Some Thoughts on the 4Ps and Customer Centricity

A cracking debate on the relevance of the traditional Marketing 4Ps in contemporary digital marketing has broken out in several places on the Internet. The pro-4P lobby believe that in the rush to get online, many organisations are forgetting some standard rules and good practice, citing the 4Ps as an element of the marketer’s armoury that should be introduced and taken on board. Writers such as Dave Chaffey and Paul Smith have long (in Internet Time) promoted an evolved model with changes to the meaning and number of Ps in the equation.

The anti-4P lobby claim that the evolution of social media means that the 4P model (and its descendants) are increasingly irrelevant because they are centred around the marketer and the product and not around the customer and their world (I won’t use the word “needs” because that is a contentious point). This lobby believe that in a social media world, companies need spend less time selling their product and more time working out what customers would like them to do, and that focussing on how the business broadcasts, and decides what it’s offering is, is an outdated and irrelevant concept.

It’s essentially a worldview difference between “This is what we do” versus “What can I do for you?” The first view will tell you all about brand value and product attributes. The second view relies on customers deciding what those values and attributes should be.

With this in mind it’s interesting to look at the use of Twitter by two organisations competing in the same marketplace – Northern Rail (Northern) and Trans Pennine Express (TPE). Northern (often nicknamed #northernfail is plagued by ancient rolling stock which is slow and unglamorous. There are often problems. TPE has new, fast express trains, but it too suffers from delays, cancellations, overcrowding and so on.

Casual observation of the two Twitter streams shows a marked difference in the use of the medium. TPE clearly have the 4Ps in their sights and use their stream to communicate promotions. Dialogue is clearly between winners and entrants to competitions. Nothing wrong with that (textbook you might say), but I would argue that the vast majority of customers might prefer the Twitter stream to engage with them on their use and valuing of the product. But it is all about “The Sell”.

Northern clearly use the channel to engage with people who complain or who have problems with their train journey. Indeed they’re clearly monitoring the channel for key hashtags and phrases where their customer base congregates. Dialogue is (sadly) apologetic but it clearly engages with audience in the points where they want. TPE are much slower to respond (if at all) and I would argue they are not monitoring the channel in the same way as their rivals.

A perfect (if such a thing exists) take on this is the T-shirt company Last Exit to Nowhere (LETN). With occasional tweets about product, LETN spend a lot of time engaging with their audience in non-promotional ways. Tweets are often about film trivia (or extreme film nerdery). Facebook updates often follow the same structure. Very rarely is a promotional matter with regard to product dealt with, although it does happen – and this often around new product often based on engagement with the community on the product’s development.

What LETN shows is there is a small space for the 4Ps, but it certainly takes a back seat. Concentrating on customer centricity is what drives their traffic rather than a sales drive. Because LETN have a strong empathy with their customers (as opposed to the customers supposedly having any kind of strong affinity with the LETN brand), customers clearly engage because it’s about what they’re interested in, not what LETN are interested in selling.

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