Is it time for more of us to loosen our grip on the 4Ps of the marketing mix as a necessary ingredient or benchmark for social marketing programs? In the broader marketing world, a growing dissatisfaction with the 4Ps framework has been driving a fundamental shift in the conceptualization of marketing since the 1980s (described as “merely a handy framework” of managerial decision-making variables; Day & Montgomery, 1999). Constantinides (2006) summarized over 40 papers that have been critical of, or presented alternatives, to the 4Ps marketing mix framework. The essence of their arguments comes down to three issues:
- The internal orientation of the marketing mix in which the four elements are controlled by the producer of goods, services and behavioral offerings and has little involvement or interaction with customers. The 4Ps are decided upon by planners and managers - perhaps 'tested' with customer groups, and then 'targeted' at them.
- The shift in marketing activities from one-off transactions or exchanges to dynamic and tailored interactions aimed at building relationships and retaining customers across many different marketing domains (e.g., retail marketing, business-to-business marketing, web-based or e-marketing). This shift requires marketers to understand customer constructions and evaluations of value, be more flexible in their approach, engage with customers over longer periods of time, and innovate and adapt to changing market conditions - especially those related to technology and communication.
- The rise in services as primary drivers of economic activity that have their own unique character not addressed by the traditional 4Ps - for example, People or Participants, Physical Evidence (of their value), Processes (of service delivery), the intangible nature of their offering and demonstrated value to customers, as well as unique legal and professional restrictions on providers of many services (licensure of health providers, lawyers and general building contractors being just a few examples).
Most of these debates have been on theoretical grounds rather than based on empirical studies; it is also true that most marketers continue to practice as they were taught in college marketing classes (Constantinides, 2006). Yet, the growing consensus is that the 4P marketing mix idea of 40 years ago is no longer as relevant for current markets, customers or marketers. Some social marketers have examined these same concerns for our field and come to similar conclusions (Hastings, 2003; Lefebvre, 2007; Marques & Domegan, 2011; Peattie & Peattie, 2003).
A different worldview of marketing is emerging, one that seems well-suited to social marketing programs. In their seminal article, Vargo & Lusch (2004) state: “The purpose of marketing is to mutually serve.” The authors propose a Service-Dominant Logic to understand the purpose and nature of organizations, markets and society. In this post, and the following one, I extend the S-D Logic to social marketing (and thank Bob Lusch for his review and comments on an earlier draft).
Service dominant (or S-D) Logic reflects a change in perspective in marketing from one in which value is embedded into an organization’s offerings (such as value-added or functional utility) to an appreciation that value is co-created in collaboration with people formerly known as customers (Vargo & Lusch, 2004). The fundamental assertion of S-D Logic is that all exchanges are service-based. Because the classic analysis of exchanges has focused on the immediate exchange of money for products, the value the product provides to a person (the customer) after the transaction is completed is ignored. Since the early years of social marketing, many people have struggled with how to apply the logic of economic exchanges to social marketing ones - usually without much success. Vargo and Lusch reassure us that we have not been alone.
What S-D Logic shows us is that a tangible (product) or intangible offering (service, behavior) has value only when a customer ‘uses’ it. A person does not buy a hammer primarily for its features, for example, but the utility it provides in doing other things ('in use'). Similarly, people are not going to behave differently because of 'baked-in' or persuasive benefits such as longer, healthier or sexier lives. People will behave differently only if they find the new behavior (or discontinuing an old one) leads to self-defined value (benefits) when they engage in it (put it to use). Yet, how frequently, if ever, do we understand if our offerings actually result in value for people who use them (whether that value was what we proposed, or what the value is they 'created' or discovered when they used or practiced it themselves)?
The premises of S-D Logic (see below) guide us away from trying to create what we believe will be of value to people to a customer perspective that reminds us that it is how people utilize our offerings and experience rewards or value for adopting behaviors that should be our critical concern. People bring skills and competencies to encounters they have with us, and thus are always a co-creators of value, not passive recipients of what we judge they need or want. It moves us from being ‘customer-focused' not just in the beginning of a project when we conduct formative research, but throughout the process - especially when people discover or create the value of change for themselves. Process and outcome evaluations must become more sensitive to measuring value propositions and experiences-in-use if we are to understand how and why new behaviors are adopted, old ones discontinued and a better life is achieved by some, if not all.
S-D Logic is compatible with the notion that behavior change is a process and continually evolving; it is not one-off occasions that economic transactions trap us into thinking about. If we think about our offerings as transactions in which we ‘expose’ people to a messages to adopt certain behaviors or use a specific product or service, it shapes how we go about engaging with them (i.e., not for very long). The alternative proposed by S-D Logic is to think about exchanges of knowledge and skills, not one-way offerings; that the people we serve become producers of value for us as well as for themselves (co-value producers). The value of an S-D Logic perspective for social marketers includes asking what do we learn from our customers, are we open to changing ourselves and offerings as a result of their input and response, and have we created opportunities for them to participate in a reciprocal process?
The benefit of a social marketing offering is the value the customer experiences when they interact with it (whether it be using the product, trying the service or practicing the behavior). Value (or benefits) are uniquely experienced by each customer when they use our offering – not in how creatively we 'package' it or persuasively ‘sell it.’ Does your offering meet needs, solve an immediate problem or help one achieve their dreams?
The 10 Foundational Premises of Service Dominant Logic (from Vargo & Lusch, 2008).
1. Service is the fundamental basis of exchange
2. Indirect exchange masks the fundamental basis of exchange
3. Goods are a distribution mechanism for service provision
4. Knowledge and skills are the fundamental source of competitive advantage
5. All economies are service economies
6. The customer is always a co-creator of value
7. The enterprise cannot deliver value, but only offer value propositions
8. A service-centered view is inherently customer oriented and relational
9. All social and economic actors are resource integrators
10. Value is always uniquely and phenomenologically determined by the beneficiary (experienced in use)
Constantinides, E. (2006). The marketing mix revisited: Towards the 21st century marketing. Journal of Marketing Management; 22:407-438.
Day, G. & Montgomery, D. (1999). Charting new directions for marketing. Journal
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Hastings, G. (2003). Relational paradigms in social marketing. Journal of Macromarketing; 23(1): 6-15.
Lefebvre, .RC. (2007). The new technology: The consumer as participant rather than target audience. Social Marketing Quarterly; 13:31-42.
Marques, S. & Domegan, C. (2011). Relationship marketing and social marketing. In G. Hastings, K Angus & C. Bryant (Eds.), The SAGE Handbook of Social Marketing.London: SAGE Publications, pp. 44-60.
Peattie, S. & Peattie, K. (2003). Ready to fly solo? Reducing social marketing's dependence on commercial marketing theory. Marketing Theory; 3(3): 365-385.
Vargo, S.L. & Lusch, R.F. (2004). Evolving to a new dominant logic for marketing. Journal of Marketing; 68: 1-17.
Vargo, S.L. & Lusch, R.F. (2008). Service-Dominant Logic: Continuing the evolution. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science; 36: 1-10.