How the 4 Ps of Brand Marketing Apply to Digital Marketing

May 16, 2013

4 ps of marketing

The discipline of brand marketing was created in the 1950s by consumer package goods companies like Procter & Gamble as a way to differentiate their products from their competitors with very similar offerings. Think about the recent example from Mad Men — Ketchup was created by Heinz to stand out versus all of the competitors’ catsups. Like most brand marketing, the product was essentially the same from one manufacturer to the other, but the marketing and the point of difference (commonly referred to today as the brand’s value proposition) was what made the branded product stand out and it served as a platform for all the marketing that surrounds that product.

This brand value helped consumers justify a higher price for a higher-quality product, or at least one that was perceived to be better through the creation of clever advertising. Brands like Tide became household names and the gold standard when it came to getting your clothes clean. And today, many would argue that Tide is still a must-have in the laundry room, showcasing the success of strategic, evolving and cohesive brand management for the past 60 years.

The 4 Ps of Marketing in the Digital Age

When you take a marketing class in college, you are taught a basic framework to think about how to most effectively market a product: the “four Ps.” The four Ps include: product, pricing, promotion and placement. Each of these Ps, or levers, can and should be used in conjunction with one another to create the most effective marketing mix, ultimately, resulting in sales and profit growth. But given that so much of marketing has moved online, how do we effectively use these four Ps in the new digital marketing age?



Historically, products could be touched, looked at with the naked eye, even smelled in-store to determine its true quality and value. According to the Census Bureau of the Department of Commerce, total e-commerce sales made up 5.2% of total sales during Q4 of 2012, up 15.8% over prior year Q4. With more and more sales moving online every day, it is harder to understand and feel confident that you are making the right purchase decision when you many not have physically seen or touched the product.

But the lesson for marketers is that just because you are selling in the virtual space that does not mean that quality should suffer or that it doesn’t matter to the consumer. In fact, in today’s digital and highly social shopping environment, consumers can seek out and find reviews all over the Internet for the product they are considering buying. A lower quality product will quickly be sniffed out and may cause you to lose the sale.

Features and benefits must be real and differentiated from the competition even more nowadays (not just a lot of advertising speak, as it may have been back in the days when brand marketing originated). Your product’s performance, quality and price will always rank amongst the top criteria consumers will consider when deciding whether or not to buy, at retail or on your website, so be sure your product delivers.


At any time, historically or today, price is probably what most consumers would say is the most important ingredient in making a purchase decision. While price and budget are most certainly large contributors, there is no question that if you don’t consider it in reference to the product quality coupons and deals features, your sales will fall short. So making sure that your price-value equation is right is the key to success. Customers want a high-quality, differentiated product at a competitive price in order to justify paying a higher price. An exclusive deal or coupon can also push customers over the edge in your favor.

Lastly, if you have created a prestigious name brand that can deliver on quality as well, then customers will often be willing to pay a higher price. For example, think of a silver bracelet from Tiffany’s and a similar silver bracelet from Zales. While the product might be very much the same, the brand names carry very different price and value perception. So Tiffany’s will always have a much higher price tag on their products then Zales or most any other jeweler for that matter could ever charge.


Promotion encompasses the different manners in which you tell the consumer about your product. Promotion and place (the next P in the equation) make up the biggest difference between the traditional marketing tactics of years past and digital marketing. Historically products have been promoted primarily using radio, TV, print, and outdoor advertising. FSIs (or Free Standing Inserts) were also used heavily in consumer package goods to introduce new products and commonly provide coupons inside of their weekly newspaper. While coupons can be tracked at the register/point-of-purchase, other advertising such as TV and radio are more about impressions and increasing brand awareness and actually driving sales and consumer action.

In contrast, the majority of digital marketing today is measurable and driven by analytics, behavior tracking and other ROI (Return on Investment) measures. Digital marketing tactics include email marketing, search marketing (organic and paid), targeted banner ads, web sponsorships, content marketing, social media, and more. These measurable tactics put you, the marketer in control of testing and optimizing your marketing mix as you go versus making a huge one-time buy for the year on television advertising that may or may not work as effectively.


Place is all about where your product is sold and is often referred to as distribution. Whether your product is sold at your own retail store, someone else’s brick-and-mortar store, on your website, on Amazon, on Etsy, or maybe even at the local farmer’s market, each of these locations brings up its own set of rewards and challenges to consider. Also today’s market is much more global than it was even a few years ago. Fifteen years ago, local or regional brick-and-mortar retail was pretty much the only place to consider if you wanted to sell a product and the only question was whether you would sell it in your own store (B2C) or in someone else’s (B2B).

With so many more options today, you need a much bigger rolodex to contact the right people to get your products. But you also need to strategically think about which type of sales setting will showcase your products best (Wal-Mart? Web store? Direct in-home sales?), what margins you can accept to maintain profitability (if you sell to someone else to resell your product, you must account for the price to them in addition to your recommended price to the end consumer), can your product/should your product be sold outside of your local market (city, state, country, continent, etc.).

That is why place and promotion are the two Ps that have demanded the most adjustment for marketers today vs. those working as brand managers 10+ years ago.

How Have Your Marketing Efforts Changed in the Digital Age?

Now that we’ve covered the 4 Ps of brand marketing and how you need to adjust them in today’s digital marketing age, we’d love to hear how your marketing efforts have evolved over the years. Please leave your comments, stories, best practices and tips so that we can learn and evolve together to be more effective marketers.

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Photo via Flickr user “Peter”
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is a strategist, speaker, educator, and author of Brand Now: How to Stand Out in a Crowded, Distracted World and Get Scrappy: Smarter Digital Marketing for Businesses Big and Small. He is the Chief Brand Strategist at Brand Driven Digital, an educator at the University of Iowa, and host of the On Brand podcast. More about Nick.