The Four Ps of Marketing and the Web

Marketers name product, price, placement (distribution), and promotion as the traditional elements of marketing. These terms apply to the web as well. If you plan to update an existing site, it’s particularly important to review the four Ps.

Product

Your product is whatever good or service you sell, regardless of whether the transaction takes place online. Review your competition to see what features, benefits, or services they offer. (To find your competitors, look up your product in Google or another search engine.)

Product also includes such elements as performance, warranties, support, variety, and size. If you have an online store, look at your entire product mix and merchandising, not just individual products. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you have enough products in your online catalog to compete successfully?

  • Are you selling what people want to buy?

  • Are you updating your product catalog regularly, quickly removing items that are out of stock and promoting new items?

Price

The expanding presence of discount stores online puts significant price pressure on small businesses. Price comparison sites such as Shopping.com, which cost-conscious shoppers check frequently, also compel lower prices. Use those sites to assess your prices against your online competition. Are you significantly higher, lower, or price-competitive? What about your shipping prices?

Remember that more than half the shoppers who abandon their shopping carts cite the high cost of shipping as a reason. If necessary, bury some of the handling and shipping costs in the basic product price and reduce the visible price for shipping.

It’s hard for your small business to compete in the market for standard manufactured goods like baby clothes or DVDs unless you have really good wholesale deals from manufacturers or distributors. But you can compete pricewise on customized goods or services or by offering unique benefits for buying from your company.

If you must charge higher prices than your online competitors, review your value proposition so that people perceive an extra benefit. That could be a $5 promotional code for a discount on another purchase, a no-questions-asked return policy, exclusivity, or your reputation for quality service.

You don’t need to compete with offline prices because people value the convenience of, and time saved by, shopping online. It’s perfectly okay to price online products higher than identical items in your bricks-and-mortar store.

In a drive to compete, many dot-com businesses drive themselves into the ground by charging less for products than they cost. The more products they sell, the more money they lose. What a business model! While every business sometimes offers loss leaders, you have to cover the loss with profits from other products.

Placement

Placement refers to your distribution channels. Where and how are your products and services available? Inherently, the web gives you an advantage, with 24/7 hours of operation for research, support, and sales online. However, you might face distribution challenges, particularly if you're constrained by agreement to a particular territory or are a distributor or manufacturer who plans to sell online directly to consumers.

Avoid channel cannibalization (the use of multiple distribution channels that pull sales from each other). Don’t compete on price with your retailers. Otherwise your direct sales might cost you sales from other outlets, in a destructive cycle of eating your own.

Before competing with retailers, review the increased level of staffing and expenses that are required to meet expectations of consumer support. Are you really able to take this on? If so, you might want to open a completely separate retail site at a different URL from the one that your dealers and distributors see.

Promotion

Your web marketing plan is one of the four Ps. All the different ways you communicate with customers and prospects are part of promotion. Market your website as much as you market your company and products. Careful integration of online and offline advertising is critical. Are your methods reaching your target audience? Are you sending the right message to encourage customers to buy?

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