Systems Thinking and the 4 Ps of Marketing

I flagged an HBR article a few years ago titled “Rethinking the 4 Ps”.    I suspect most senior marketing leaders have considered this topic at some point in their career – I know I have.

Probably the first reason to rethink Kotler’s model is that it’s so often glossed over in conversations about the marketing function.  “Marketing?  Oh yes, the 4 Ps.”  And then they can’t remember what the 4th P stands for – in my experience it’s usually Place that gets forgotten.  “Right – distribution – I remember now.”

The “SAVE” model developed by Richard Ettenson and his co-authors proposes substituting value for price, access for placement – exactly the substitutions I considered as well.  He then suggests substituting solution for product, and education for promotion.  Those, however, didn’t resonate with me, and I set aside the journal thinking I might develop some alternatives.

I re-read the article this week and noticed that Motorola implemented the “SAVE” model and reorganized the marketing organization to focus on each aspect of the model.  That’s when I realized I’d missed the root cause of my desire to rethink the 4 Ps.  It’s taught as four distinct activities – and often practiced in the same way.  Yet the most progressive marketing leaders I know are systems thinkers, with a deep understanding of customers and an underlying ambition to find growth opportunities.  They think about the 4 Ps, yes, but also culture, macro trends, relationships and experiences…and appreciate the smallest discovery that leads to a big insight.

So I’m not going to rethink the 4 Ps – it’s still the king.  I will however, encourage a different dialogue with marketing teams, pushing against the superficial and celebrating the profound.