Foundation for marketing

Andrew Campbell

Product, promotion, distribution and price are the cornerstones of marketing strategy and together form the foundation of any marketing plan.

For decades Madison Avenue advertising agencies have used these four binary building blocks – also known as the four “P’s” of marketing – as the starting point for effective marketing plans to sell everything from cheeseburgers to presidents.

No one has ever been able to explain to me why “distribution” is a “P,” but it has never seemed to bother marketing professionals.

At some point in your organization’s history you may have gone through an exercise to determine what your product, promotion, distribution and price strategies are.

If you haven’t, or if you would like to simply do a better job of marketing your organization then this will be a very worthwhile exercise.

To get started, make a partition on your dry-erase board or notebook paper dividing the space into four quadrants labeled with our cornerstones and get to work.

While borrowed from the for-profit world, the four P’s provide direction and context that can help you guide the evolution of your organization’s marketing mix and keep it on course over time.

Additionally, how you define and manage product, promotion, distribution and price will provide insight into other crucial business components like cash flow, operations and community relationships.

Keep in mind that each of the four P’s has two aspects: the perception, or that which we believe to be true about our organization, and the reality or tangible, being a deliverable or an action.

Defining and discussing these elements will help you understand where your organization is, and discussing them from where you aspire to go will help you establish and achieve goals.

Now you should go ahead and begin to sketch in some thoughts about your organization for each quadrant.  You can do this individually or as a group exercise for a dynamic working session.

Product is what your organization delivers. At its root, this is the mission and purpose of your organization. Product can be literal, like a food bank or an art museum. It can be perceived, like fighting disease or raising awareness. Or it can be a service like building habitats or delivering meals.

Promotion is the how, when, where and why of how you talk about your product. In what ways do you communicate with your constituents?

Promotion can be thought of as the marketing “mix” of activities, sponsorship events and publications that bring attention and action to the cause.

In the nonprofit world the organization is a conduit for funding to cause action, and beneficiaries and constituents must be communicated with using appropriate messages and methods for each.

Distribution is the delivery of your product.  For nonprofits it is important to consider that distribution is a two-way endeavor.  You deliver on your mission, but must also communicate to your constituents that you are successful in this and that their

support is worthwhile.

Because delivery of a mission can be somewhat ambiguous, you must take care to clearly define, measure and document your efforts in order to perpetuate the cycle of funding.

Price may seem to be an odd consideration in the realm of nonprofits, but budgets and funding sources are crucial to the healthy existence of the organization and the means to the end as far as your mission is concerned.

Think about your funding sources: government, trusts, corporate sponsorships, grants or donations.  In what ways might you be able to affect your funding using information learned from the other three domains of the marketing mix?

As you fill in your four P’s you will realize that each quadrant of marketing is interrelated and they share a symbiotic relationship.

An event in one quadrant – say a newspaper article is published featuring your organization – can have an immediate impact on others, perhaps increasing demand for services or a new offer of corporate sponsorship.

Thus the most important lesson of the four P’s of your marketing foundation is that they are dynamic and always in flux.

Use your new knowledge of product, promotion, distribution and price to continually refine your mission, engage your audience and your communities while maintaining a healthy organizational marketing mix.

Andrew Campbell is a nonprofit marketing consultant in Columbus, Ohio, and a Shoestring Creative Group network affiliate. He can be reached at or 1-888-835-6236.

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