine which factors matter most in each case.
Another key use of the 4 C’s of the marketing mix is as a tool for situation analysis of a brand. From the customer’s perspective, how is the brand performing in terms of Customer wants and needs, Cost, Convenience and Communication? And taking this line of thought a step further, how do the brand’s top competitors perform on the same points?
The 4 C’s of marketing communications
Although it is far lesser-known than the 4 C’s we’ve already talked about, the 4 C’s of marketing communications framework (Jobber and Fahy, 2009) can come in just as handy – especially for marketers whose role involves planning, evaluating or carrying out communications.
This second 4 C’s framework was developed by theorists David Jobber and John Fahy as a tool for brand positioning. By forming a strategy that satisfies all four Cs, with reference to their brand’s strategic position, marketers can lay the foundation for effective communications with customers and leads.
The four factors that make up the framework are as follows:
Keep communications simple, focused and straightforward. This doesn’t mean brands can’t say complex or expert things – they just have to say them efficiently.
A brand’s communications must be credible from the customer’s perspective. The subject matter, tone-of-voice and views indicated should align with customer perceptions and expectations of the brand. Authoritative statements are only appropriate if the subject matter lies within the brand’s area(s) of expertise.
A consistent message should run throughout all communications and across all touchpoints. This extends from marketing collateral to in-store customer service interactions.
Taking a narrow-angle view, ensuring consistency across certain types of communications, such as ad campaigns, is a crucial step. However, the gold standard is to extend that consistency to everything the brand says and does. This means getting employees to take messaging to heart and effectively “live the brand”.
The brand should demonstrate an edge over its competitors. This could mean positioning the brand as somehow better than the norm (e.g. Volvo: Luxury Redefined); or it could mean highlighting difference (e.g. Manchester’s “get me there” travel scheme: the smarter way to get around).
Not only should there be a competitive edge running throughout a brand’s messaging; there also needs to be one in each communication, versus comparable communications from rivals. This blog article is an example of this theory in-action: we have good reason for telling you about both 4 C’s frameworks, rather than just one of them.
This is just Target Internet’s opinion, so take it with a pinch of salt– but we believe that if Jobber and Fahy hadn’t been sticking to a rigid 4 C’s blueprint, they might have labelled this category as “Difference”. Standing out from the competition is clearly what matters here.
How to use the 4 C’s of marketing communication
The 4 C’s of marketing communication is a useful tool for improving communications at both strategic and tactical levels.
At the strategic level, we can use them to create master comms guidelines that cover everything the brand does. If all communications are clear, credible, consistent and competitive in ways to suit the brand’s strategic position, the chance of a good reception from customers is almost certainly improved.
And at the level of tactical implementation – providing customer service guidelines for staff, creating marketing copy, devising slogans, and so on – the 4 C’s can be used to measure individual communications against the brand’s overarching policy. This is particularly helpful when planning important communications, or for ongoing evaluation.
Lost in a sea of Cs and Ps? Here’s how to pick which strategy frameworks to use
As you may have gathered, there are loads of marketing frameworks to choose from – probably more than you’d ever want to use. There are two sets of 4 C’s, one set of 7 P’s, as well as other analytical frameworks such as PESTEL, SWOT and TOWS.
So, how to pick which ones to use in your marketing strategy?
Despite their differences, most frameworks have one key trait in common: they help marketers be more thorough. As such, we suggest finding a framework that covers any blind spots which have held you or your brand back in the past. For instance, the 4 C’s marketing mix will help rule out failures of customer-centricity, while the 4 C’s of marketing communications will help get all your comms on the same page.
Don’t be ruled by any single strategic framework – rather, use them interchangeably according to their strengths and your requirements.