Exploring the Fifth and Sixth P of Marketing

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For years I’ve written about how the 4 Ps of Marketing, Product, Place, Pricing, and Promotion represented a dated perspective of customers and markets. In an era of connected consumerism, one could argue the merits of any of “Ps” and whether or not they’re still relevant. I suppose that’s a debate for another time. Instead, I’d like to introduce of two additional Ps that will propel a decades old concept and modernize it for a social economy.

Truth be told, there are many words that can find their way into this discussion. I’m sure we can find words that begin with the same consonant. But we now live in an era where customers are more connected, informed, and empowered, and as a result, their expectations amplify and modify. To adapt, new pillars are needed whether or not they start with the letter P. Rather than run through the dictionary, I would like to share two words that I believe are more important than ever before—people and purpose.

For those who’ve followed my work over the last decade, you’ll note that I’ve often referred to “people” as the “5th P of Marketing.” It wasn’t until recently however that I finally put all of the pieces together to consider a 6th P, in this case adding “Purpose” to the mix.

While on stage at the Pivot Conference, I had an opportunity to interview Leslie Gaines-Ross, Chief Reputation Strategist at Weber Shandwick, about the real world risks and opportunities of reputation warfare in a digital age. Somewhere in the middle of the conversation people and purpose emerged as key pillars to help businesses rally teams and build communities around common interests. The importance of purpose resonated with me. I’d always pushed leaders to consider purpose as they pursued innovation, transformation and inspiration. It didn’t dawn on me until that moment however that its place amongst the other P’s was in fact overdue.

People as the 5th P


In a social economy, it’s practically absurd that this requires explanation. People should be or should have been at the center of everything. It’s been argued though that people are already at the core of each of the existing 4 P’s. But I disagree.

If we measure actions rather than intentions, it’s easy to overlook the importance of people in the mix. See, for the most part people are largely lumped into market segments, spoken to as audiences, and serviced as tickets. Honestly, we can do better. We must do better.

Understanding the needs and expectations of people inspires an important element often missing in day-to-day business strategy…empathy. It is empathy after all that unlocks ambition to do something that goes beyond the ordinary. It offers clarity to help see beyond routine roadmaps and reports. Empathy also channels aspiration to help teams strive to always do better. The result? Businesses will possess the means to develop more meaningful products and services as well as the procure confidence and resources to truly engage customers to build thriving communities.

Once you feel, really feel what people experience and what it is they need or do not know to need, innovation follows. And this is a time for innovation as people and how they connect, discover, communicate and share, is evolving. Technology continues to influence behavior and as behavior shifts, decision-making, preferences, expectations, and influence also progress. Understanding and appreciating people, and the individuals that make up our markets, teaches us how to in turn become more human…especially at a time when brands are becoming people and people are becoming brands.

At the end of the day, we are the very people we are trying to reach. You, me and the scores of people like us form the 5th P.

Purpose as the 6th P

When you work in the business of change, you eventually notice that regardless of the technology you adopt or the trends you pursue, one of the key things that’s often missing is a sense of direction or aspiration. I’m not referring to a common vision or mission statement though. Actions for the most part speak louder than words. Here, motive, objective, and resolve are paramount and they’re manifested in the leadership and its decrees to bring about real change.

I spend my time in the throes of digital transformation and as you can imagine, there’s a great deal of politics, emotion, and anxiety at work. In many cases, efforts to lead change are done so in the absence of bearing or alignment. Steps are taken simply because that’s what is supposed to happen not because a course was defined. As such, existing processes, philosophies and communications channels sometimes work against the quest to pursue the 5th and 6th P. In order to unite teams and decision makers around a common vision, that vision must be defined and it must resonate.

I’ve done my fair share of developing business transformation initiatives and seeing them through for longer than I care to count. Part of that work involves helping executives visualize and vocalize the future of customer engagement and experiences and translate this new direction as a matter of purpose. It’s imperative that this edict and the mission come from the top. For without it, change is stunted. It’s at this very point where I often see the difference between management and leadership rear its true colors. The reality is that not every executive is a leader. But like empathy, leadership is also a fundamental pillar in articulating a vision for transformation. Someone must rise to the occasion.

It’s not easy of course. It takes courage to see what others can’t and do what others cannot or won’t. You’re setting out to shock and reshape your company’s culture and to do so takes leadership, vision, and alignment to bring about sustainable change.

Start by asking and answering a few important questions:

1. What does are business stand for and what does it mean to a shifting consumer landscape now and five or ten years from now?

2. How does evolution in customer behavior and expectations affect our current business priorities and investments?

3. What are the challenges that hold back the organization from pursuing our existing and emerging goals?

4. What initiatives are underway within the organization that we can plug into, align, or reassign to pursue transformation?

5. What does the future of exemplary relationships with people (employees and customers) look like and what it is we want them to do, feel, share, and love about us?

I often think about a conversation that I had one night with good friend Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos. When I asked him about his inspiration for “delivering happiness” to customers, he turned and in a calm but assertive voice explained, “Companies that customers with a higher purpose outperformed those that focused on market leadership and profitability in the long run.”

I then asked him about the importance of vision and creating a supportive culture as he set out to deliver happiness. “Your culture is your brand. Customer service shouldn’t just be a department, it should be the entire company,” Hsieh revealed. He then shared the importance of unity in bringing about change and marching collectively in a new direction, “Customer service is about making customers happy, company culture is about making employees happy, so let’s just simplify it and at the same time, amplify our vision for our customers, employees, vendors, and peers.”

Whether or not you agree that People and Purpose officially earn a place among the traditional set of Ps is certainly open to discussion. But the impact of these two pillars in undeniable. By investing in People and Purpose, we will spark a revolution in not only business philosophy and supporting processes but more notably in the shift from a culture of management to leadership.

Originally appeared in AMA’s Marketing News magazine.


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