In the 60’s, when Professor Philip Kotler was crafting marketing strategies, he spoke of the 4Ps of marketing. Product, Place, Promotion and Price became the plinth on which brands built their lofty palaces. The theory of positioning added that big mast pole on which brands flew the flag that made consumers flock to those lofty palaces.
Something seems to have changed in the last few years. The change is so fundamental that the time-tested theories of marketing are being questioned. The famed 4Ps have new facets; there are more Ps added to the four. Some even call it 6Ps by adding Performance and Presentation to the original four. Positioning too is losing the battle for the mind as more and more brands are no longer happy flying the singular flag on high mast.
The recall of marketing theories has not been triggered by the ongoing pandemic; if anything, the pandemic may only have slowed down the speed at which the theories were being mutated and transformed. Beyond theories, the word brand did something fundamentally simple: it triggered the desire in consumers’ minds for the business to command loyalty and drive profitability. This desire for the brand is what has transformed in a systemic way.
The mutation of branding theories has happened due to emergence of what we today call platforms. Platforms are not new - thanks to the Internet, they have been in existence for some time now, but they were never as powerful as they are today.
Consider this: Today, as a consumer, your relationship with the bank that issued your credit card is weaker than the payment aggregator through whom you merely pay your bills. There is more - you will not allow your data to be farmed and shared by your bank, but you will allow the payment aggregator to do so. This is because the bank is boring, but the platform is funny.
The same is true for a restaurant. Earlier, the success of the eatery was dependent on food, taste, experience and buzz. Today, the success is dependent not on taste and experience, but on what the restaurant platform treats it as. As consumers, we do not even bother to check the place out, rather pull our phone out, check the ratings and order. Imagine - the future of the brand is in the hands of those who merely deliver.
The concept of platform is actually as old as retail itself. In its earlier form, it was the association of retailers in a location, then it transformed to become a shopping mall. In both cases, the consumer had a say in the way the brand had a conversation. The platforms were not bigger than the brand.
SHIFT IN CONTROL
The situation today poses a new challenge to both brand creators and consumers. The shift in control is not beneficial to either. The fortunes of brands and businesses are in the hands of a third party, who is individually not invested in the brand, but whose focus is on aggregation.
Will the brands be able to stand taller than the platforms? The idea may seem romantic, but this isn’t going to happen. As the world gets driven more by apps, the platforms will become where all the experiences reside. The 4Ps will change to just 1P. The palaces the brands built may not even get space in museums. Welcome to the new world!
(The author is Co-founder and CSO, Bang in the Middle)