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Why Marketing Needs a 5th P… And, it’s Not Purpose!

Every marketer has heard of 4 Ps of Marketing and are constantly trying to add new ones (the number has steadily increased, possibly reaching thirteen at last count). So, why introduce a new 5th P when Product, Price, Place and Promotion are well-entrenched as the four pillars of Marketing (despite their inward focus)?

The necessity arises when we consider the “floodgate” of corporate scandals witnessed in recent years. These “gates” have spanned sectors as diverse as automobiles, banking, health, insurance, technology, telecom, social media and more. Well-being, a fundamental consumer need, has been repeatedly sacrificed at the altar of lofty profits. Whatever the means of exploitation, the underlying motive appears to be corporate greed, a human trait that is difficult to regulate. Could a more proactive role for marketing have prevented any of these mishaps?

Marketing’s Split Personality

Marketing has two seemingly conflicting roles.

Firstly, it has the job of promoting a company, its brand and its products. Oftentimes, this may mean that the benefits, the value and social good are embellished to enhance their appeal to buyers and beneficiaries. It uses some creative license, without actually compromising the truth in any way.

Secondly, it is almost always Marketing that is called upon to fix things when company reputation is at stake. The responsibility for restoring trust and undoing the damage rests on Marketing’s shoulders.

If marketers are expected to prop up an organisation’s standing as well as rescue it when it takes a nosedive, should they not have a greater say in decision-making beyond what campaigns to run and which metrics to monitor?

“The purpose of a business is to create and keep a customer,” Peter Drucker once said.  Should it not be a marketer’s role then to protect customer interests while preventing the business from self-destruction?

The Elephant in the Boardroom Needs a Marketing Mahout

Boards seldom take notice of social media chatter until such time as its ugly head rears up to dent corporate reputation and thereby drive down market cap value. The questionable credibility of social platforms in recent times may have lessened this challenge, but once damage is done, it is often difficult to reverse it… even if the original story turned out to be fake.

With increasing scrutiny of their acts of omission and commission, Boards are expected to assume a more proactive role in governance. The public’s lack of trust in organisations and the Board’s simultaneous failure to serve customer good above corporate greed, suggests the time has now come for more marketers to be seated at the corporate table.

And I don’t mean merely as the voice of the customer/community but also as wise counsel on more material matters such as getting the value equation right, managing the brand experience alongside brand expression and tweaking the business model. As mahouts who can tame the elephant. This will mean a greater orchestrating role for Marketing within the organisation. Equally, marketers must rise above their traditional roles as peddlers of products and builders of brands to become purveyors of value and protectors of trust.

Why Purpose Will Not Serve the Purpose

Another ‘P’ – Purpose – has increasingly surfaced in marketing and business lexicon, especially in the context of brands. Organisations with a noble purpose and the ablility to deliver on it have no doubt successfully built corporate reputation and brand value. But, the ‘P’ word has been abused by marketers and others as many companies claim a higher purpose with little justification. Purpose that is hollow not hallowed.

At the other extreme, some product and service brands have abandoned their gainful purpose, the very reason for their existence… i.e. the ‘job they are hired to do’ (to borrow a Clayton Christensen expression).

The narrative around Purpose has thus lost noble intent and gainful substance.

Also, Purpose can be quite elusive, even obscure, to someone performing their day-to-day marketing tasks. It is not tangible or specific enough to be useful in aligning the delivery of the 4Ps. The hype around the ‘why’ of Purpose may have eclipsed the ‘how’ of Customer Experience.

The Purpose and Promise Behind the 5th ‘P’

With CSR, marketers are already expected to lead, guide and uphold a company’s larger mission to meet its obligations towards the community and environment. If so, can we integrate Purpose (both noble and gainful) as well as social and ethical responsibility into Marketing’s core function? The answer lies in the 5th P.  It’s called Pivot (call it Platform or Phulcrum, it scarcely matters).

The Pivot’s purpose is to bridge the needs of customers as people and buyers, the goals of organisations as commercial entities and corporate citizens, and the desires of shareholders as legal owners and ethical actors, thus balancing diverse interests and imperatives. Once the 5th P is incorporated as an essential component of the marketing mix, marketers are better able to consider the broader implications of their decisions, including examining any conflicts between a business’ profit objectives and its fundamental responsibility towards other stakeholders. A paradigm shift that is difficult — but not impossible — to navigate.

The new framework can encourage marketers to pause and reflect on their daily chores and choices, ask searching questions and strive to resolve dilemmas that, if left unaddressed, can have far-reaching consequences. This requires a new breed of leadership that is not easily tempted by the latest shiny object or the use of Artificial Intelligence in service delivery, and instead is focussed on trustworthy marketing. The trade-off may mean a newfound ability to manage ‘wicked’ polarities in the course of time.

Corporate Responsibility Begins at Home

Where do you start? Look within and begin with the 4 Ps of Marketing.

Product: Review product quality, manufacturing practices, safety, reliability and disposal standards.  Examine if product design and packaging are safe and consumer-friendly. Consider the needs of vulnerable segments (e.g. physically, mentally or materially-challenged consumers and children).

Price: Make pricing structures less complicated and more transparent, allow ease of comparison with competing offerings, ensure fairness in price practices and provide a clear explanation for any changes.

Promotion: Ensure truth and honesty in communications (without sacrificing creative licence), avoid false claims, no green or purpose washing, exercise fairness and equity in promotional contests, be inclusive and considerate in portraying talent, respect people’s time and privacy and show concern for children’s wellbeing.

Place: Provide increased access to the disadvantaged, remote or neglected communities, share value equitably across channel partners, promote ethical competition, achieve cost-effective logistics, enhance efficiency, trust and reliability of eCommerce channels and commit to fair retail practices.

The list is not exhaustive but provides some useful cues. Market research guidelines, data privacy policies, customer relationship protocol and social media etiquette are some others.

Next, extend the reach from customers to employees to shareholders. Think of recruitment procedures, employee care, financial reporting and investor communications… Marketing’s footprint can be as wide or narrow as you want.

Resource constraints, cost impacts and uncertain dollar benefits will all be touted as barriers. Once you estimate potential flow on effects and the ‘opportunity benefit’ of saved reputation, ROI becomes a gauge of transformational measures, not transactional metrics.

If the 4 Ps are to be a driver of ‘sustainable’ profits, they will need the prop of the 5th P. Marketing alone can sense and respond to the sentiment of customers, employees, shareholders and people.

This article first appeared in

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