Solutions Marketing: Revisiting the Debate over the 4 P’s

As we all know, the foundation of marketing since the 1950’s has been described as the 4 P’s.  The concept of the 4 P’s – which stands for Product, Price, Place, and Promotion – has endured for over a half-decade, and continues to be the basis for many marketing plans and strategies.  Professor Neil Borden, the Harvard Business School Professor who came up with this nifty framework, and then Phillip Kotler in his seminal marketing textbook, Principles of Marketing in 1967, have influenced millions of successful marketers.

Are the 4 P’s still relevant today?  Absolutely – but only if you’re marketing one of the 4 P’s – products.   For highly complex services and solutions, the 4 P’s aren’t adequate.

The Many Voices Around the New 4 P’s

If we take a marketer’s safety blanket away, what else should they consider instead?  Here are some alternative models we’ve read about:

Brian Fetherstonhaugh at Olgilvy & Mather suggests that you use the 4 E’s (4 P's -- O&M):

> Product ? Experience

> Place ? Everyplace

> Price ? Exchange

> Promotion ? Evangelism

Marco Protano, A Marketing Professor at the Hult International Business School, suggests a new model represented by the acronym SIVA:

> Product ? Solution

> Place ? Access

> Price ? Value

> Promotion ? Information & Incentive

Josh Sieders, with Compass Creative, stays with the “P” family (4 P's -- Sieders):

> Purpose

> Passion

> Pain

> Power

Eloqua, one of the gorillas in marketing automation, has suggested that the 4 P’s have morphed into something that reflects their world (4 P's - Eloqua) :

> Personality

> Publishing

> Packaging

> Physics

The 4 P’s of Marketing are for Solutions Marketers – The Motorola Point of View

Recently, Harvard Business Review weighed in on the issue with an article entitled Rethinking the 4 P’s  to which Eduardo Conrado, SVP of Marketing and CMO at Motorola Solutions, contributed -. (4P's -- HBR -- SAVE) Conrado believes that for solutions marketers the fundamentals of marketing have shifted to a SAVE model:

> Product ? Solution

> Place ? Access

> Price ? Value

> Promotion ? Education

The SAVE model makes a lot of sense to me.  We’ve been following Motorola’s solutions activities, and it appears that they’ve been able to shift their marketing practices by applying the model.

Solutions Insights’ Perspective:  The 4 P’s are OVER!

We’re clearly on the same bandwagon as everyone else who is clamoring that marketers have to rethink the basic premises of marketing.  If your company sells widgets – baseballs, frying pans, bicycle tires, whatever – that are relatively uncomplicated products, then the 4 P’s will still carry the day.  If your company is creating and selling either complex services or solutions, then the 4 P’s turn out to be woefully inadequate.  Relying on our own acronym, and in order to make our point, we contend that the 4 P’s are now OVER!

While our OVER model is in the same family as Conrado’s SAVE model and Protano’s SIVA model, we have some subtle but important differences.  Here’s how we suggest you think about re-establishing the 4 pillars of solutions marketing:

  • Product ? Offer

A solution, from our point of view, is never just a product.  It’s a combination of products and services that are integrated through carefully developed processes and methodologies.   There are many flavors of solutions, but they are clearly more complex and oriented toward solving customer problems than products.

We use the term Offer because some companies define their solutions as highly defined and repeatable, while others see them as very broad and highly customized.  In fact, an offer could be a combination of several “solutions”.   Marketers need to look beyond a packaged solution and focus on the customer problem – which then defines the customer Offer .

  • Price ? Value

Similar to Conrado’s contention, solutions marketing needs to focus more on the value delivered instead of the price.  Pricing sometimes does a wonderful job of reflecting value to the customer…and sometimes not.  By focusing more on customer value, the solution may be priced at a premium if the customer agrees their TCO is well below the value-based price.

  • Place ? Experience

Products have traditionally been sold through bricks and mortar establishments – donut shops, men’s clothing stores, toy stores, etc.   The concept of Place was first disrupted by internet shopping.  Instead of going to the local mall , you can now go to the virtual mall.  So, where’s the “place”? Well, you’re in your office at home.  This is a far cry from how “place” has been traditionally described by marketers.

Now let’s move from products to solutions. Take something like “Virtual Desktop Management”, or “Cloud Computing and Integration”.   Where does this take place?  How do you “shop” for what you need?   Where is it delivered?   We believe the important and essential factor is the customer Experience.  Marketing should make sure that the end-to-end process of searching, self-educating, selecting, using, and measuring the impact of a solution comprises the total customer experience.  It’s not a place, but an ability to learn, access, and apply – in other words, an Experience.

  • Promotion ? Relationship

Products have typically been “pushed” to prospective customers.  Car ads tout low financing and deals that will only last the next few days.  Sporting goods stores trumpet their deep discounts and “two for one” offerings.   All of this is to pull you to either a physical or virtual store to buy.

When used to market a solution, most of these types of campaigns fail because solutions are too complex to understand quickly, and the risk of making the wrong decision is too high.   Before you can even consider pushing out your value messages about your solution, there are a number of interim steps you need to take with your prospective customers:

  • What do they need? How do they need it to be provided?
  • Are you capable of delivering what they need?
  • How do they want to learn about your solutions?  What’s the right path to educating them about the impact and value of a complex solution?

When it Comes to Solutions Marketing, Think Differently

From push to relationship building activities, price to value, or place to experience, get used to a changed marketing model.  Since a high percentage of solutions marketers earned their stripes by marketing products, it’s important to understand that the old traditional product approaches just won’t work.

Think different.  Think customer-centric.  Think deeper relationships.  Think solutions.

Author: Steve Hurley, Managing Director at Solutions Insights

Comments (1)

Oscar Morales

I have to agree, the 4 P's are too old now. As any business theory framework evolves in time due to changes in society, technology, political regulations, environment, processes, etc. While studying my bachelors I started with the 4Ps then 4Cs, 11Ps, 4Es, and so on. In the las class I took in the MBA I was introduced to OVER.Which give a good understanding and application for solutions. I wasn't really convinced of all this theoretical business frameworks that change really fast. From college till now I can almost say that the theory that I learned in the first 2 semesters of college now is completely obsolete. In the past year I have understood the reason behind the frameworks from a question that triggered my rejection: what are they for? Now my understanding is that the 4Ps or OVER is the place where you start creating strategy. How flexible can they be? As flexible as needed. The frameworks can be adapted from company to company and even from product/service/solution within the same company. However, the importance relays in the conceptualization of a common definition. The 4Ps are OVER, and maybe OVER will EVOLVE later. Whatever is the case, a good marketer has to have a theoretical framework to be able to implement a good strategy.