Promotion is Dead, Long Live The Product

    June 17, 2005

The 4Ps is an idea that most marketeers have come across during their education. That makes it a good vehicle to discuss change as it is so widely understood. For those who don’t know it refers to Price, Place Product and Promotion, the mixture of areas that traditional marketing has concerned itself with.

So what do the 4Ps mean in a digital era?

Promotional Exhaustion

For some time now Promotion has been the dominant area of marketing but there are suggestions that might be changing. Many consumers are experiencing a kind of Promotion exhaustion and filtering commercial messages out of their lives using PVRs, ad blocking software and subscriptions.

All of which makes it easy to think that the marketing industry itself is in decline. But the demise of Promotion doesn’t mean that marketing is dead. Marketing is about markets – which will be around for as long as humans trade. But the digital era is shaking up the marketing industry, just as it is doing to many others, and maybe the era of Promotion is going to be the victim.

So will the digital era advance the importance of a different aspect of marketing ?

A Product Era

Maybe it’s time for Product to step forward. In a recent conversation I had with Patrick Barwise, Professor of Marketing at London Business School, he said that he felt marketing was now about ‘operational excellence’. While Seth Godin’s book Purple Cow is about making a product so remarkable that it naturally draws in sympathetic customers. Which amounts to saying that Product is now more important than Promotion.

Intuitively, it makes sense that in transparent markets flooded with information and populated by powerful customers, only ‘good’ Product is going to succeed. Which is why services such as VirtualTourist, where we can peer over the Promotional wall and inspect hotel rooms for ourselves, are so successful.

Stripped Down Promotion

Skype, the Internet telephony company, recently made a presentation at Reboot 7.0 – a web culture event in Denmark – which hit a few of these themes. They spoke about the need to “release all the time” which indicates a big emphasis on the product. They see the role of marketing as “defending the product” as oppose to pushing it. Skype say that the days of “buying customers” through marketing spend are over. A good product and a stripped down Promotional message described as a “simple, generous promise” is their recipe for success. 45 million Skype users would seem to suggest they are right.

Of course, in a Product era the other Ps would continue to have a place. After all Price, Place and Promotion are pretty fundamental. But they might be combined in new and interesting ways.

Apple’s mega store in London allows people to get their hands on the product and play with them for as long as they want without any pressure to buy. Apple know that purchases will follow but maybe online at a later date. The company has put the Product at the centre of the experience and let the other Ps support it.

Marketing Design

For modern marketing this could mean a big shift of emphasis. Marketing departments may start to look more like Product design teams rather than advertising factories spearheading entry into a marketplace. Perhaps marketeers’ role will be to contribute ideas to the design process based on market feedback. They may even be managing consumer input as lead users are brought closer and closer into the production cycle. Like Microsoft’s Robert Scoble perhaps?

Of course Promotion will remain but perhaps it will be more about ‘releasing’ not ‘pushing’ Products into online consumer communities, using techniques that create enough buzz to drive word out into the world.

Perhaps Promotion is dead. Long live the Product.

James Cherkoff is an independent marketing consultant based in London.
When he isn’t helping companies like GM and Nestle to get to grips
with the networked world he writes articles on the subject for online
and offline media, including the Financial Times.