But a closer look at some of today’s fastest-growing brands shows that time has buried the Four P’s. Companies can no longer use them to gain a competitive advantage and meaningful differentiation. In fact, they more and more look like the roadmap to failure.
Let’s look at promotion. In recent years, we have seen the explosive growth of companies that don’t do any advertising at all. Zara, one of the largest and fastest-growing fashion brands, never advertises. Facebook didn’t grow to 800 million users through any type of promotion. And although the company thrives off advertising, Google only recently started to advertise.
Steven Levy tells the story of how Google’s first VP of marketing Scott Epstein suggested an elaborate marketing plan based on the Four P’s. Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page rejected his plan outright, and Epstein left the company shortly thereafter. “It really came down to this,” a Google employee told Levy, “do we want to put money into the technology, into the infrastructure, into hiring really great people? Or do we want to blow it on a marketing campaign we can’t measure?”
Google didn’t need marketing; the search engine was so good that it spoke for itself. Few companies are lucky to have such a powerful product, but the essential rationale is the same for everyone: A penny spent on campaigns is a penny less spent on creating user value. In a transparent, digitally empowered world, only the best offerings survive, so companies that spend on promotions have a cost disadvantage.
The other P’s are just as dispensable. Place is obviously becoming less and less important as more commerce moves online. And price is also less of a potential strategic marketing advantage. With price, comparison sites like Tripadvisor.com, Pricegrabber.com, and Bizrate.com, many companies are forced to let raw market forces determine the price of their products.
So what is today’s marketer left with as a way to build a strategic advantage? The product. The only real way for a company to build a growing brand is to design products and services that are so good that they become marketing vehicles in and of themselves.
It exaggerates a bit but to certain industries like IT business the three Ps are receded to one Product, as shown in Apple products. However, this happened long before, like utility firms never promote much.