The 5th P
Updated: Jan 21
Have you seen the movie "The Fifth Element"? This now 20-year old epic still intrigues me: a futuristic, campy, sci-fi story about an unwitting cabdriver Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis) and the carrot top heroine Leeloo (Milla Jovovich). Leeloo and Korbin embark on a quest to retrieve four precious stones that will save the world from destruction. After they are retrieved, the stones are placed on a giant sundial, designed to repel the death beam. The four elements are revealed: earth, wind, fire, and water. But where is the fifth element? It is, of course, Korben declaring his love for Leeloo. The elements unite and the world is saved!
I watched this movie (again) the other night, and it got me thinking about our world of marketing mix elements. Really, it's true, my life is very dull.
We are taught in business school about the 4P’s: product, price, promotion, and place. But isn’t there a fifth element — a rather obvious one?
Of course, the 4P’s still exist, albeit in a very different and highly fragmented form from just a few years ago. Given the pace of technological change, the impact of digital, and our ability to target, the net impact of the marketing mix seems to have had an opposite effect. Consumers face a fire hose of stimuli blasted through dozens of media and distribution channels. It’s no wonder that more and more research studies involve issues of SKU reduction. Do you really need to sign up for your 200th e-newsletter?
So, what does that tell us about the broader state of consumer marketing?
In marketing and research, we sometimes hear about an additional “P” that has somehow been overlooked, such as "packaging", "personal selling", or "process". But aren't these simply extensions of the existing 4P’s?
The true missing element — the fifth element — is people. I’m not sure why there weren’t 5 P’s from the start. After all, do we assume product + price + promotion + place = the instant success recipe?
Modern consumer markets are complex and competitive, with dozens of brands from which consumers can choose. What separates the winners from the losers? It is the marketer’s ability to reach through to the consumer — to people — at an emotional level, over time (let's not forget - it takes significant investment), through acquired distinctiveness and brand salience. Product differentiation is less and less of a factor.
Reaching people, and appealing to their emotional center, their social connections, and their hopes and dreams is the key lever in marketing. While the trip to the grocery store can be described as a series of product transactions, those transactions occur in the much larger context of a living person that may just be trying to get through his or her day. That is the world in which all brands live and compete.
As marketers and researchers, let's always remember that.
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