Catalytic Thinking

I’ll have a P, please, Bob

The 4Ps of marketing are dead. Fact?

1960 – what a year. The birth of Bono and Steve Vai. Sputnik 4 and 5 went up (the animals came back down). And marketing professor E. Jerome McCarthy proposed the 4Ps of marketing. But – you know what – the world’s changed a bit since then.

However, the 4Ps have stayed the same. Well, largely the same – they got reworked into Cs twice and gathered another three into the fold along the way as well. But they are still the concepts of Product, Price, Place and Promotion. Sure, to get to market you need those four things otherwise you’d have nothing to sell, be giving it away for free, have no access to your free nothingness and no visibility. I’m not going to argue any of that – but I think the 4Ps (or Cs, or the seven of them) are outdated and need to make way for a new model.

OK, I know that at the tender age of 28 I’m going up against a concept nearly as old as my parents. I know that people might not like it. I know that I might even get it completely wrong in the eyes of others. But, frankly, I don’t care. The issue has been in my brain for a while so I’m going to try and get it out…

Let’s start with what I think is wrong with the 4Ps. Actually not much even if the model is a bit company centric. Some of the 7P models go a bit further, adding personality, process, packaging, people, physical evidence etc (the list goes on because there are several versions of the Ps depending on who you read), so you get a bit of consumer-centricity in there.

But it’s still not right. Why? Because all of these models seem to have been gestated before the current ‘information age’ – the age in which every potential consumer can become a critic or a salesman at the swipe of a keyboard, and before the time of a gazillion news sources all waiting to pounce on a company’s/individual’s mistakes, broadcasting them to the world.

We are living in epoch-making times. And, as a marketer and consumer, the Ps just don’t cut it for me anymore. So what’s my solution – this radical idea which I’ve been bursting to unleash on an unsuspecting world?

It’s deceptively simple. So simple that it’s actually eluded me up to now (I was looking for something far more complicated)… And it’s this.

BIIR – pronounced beer (rather pleasingly).

BIIR stands for Brand, Integration, Interaction and Retention. It runs something like this:

Brand – this is the mental image a customer has of a product, company or concept. They own this image – not the marketer, advertiser, PR chief or even the CEO. (Don’t think of a red elephant).

A product can stand or fall based on the parent company’s brand. BP might invent the best iPad clone going, but with their brand currently in tatters around their feet, would anyone really buy it (or admit that they have)?

As marketers, advertisers, PR specialists, we’ve got to align the living entity of our brand with the minds of the living entities that are our customers. This should form the foundation of any marketing approach – get the brand right and the product is imbued with its values, its ethos and its image. Ignore the brand and the customer hasn’t got any reference points for your product.

Brand takes some of the original ‘Product’ territory from the 4Ps. Originally, the ‘Product’ segment considered repairs/support and warranty etc – however, I think that this should be part of the brand promise as opposed to product promise.

As a consumer I want to buy a product that works. If it doesn’t, I don’t expect the product to fix itself. I expect the brand (parent company) to fix it for me. Repairs/servicing has nothing to do with product and everything to do with brand/brand promise (well, in my book at least).

This concept is especially true at the moment, with many consumers becoming more ethically minded and wanting to buy from a trusted brand, or at least one whose ideals they can buy into.

Let me put it another way. The product promise is what the product will do for you. It makes the toast. It carries you from A to B. It makes you think.
The brand promise, meanwhile, is everything that backs the product promise up. It’s the intangible value, the promise of repair, the authority from which an idea is issued.

Let’s not mix those two up…

Integration – OK, so we think we’ve done a pretty good job with the brand and that our customers are pretty much on the same page as we are (thanks data analysts with your oh-so-clever data gathering techniques). We’ve now got to make sure that our product integrates into the customer’s existence. This is where the 4Ps start to prove why they’ve been around for a half-century and counting.

Have we got the right product? Is it something that our customers want (or think that they want, or don’t know that they want yet)? Can they integrate that product into their daily lives? Do they want to integrate it?

Has it got the right value [price on 4P terms]? I’m not talking about cost v. return or financial ‘worth’ here. I’m talking about whether the product will add value into our customers’ lives. If it’s kitchen foil, is it strong enough and long enough? If it’s a new gadget, will it make their lives better? Will they value the product so much that they’ll join a six-month waiting list or pay hundreds of the local currency to get hold of version 1.0 while the rest of the population is content to sit back, to wait and see and the get bugs ironed out first? (Psychological modelling is a whole other argument and one that can significantly shape value proposition) Don’t forget that value also comes from brand, which we’ve already built and developed.

