Marketing StrategyWe’re all familiar with the Four P’s of Marketing:

Product. The right product to satisfy the needs of your target customer.

Price. The right product offered at the right price.

Place. The right product offered at the right price available in the right place to be bought by customers.

Promotion. Informing potential customers of the availability of your product, its price, and where they can purchase it.

Each of the Four P’s is a variable that you control in creating the marketing mix that will attract customers to your business.

But marketing in the 21st century requires a Fifth P:

Participation. It is no longer enough to promote TO your target audience; you must ENGAGE them. Interruption marketing is the old paradigm; engagement marketing is the new.

It’s wonderful to see so many businesses participating in new media, but what I see too often is businesses using social media, blogs, and websites no differently than they use traditional advertising media. What you see in their print ads and on their billboards and direct mail pieces is what you see on their Facebook Page, Twitter account, LinkedIn profile, and blog – and those static messages do not encourage participation by the target audience.

Why is participation so important today?

It has to do with the inundation of the public with marketing messages – the 24-hour news cycle – the Internet – email marketing – even our phones receiving marketing messages via text! All of these are contributing to exponentially more “noise,” and much of it is being tuned out by the public. Call it marketing fatigue or saturation, but the fact remains: To break through the clutter you have to be more than just a marketing machine, churning out more or “better” messages than your competition.

To truly employ the Fifth P, you have to connect with people on a more personal level. You must engage them in a way that lets them say what’s on their minds, tell you what they think of you and your product (good or bad), and tell you what they want (and don’t want).

Participation also entails educating, entertaining, and enlightening your audience – without directly “selling” your product in the process. I know it sounds counterintuitive. “How is it marketing if I’m not trying to sell something?” Because following the Fifth P means establishing yourself as the go-to expert in your field – the knowledgeable and trusted advisor they turn to when they are ready to buy.

Does this mean that the first Four Ps don’t matter anymore?

Not at all. It’s just that if you stop at the Fourth P, you are marketing to the 1960s buyer, and we are half a century beyond that as consumers. Think back to that time: It was all about television, radio, and newspaper advertising. That is where people got their news, how they stayed in touch with what was happening in their communities, what they talked about in coffee shops and offices. You waited for the TV and radio programs to come on, and you waited for the newspaper to be delivered to find out what was happening – and that included which stores were having sales, what the newest gadgets and conveniences were, and where the latest in cars and homes were available. With rare exception, the television and radio stations signed off after midnight, and the newspaper came out no more than once daily. Virtually all marketing messages were given in limited doses – which is why so-called “interruption marketing” worked then, but not now.

Now think about today. Broadcasting is now a 24-hour activity. The Internet is, likewise, always “on.” Email fills our inboxes both during our workday and while we sleep. It is no longer necessary to “wait” to find out what’s happening or what’s on sale or where the newest / coolest / best stuff can be had. Google has become a verb.

We are now taking the initiative in finding what we want, when we want it. We are doing online comparisons of competing products before heading out of the house to see the products in person. We expect to be able to express our opinions directly and immediately to those whose products we use, and we do so in the most out there, in-your-face way possible – on social media. Sending a letter of complaint to the company through the postal service? It’s so last century. Get on Twitter, complain about the service you received, and in mere minutes, you’ve gotten a responding tweet from a company rep. Well, at least with the companies that understand how to use social media, you do. (I’ve had this experience myself with Southwest Air, US Airways, and KitchenAid – and let me tell you, the way they handled my situations will never be forgotten – for good or for ill.)

It’s been said that, “Even if you opt-out of participating in the digital world, your online identity still exists in parallel, you’re just not in charge of it.” (Tyler Tervooren). I couldn’t agree more. I actually have colleagues who have opted not to participate in social media – they don’t “get” it, they “don’t have time” for it, or they doubt its value to their business. What they don’t want to understand is that sticking their heads in the proverbial sand won’t make cyberspace go away. It won’t stop people from talking about their businesses online. It won’t magically erase anything bad that’s being broadcast about them there. It just means they won’t be aware of it, they won’t be able to respond to it, and they won’t be benefiting from the invaluable insights that come from engagement in the online world.

Integrate the Fifth P – Participation – into your traditional marketing mix, and the 21st century customer will not only respond more readily to your offerings but will also give you useful and insightful feedback and maybe even become a raving fan, if you’re handling it in the right way. (Let’s just say that when I have a choice of airlines, it’s Southwest, and when I have a choice in appliances and kitchen gadgets, KitchenAid gets my business.)

How are YOU going to use the Fifth P in your marketing mix going forward?


© 2012 Linda C. Rooney

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Small business mentor Linda Rooney teaches aspiring, new, and evolving entrepreneurs how to navigate the New Economy with startup, branding, marketing, business & personal growth expertise. Get a FREE subscription to her eNewsletter, “Social Smarts,” at


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