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The four barriers of modern marketing led innovation


LAST UPDATED: 07 March, 2024

For many marketers, the Four Ps are often a distant memory. Sure we may have studied them at university or as part of an MBA program, but too few of us get to see how the “marketing mix” plays out in reality.

For example, if we look at “Pricing”, there is rarely a marketer to be seen in the space. Often handled by finance, pricing is often considered a “black art” — requiring mysterious insights, rigorous field testing and more than a modicum of luck. Some organisations go so far as to create “pricing councils” to coordinate and manage extensive product and service lists, compliance, taxation needs and so on.

“Place” is slightly different. Where and how do your customers find your product and services? What’s the distribution mechanism? And what is the buyer’s journey? For many of us, digital has encapsulated this aspect of marketing, meaning that we spend our time with spreadsheets and data, combing through dashboards, analysing competitor products and figuring out exactly how to improve our conversion metrics.

“Promotion” is where the real party starts in the marketing department. It is highly visible, often has a hefty budget and is one aspect of marketing that almost everyone’s mum can understand. It’s TV. Email. PR. They even made the show Mad Men about it.

And “Product” … well, we all know that we need to be able to sell something. And that something looks like a product. Or a service. Or sometimes, even an “experience”.

But in the world of modern marketing, these Four Ps are more of a hindrance than a benefit. Sure we still need to consider each of them when it comes to surprising and delighting customers, but many marketers spend much of their time worrying about other aspects of marketing — not the 4 Ps — but the practical and political challenges of marketing led innovation. For increasingly, marketers are judged by firm metrics. Demand generation. Cold, warm and hot leads. Conversion and retention.

Yet we know that in the eyes of our customers, we are only as good as our last best customer experience.

A common problem in modern marketing

In many of my discussions with marketers — from CMOs to fresh-faced interns — we all appear to be struggling in four key areas. We know we need to innovate. To keep ahead of the curve. To reach, engage and create value for our customers. But we are stalled on the starting blocks.

Modern marketing innovation challenges can be characterised as follows:

We don’t know if we are allowed to innovate. Perhaps product innovation is handled by the product team. Perhaps new business and pricing models are being developed by finance. The new digital or social media channels are being handled by a new team, so that takes care of place. And promotion — well — that’s what we pay the agency for.

Let’s say that we somehow are able to generate a level of permission. The chance to develop a new product or service offering. Great. Now, where might the budget for that innovation come from? Is there a fund somewhere? Or does it need to come from another program? Oh, and who owns that budget? Is it you? Not likely.

The next challenge is resources. We have all been “doing more with less” for at least the last four or five years. This is the new “Business as Usual”, so even if you have the permission and some budget, it’s going to be hard to co-opt the best people from across the business to work on your project.

Finally, if you have permission, a budget and some people/resources to help you develop your new offering, the next question is “how”. How do we do this “modern marketing”? After all, we don’t have to look far to find some new startup muscling into our markets. These “disruptors” are causing havoc, driving down prices, eroding market share and somehow looking like they’re having a ball in the process. If we no longer have the luxury of 6-12 to 18 month product lifecycles, we need new processes, methods and approaches.

And this means doing the hard work of solving each of these challenges in turn. Sure we need the Four Ps — but they come later — much later in this disruptive innovation world. As I usually advise my clients — look internally for team members with secret/hidden skills — or go outside. Get help from the experts. Learn from them and apply those lessons to transforming your marketing.

It’s marketing for the future. And it’s the new business as usual.