If the product is a concept, an idea, a YouTube video or a blog post, does it add value to the customer’s day? An individual’s interest or thought-time is still a transaction, it just doesn’t involve money. (Think of a colour)

Within the ‘Integration’ concept comes a whole exciting raft of R&D, market segmentation, psychological modelling, data analysis and so forth. It can be almost endless in its reach to find the ‘golden consumer’ on whom all others can be based.

It can also be argued that ‘Place’ gets pulled in here. In order to integrate something, you have to be able to get a hold of it (physically or metaphorically). There’s no point making something which you think a consumer will integrate into their lives if they can’t get hold of it. And if they can’t, they will move off to something they can get a hold of and integrate that instead (unless your value proposition is so enormous that they’re prepared to wait).

Integration builds on brand – in fact, brand may be seen as the first point of integration…

Interaction – now, things start to get really interesting. Your brandscape and the customer’s brandscape are as close as they’ll ever be. The integration points of product and value are there. You’ve even worked out the best way of integrating yourself (brand, product etc) via market segmentation into the community. It’s time to interact. (Think of an animal)

As you’ll have guessed from this blog, I’m pretty keen on the topic of interaction, of finding that little spark which ignites a whole relationship. We, as branders, marketers or advertisers, can no longer rely on a print campaign alone (for example) to connect with our audience. With the rise of technology and the ease of finding comparative information out there on the internet, our customers are more savvy than ever before, but also more willing to share the stuff they like at the click of a button. It’s a two-way process.

We’ve got to be prepared for this and build communication strategies dedicated to creating interaction. We’ve got to talk to (not at) our customers, give them the opportunity to talk back to us. We may have to create the space for them to talk and we’ve got to be ready to listen to the bad stuff that they’re going to say about us (because anyone who tells you you’re perfect 100% of the time is lying). This might be a case of creating a Facebook group or hiring a hotel twice a year and inviting your most positive and negative critics into a real space to slog it out between them while you both adjudicate and learn. It might be as simple as putting the customer careline number in a slightly larger typeface on the back of the packaging. It might be organising a demonstration, campaign or PR stunt.

But, even more than this simple premise, we have to create work so arresting that it forces interaction. With customers being bombarded every nano-second of every day with messages, we’ve got to create work that stops them in their tracks, forces them into a double take and brings them into a social transactional state (“Did you see that?!”) before, ultimately, a financial transactional state.

And we’re back to the concept of value again. It’s all very cyclical…

Extending this further, the interaction with the product has to be good as well. I don’t expect kitchen foil to be so thin that it breaks as I’m winding it out of the packaging. I don’t expect my interaction with my car to end up in calling out the breakdown truck. Your customer interacts with your product every time that they touch it. Make that interaction as rewarding as when they call your customer careline… (Think of this as quality control)

Interaction also creates investment. The more someone touches something, sees something, talks about something, the more investment they place on it. This may be psychological investment, financial or physical – but whichever form it takes, investment is crucial for your future sales.

Investment levels naturally differ depending on the product. I’m not going to put much psychological investment into kitchen foil (sorry to all kitchen foil manufacturers) unless there’s a sale which alters the price point and makes it more attractive. Foil is foil – unless it’s the really cheap stuff that just tears when you look at it. As the financial value increases, psychological investment tends to go up as well because the more money something costs (in relative terms to your level of wealth), the more you worry about whether you can afford it – or whether you really need it and can justify spending that percentage of your available funds on it.

However, if the integration concept has been pitched correctly on the basis of a firm and credible brand, the customer will see how the product integrates into their lifestyle and will take steps to ensure that they can afford it – even if it means saving for weeks.

Investment in intangible products (concepts, ideas, YouTube videos etc) comes from the internal integration of the concept within the audience. Perhaps it’s a message that they already like – ‘Save the world!’, ‘Adopt a kitten!’ and so on. Or perhaps it’s a message that challenges deeply held beliefs and makes them think (developing psychological involvement and investment); ‘There is no god’, ‘Society is dead’, ‘The 4Ps are obsolete’ etc. Making people think, even arguing dissonant concepts with themselves, helps to make the idea stick and be invested in.

All of this brings us to the final part of the BIIR Model: Retention. Whether it is easier to retain a customer than win a new one is the subject of many a blog and book. But I’m not interested in that.

