The Seven P’s – Part One – Product

‘Marketing’, as a term, is radically overused in the business world.

There are many companies out there who claim to be experts in marketing and yet they really fail to understand exactly what marketing is.

If companies who are offering ‘marketing’ services are getting it wrong then its no surprise that there is a general confusion of what marketing actually involves.

Over the last couple of years, since I set up on my own as a marketing consultancy, I have been repeatedly been asked questions such as what is the difference between PR and marketing?

I also regularly get told that someone I have met at a networking event is also a marketing expert – when actually they do graphic design, branding, advertising or PR.

The common misconception is that marketing is anything promotional.  Now if you flipped this round and said that anything promotional falls within marketing you would be correct.  However ‘Promotion’ is merely one of the 7 fundamental disciplines of marketing – academically known as the 7 P’s.

In a simple commodity product scenario there are 4 key P’s – Promotion, Product, Place and Price.  All of these elements need to be planned carefully before any business can ‘market’ itself effectively.  In the service industry an additional 3 P’s are also critical to success – Process, People and Physical Surroundings.

Over the next few weeks I will be touching upon issues that face all these elements, but today I would like to talk about Product – as this, on the face of it, appears to be the easiest to get right.

Unless someone has a Product or a Service there is no business to start with.

That is why this P is often taken for granted.  However, very few businesses today trade on the back of a single product or service.    I generally deal with SME’s of around £250k to £5m turnover and usually the business has been launched and grown on the back of a great product and service and accompanying positive word of mouth.

As time passes most business owners look at ways at how they can generate additional revenues from their existing client base or existing resource.  What this inevitably results in is a multi-product/service business.  And this is often where some problems begin to occur.

It is very easy for a business to lose sight of what its core product offering is and it is not uncommon that after months and years of diversifying, the prospective customer base no longer understands what the company does.

Companies fall into the trap of creating too much ‘noise’ distracting potential customers away from what would have been of interest to them.   Woolworths is the perfect example of how getting the Product wrong can lead to disaster.

Woolworths, until its demise in 2008, was a national institution.

It had been trading for 99 years before its collapse and at its peak had over 1100 stores across the UK.  I expect 99.9% of the population would have recognised the Woolworths brand.

However here is where the problem starts.  If you had asked the British population to define what Woolworth’s ‘Product’ was you would have had a list of many different answers.

I remember asking about 10 people in a room around 18 months ago what they thought of when I said Woolworths (each person was only allowed one answer).  From a survey of 10 people we got 5 different answers. The answers that came back were…..

  • Music & Video
  • Toys
  • Children’s Clothes
  • Home wares
  • Pick and Mix

Forget all the other issues that Woolworths faced, the fundamental reason that it finally went under is that it had taken its eye of what its Product was.

It had started life as a general store and stubbornly tried to hang on to this positioning whilst the environment around the business changed.

Supermarkets burst onto the scene and then became Hypermarkets and sold everything you could possibly want under one roof – moving beyond its core FMCG products to add clothes, toys & games, stationery, healthcare, music & videos, financial services etc.  How did Woolworths respond to this – it didn’t.

If you are asked to think of a music retailer certain names pop into your head like Virgin and HMV.  Similarly name a children’s clothing retailer – Adams (now defunct), Pumpkin Patch, Next, Gap, and M&S.

Homewares conjures up names like Debenhams, House of Fraser, Wilkinsons and Lakeland, whilst toys and games instantly reminds you of Toys R Us and The Entertainer.

The trouble is that Woolworths was not known for anything specifically – it had become a ‘Jack of All Trades’ and, sadly, a master of none.

Defining your ‘Product’ proposition is critical.

Spend some time deciding what your core product is and focus your main strategy around communicating the benefits of this product and generating enquiries.

Once a prospect has become a customer it is much easier to then cross-sell additional value add products and services.  However if you are trying to do this up front, be careful, it can lead to a very confusing customer proposition.

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Ian is the founder of Opportunity Marketing marketing, with over 18 years of experience in successfully setting up marketing departments, creating marketing strategies and implementing these strategies across a wide number of SME companies in both the B2B and B2C sectors through a variety of channels.