.. any marketing element in a program, whether it starts with a “P” or not, needs to be modifiable to meet the unique needs, problems, and aspirations of a priority group. If a P is so complex or ubiquitous as to defy a fit with the priority group, then it is no longer a marketing variable. (Lefebvre, 2013, p.310).
Many social marketing academics and practitioners like to propose, argue and otherwise distract themselves from people's concerns by talking about 5, 6...(up to 20 I've read) Ps - adding things like Politics, Purse strings, Partners, People, Positioning...you get the idea. Other people contend that this 'producer' oriented "P" approach (what 'we' do for 'them') needs to be rethought as a customer-centric set of Cs - Customer (wants and needs), Convenience, Cost and Communication to which more Cs can easily be appended - collaborators, co-creation, co-operation, etc. And yes, they don't seem like more than semantic differences - the core issues are the same. Many other proposals for how to think about the marketing mix are out there as well.
Yes, there can be some dogmatism about whether you use Ps, Cs, Vs, or any other set of attributes to describe your marketing mix - usually expressed by peer reviewers and people at podiums. The important thing to remember is that the use of a single letter, or even an acronym, is in an effort to help us to remember to touch all the bases. However, when they shift from focusing on what's important to members of our priority group to what's important (or clever) to us, and don't have obvious implications for how to design our program, then I think it's time to put your head down and ignore them [and yes, I can make arguments for including or excluding Ps and Cs with the best of them, but why bother].
The marketing mix is near the core of the social marketing approach. A marketing effort is more than a mass media or advertising campaign (a 1P or 1C effort), a nudge or removing a barrier (another type of 1P or 1C effort), or designing opportunities to try a new behavior or making products and services more accessible (yet another 1P or 1C approach). The marketing mix is there to remind us that we have to tailor offerings to different groups of people based on their shared needs, problems, aspirations and other characteristics; that is, we have to segment them first. Then we develop a unique marketing mix for each priority group - it's not one size fits all. If Ps and Cs help you remember to do that, and not default to your typical 1P solution, then it works. Now test your ideas with your priority groups.
Let's take as an example the many conversations I have with people over social media and mobile phones. Early on in these conversations the question comes up, "How are you going to use it?" More often than not it's to be used to 'communicate messages' or perhaps 'nudge' people in a priority group - a 1P solution. What if that social media or mobile tool was thought about as a product (or app) or a service - not simply a new channel for messages? How could this technology be used to make information or action more convenient or accessible? How would it reduce current barriers to action, or provide incentives to try? How could it be harnessed for peer learning or support when making behavior changes (oops! Not in those Ps and Cs)? How would someone use it to solve a problem (find value using it) - and what exactly is their problem that this social media or mobile technology is suppose to solve? Oh, and how will your priority group learn about it? Too often the answers are along the lines of "Well, we haven't thought about that." The marketing mix is a decision aid to get you thinking about those things - those are the questions marketers think about.
...the 4Ps concept should not be a straitjacket that includes certain strategies and excludes others; instead, I refer to it as a heuristic to acknowledge its value as an aid in considering major leverage points for change and developing a more comprehensive strategy and program than might otherwise occur. (p. 310-311).
That's all it is. You can keep it simple or make it complicated. In the end, it's what is important to your priority group, not your beliefs or mnemonics.
Lefebvre, R.C. Social marketing and social change: Strategies and tools for improving health, well-being and the environment. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2013.