Retained customers are probably the best sales people you’ll have. Consider this: many people develop true friendships based on shared values, shared outlooks and mutual respect. They talk to each other about their days, have tea together, throw dinner parties. They will visit each other’s houses and absorb – unconsciously – their surroundings.

Now, if you’ve managed to align brandscapes, integrate your product/the need for your product into your customers’ existences and given them cause to interact with you, they’re probably going to have it lying about their house. If it’s a concept or something intangible, they’re probably going to be talking about it. When their friends come over. They may even invite their friends over to see it (if it’s a car. Probably not if it’s a roll of tin foil).

These friends will then have the product imprinted on their brains either consciously or unconsciously. If your customer has been talking about the product, it’ll be a conscious embedding. If they’ve been throwing a baking party and using metres of kitchen foil, probably unconsciously. And this, once again, can significantly influence future purchasing proclivity.

And, of course, your retained customer is likely to keep repurchasing either the product (kitchen foil) or remain loyal to your brand as it brings new products to market. So when their friends come over, they’ll keep seeing the product and it will get even more firmly imprinted. (Then they’ll have more cause to interact with your communications when they see them due to imprinted familiarity)

Your retained customer is your best sales person through the magic medium of word of mouth and/or peer-to-peer marketing. But only if the brandscape is right, only if the integration is right, only if the interaction is right and only if they’ve invested in you sufficiently.

It’s a win-win situation. (What colour was that animal?)


The BIIR concept works whichever way I shake it. For B2B and B2C, all of the principles hold true.

It even works for new product development (is it on brand? Can we integrate it into our existing work/brand cache? How will our customers interact with it? Can we create investment? How can we retain it in the brand offering once the initial hubbub has died away?).

But the question is: can it be a replacement for the 4Ps (or multiples thereof)? That’s a question for you to answer – please leave a comment below…

Oh and also, kindly Tweet @interacter with the animal and colour you thought of… I’ll follow you if you do – promise…

20 thoughts on “I’ll have a P, please, Bob

  1. Nice attempt..But, I think 4p’s are not replaceable by such a model. However, one can argue that your model fits into one of the P’s – Promotion.

    Here you talk about brand, integration, interaction and retention – aspects of promotion. However, Marketing needs a much holistic view that just promotion.

    It needs to drive the entire organisation in a way which yields corporate success It just does not include the regular 4P’s but also things like new product development and research,


    • Hi Prashant

      Thanks for the comment! I was in fact aiming for a much more holisitc view than pure promotion alone (I only see that coming in as one element of ‘Interaction’). Perhaps it was somewhat inelegantly expressed – having been rotating the whole concept at once and keep finding new ways into it.

      I see a focus on brand and integration as being crucial to the success of an organisation and a focus on these is not only company-centric but consumer-centric as well. If the brand is strong and fully implemented (both internally and externally) this will drive response to the brand itself. If the product is integrated into the brand, and also integrated into the consumers’ existance (R&D etc) then this is very success-focussed.

      I see the developing role of marketing being so much wider than the P model, where it takes into account the development of the brand, looks at price/promotion/place etc under an integrated model etc.

      In fact, maybe the above model isn’t marketing anymore. Perhaps it’s communications. But even that feels too limited.
      What I’m trying to propose is a complete yet simple model for complete product, customer and company development…

      All the best

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  17. Why rely on a restrictive acronym to guide your marketing/advertising/promotion strategy? Surely commercial approach is not a ‘one size fits all’ scenario.

    I read an article once (no idea where) about someones dislike for the phrase “think outside the box”. He/she aid “f*** the box… just think”. I have adopted this attitude to many aspects of my personal and professional career with much success.

    I think people should free themselves from restrictive acronyms (or metaphorical boxes) and approach every situation differently based on their existing knowledge and experience, if you don’t have this foundation of knowledge and/or experience you probably wont succeed no matter how many P’s you have (unless you get lucky).

  18. Hello!

    I enjoyed this article. I am working on my Digital Marketing Master degree, and your model makes sense to me. I feel that it all needs to be taken into consideration the “Ps” and the “Cs” and all we can add to it. The consumer/customer/client has the upper hand nowadays, and we as marketers need to adapt and embrace the changes and work with whatever comes handy and make sense. We need to improvise based on the “Ps” and the “Cs” and put to work that six sense.


    • Hi Marina
      Thanks for the comment and I’m glad that you enjoyed the piece! It would be great to keep in touch as your Masters develops – would be fascinating to learn from you too!

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