4 ps of marketing

Using the 4Ps of Marketing to Challenge Racism

I see much white privilege in web design and marketing.

Just now I searched Google for images of “marketing professional” (June 2020). Among the top 10 results, 8 contained images of lighter skinned people. (The other 2 had no people.)

As a white web designer, I see myself as part of the system.

I admit that for white clients, I’ve favored white people in many design choices. How does that land on other groups?

In my work for Black business owners, race also shaped the result. In some cases I decided not to make race prominent in the design. I told myself I didn’t want to give anti-black attitudes anything to feed on. 

But decisions like these mute the identity of Black business owners. I don’t often have an open discussion about race and image choice with a client.

That’s not right.

In marketing, we amplify a message. When it comes to web design, what is the message?

Up to now, I haven’t talked with clients about inclusion in web design work. That’s not right either.

Talking about it isn’t easy, but it’s time to try.

It feels risky to expose my own racism. I don’t intend to be insensitive to the issues. For my shortcomings here, I beg your pardon.

For me, too many design decisions reflect my place of privilege and my filter bubble, rather than dialog. I want to change this.

Okay, so if we have a real desire to evolve, where to start?

Using the 4 Ps of marketing to drive change

To wake up to systemic racism and marketing, it might help to go back to basics. That’s why we need to think about the 4 Ps of marketing – basic to any business:

  1. Product
  2. Price
  3. Place
  4. Promotion 

The 4 Ps of marketing are powerful, says marketing expert Neil Patel, because they uniquely define a business, no matter what size:

“…the smaller you are, the more important for you it is to leverage the 4 Ps…. We all want something unique, special… something we resonate with. And how do you get that? You leverage the 4 Ps.”

I’m taking seriously Patel’s claim that the 4 Ps help build a business identity. Maybe the 4 Ps of marketing can help us rebuild for equality.

Let’s rethink the 4 Ps of marketing as tools for change.

1) Product

Product is “everything that is made available to the consumer,” says Patel.

Products can be things, services, ideas, or a message.

Our messages are competing with news about several crises we are facing: climate change, a virus pandemic, and social justice, to name three.

I bet you’re thinking about at least one of these concerns. So are your customers.

These crises are on our minds because they are life-and-death issues.

And survival is everybody’s business.

Our customers are filtering everything through what matters to them.

We may not have anything to say on these issues. But our products are speaking for us.

What does your product or service say about you?

Our choice of product reflects the issues we care about. That says more about who we are than perhaps anything.

Product can be anything – a cup of coffee, software, consulting, or music or art, a facemask, or new ways of doing things.

The flip side of product is the target market. Who gets the opportunity to use our products or services?

Is what we offer really available to everyone regardless of color, race, religion, or gender preference?

If you intend to offer your product to a diversity of people, does your marketing say so? (Hmm, at the moment, mine does not.)

When we present our products, our choice of words and pictures show who we include or exclude.

What’s absent from a product also sends a message.

Who do we picture enjoying our product? Everybody, or just people like us?

Product indeed has great power to shape identity. It’s ours to use.

2) Price

Price is more than a means of income. As Patel points out, price is how you drive profit. And it’s more. “The real question is, how do you want to be perceived?”

Indeed, price (like product) controls access. You can’t be everything to everybody. Does survival in times of crisis mean targeting just the well off?

What if you want to help as many people as possible in your market, and still live on the income?

That’s where an offer ladder comes in.

Prices aren’t just points: They can be ladders

The pricing ladder is a tool for helping people up.

That idea came from business coach Danielle Leslie. She described a pricing structure as something people in your market can climb.

Here’s Danielle Leslie’s offer ladder structure, from one of her excellent free webinars:

  • Free
  • Lead magnet (value is an email exchanged)
  • Entry level offer
  • Evergreen offer
  • Premium offer
  • One-on-one exclusive offer

Price drives income, and more. Pricing is how you give access to different people with different resources (or degrees of familiarity or trust).

What levels of access do you want to offer?

Prices aren’t just points. Together they offer connection, like a two-way street.

3) Place

Place is of course both physical and virtual.

Patel tells a story of how the tech conference Twiistup failed when he bought it. He moved it from a popular spot in LA to a new venue an hour away. The place didn’t work for his market.

To many people in a pandemic, place means online.

Ultimately place exists in the mind— places in experience.

For each feeling or sensation, there’s a sweet spot, like in the story of Goldilocks and the three bears.

Between too hot, too cold there’s the right warmth. Between too big or too small, there’s just the best size. Between too soft and too hard, there’s ideal comfort.

The problem is, Goldilocks trespassed against, stole from, and usurped the bears. There are better ways to find a spot that feels right for our business when it comes to big issues.

Let’s imagine a range of places. So many options exist between extremes, such as

  • Hard—Easy
  • Gentle—Bold
  • Logical—Emotional
  • Long—Short
  • Confident— Questioning
  • Serious—Fun

Easy is a place I care about. For example, as a marketer I’m big on editing for reading ease. Why?

Being “easy to work with” is a place in a customer’s mind. That’s where I’d like anything I work on to show up.

There’s value in making things easy to use.

Where is your place when it comes to experiences people care about, like climate, public health, and systemic oppression?

We have choices about where and how we show up.

4) Promotion

Promotion is simply “showing up where your people are.”

Promotion requires action and involves reaching out. Showing up in your social media account, on the Web or in a customer’s review are examples.

Promotion and place may be inseparable. But there’s a key difference: Place roots you. Promotion moves you.

In his section on place, Patel stresses the role of promotion:

“You have to pick a location where your customers are. Don’t expect them to come to you, you have to go to them.”

Promotion deals with channels and tactics such as:

  • Email
  • Social media posts
  • Websites
  • Articles, blogging
  • Comments
  • Product placement
  • Slogans
  • Domain name choice
  • Advertising
  • SEO

To me, showing up involves being authentic. It’s about being you are, in ways that people can be receptive to in a given space.

According to this article, marketing takes form when we get to promotion. That’s where we see the work of the 4 Ps comes together.

What should fairness, inclusion, and diversity in web design look like?

Many of us are waking up to our biases. We want to affirm equality, stop oppression, and be fair in our work. We don’t want to be part of systems that hurt Black people.

How do we challenge white privilege in the mirror that is web design?

We can practice the 4 Ps of marketing to promote change.

We can ask: Do multiethnic images, icons, rocks, trees, animals or blobs go far enough?

What about artfully drawn blue and green and purple people?

You can’t just draw their skin purple and call it diversity,” wrote former Shopify UX designer Meg Robichaud.

The challenge isn’t finding authentic images of diversity and inclusion.

Maybe it’s this: getting to know unfamiliar people and cultures so we can connect better.

Assume less. Discuss more.

Climate health, human health, fairness, power. These issues are going to occupy people’s thoughts.

As marketers, we need to find our place in these conversations.

The 4 Ps of marketing can help us address these enormous challenges. They help us:

  • Break big issues into smaller ones
  • Rethink the business identity
  • Find our voice
  • Speak so our market can hear even among many other voices

The 4 Ps are more than business marketing tools. I think they can help us reshape our work on important issues — even those that matter more than money.

If this helped you, please share it.