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The Evolution Of The Marketing Mix (And What Inbound Has To Do With It)

As a marketing professional, you're likely familiar with the 4 Ps of the marketing mix: product, price, place and promotion. Whether you first discovered these industry pillars as an eager marketing major or uncovered them later on as you pursued your professional career, you understand how they contribute to a comprehensive strategy. What you may not know is that the 4 Ps have changed, and inbound marketing is a driving force.

The Evolution of the Marketing Mix (And What Inbound Has to Do With It)The 4 Ps have been around for about 50 years. They were conceptualized and refined by two key marketing scholars, Jerome McCarthy and Philip Kotler.
 
I first encountered the marketing mix when reading "Kellogg on Marketing," a text that encompasses all fundamental areas of marketing. As a side note, I highly recommend the book. It deserves a spot on your "to read" list if you're interested at all in how our industry has arrived at its current state.

In case it has been a while since you brushed up on your marketing theory 101, here's a quick snapshot of each element of the 4 Ps:

  • Product  The actual make-up or service being offered to a customer. This also includes add-ons such as service guarantees, product warranties and anything else relating back to the specific product itself.
  • Price  What the end user exchanges to obtain the product. Price is generally but not universally monetary, as price could be a factor such as time, services exchanged, etc.
  • Place  How and where the customer obtains a product. This facet encompasses all aspects of the product's environment, from initial product distribution to the context in which a customer acquires it.
  • Promotion  The marketer's favorite P! Promotion includes advertising, selling, branding, PR and any other means we use to get our message and product out to our audience.

Seems pretty simple, right? When we look at them in a broad sense, it's easy to see how each of these components plays a major role in our marketing efforts, all the way from research and development to building customer advocacy.

But it doesn't take a 12-time honorary Ph.D. recipient to see that the marketing industry has changed. Several articles have assessed how the traditional 4 Ps are outdated, from the Harvard Business Review to theOgilvy Mather blog.

I have to agree with what appears to be the industry consensus: The 4 Ps as we know them encompass what used to be all fundamental aspects of marketing, but fall short when considered against today's environment, which is characterized by hyper-personalization and customer-centricity.

As such, let's look at how the marketing mix has evolved alongside the industry, and how inbound speaks to these monumental changes.

Product

It used to be enough to create a product, slap it on a store shelf and watch the money come in. Consider the industrial and production eras, when marketing (as we know it) wasn't even a necessity. The only truly irreplaceable component of the marketing mix was the product, which dictated all else.

Today, as customers construct ever-increasing expectations of branded interactions, product is no longer the sole differentiator. Although creating an exceptional product (or service, or whatever it is you're offering) is the first essential step in marketing, it's not necessarily the most important.

Inbound approaches have stood the test of time by granting equal focus to the product and the experience that goes along with its consumption. As inbound professionals, we are tasked with the heavy duty job of not only understanding and communicating the ins and outs of a product, but also customizing it to countless customer contexts. To top it all off, service demands and added value expectations only continue to rise.

Inbound embraces the fact that a product is no longer the absolute; it's the starting point of a multifaceted customer experience.

Price

Modern marketing initiatives and hostile price wars have left a pretty barren landscape for driving consistent profit.

As competition heats up and few products remain one-of-a-kind for long, one strategy for many brands is to turn to low price as the universal differentiator.While this is a viable way to increase market share, continuously driving down the price of a product is no way to prove its long-term value. 

As a result, some brands maintain prices but mask them for as long as possible throughout the sales process, only to reveal the amount at the very end in the hopes that leads will be so convinced that their internal commitment outweighs the sticker shock.

Both of these practices will prove more harmful than helpful in the long term, because they categorize price as the ultimate deciding factor in purchase considerations.

A more in-depth assessment of buyer motivations quickly reveals that price is not the only thing we consider when buying a product. Seth Godin has a fascinating but concise argument on this matter.

In short, inbound has transformed price from the end-all, be-all to a secondary consideration which pales in importance compared to facets like your service and usefulness in promotion. More on that second idea in a moment.

Place

As e-commerce and mobile internet usage continue to skyrocket, traditional methods of consumption are being challenged. While place used to be a distribution channel and a store shelf, today it could include thousands of alternative means for customers to consume our product.

Most notably, this relates back to the inbound idea that our product must be available to customers on their terms, in their preferred environment.

Successful inbound marketers conduct research, engage on social channels and use all available information to make educated decisions about the ways customers will actively seek out and purchase products.

To keep up with ongoing changes to the places our brand is expected to be, comprehensive listening (emboldened by inbound) is essential.

Promotion

More than any other of the 4 Ps, inbound has truly revolutionized the way innovative marketers think about spreading the word.

Rather than focusing on traditional approaches, such as broad paid advertisements and what often translates into "ready, fire, aim" strategies, inbound has shifted our initiatives to strategies built upon creating a useful experience for prospects, leads and customers alike.

A healthy inbound strategy holistically flips the marketer's focus from being seen to being found. Rather than building marketing anchored in the premise of asserting a brand into the prospect's life, the new promotion is all about creating content that makes your brand visible and valuable to purchase intenders in the most relevant parts of their buying life cycle.

Promotion has changed, and the smartest marketers know that the ways in which customers absorb information and digest marketing content are no longer the same as they were 10 years ago (or even five years ago). We see this in the successful implementation of content creation, SEO, social participation and email marketing. To maximize our marketing efforts and ROI, it's essential that we leverage these opportunities.

What Does It All Mean?

In short, the evolution of the 4 Ps and the inbound marketing movement are based in one simple premise: creating a better marketing experience.

Should you find yourself questioning your efforts throughout any of the marketing mix components, the one unfailing test is to consider whether your initiatives are satisfying the end user's motivations. If the answer is anything but "absolutely yes," it's time to explore a transformation.

Image credit:http://www.flickr.com/photos/40741666@N05/5170100206

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