4 C’s: The modern marketing replacement to the 4 P’s

Marketing’s job is never done. It’s about perpetual motion. We must continue to innovate every day
— Beth Cornstock, Vice Chair: GE, Founder: Hulu

There are a number of undertakings we choose to embark on in life that mean, no matter how long we focus our attention on it, our work will never truly be done. The main examples that spring to mind are parenting, education and, of course, marketing.

As marketers, there will never be a time to rest back on your laurels. There will always be a new trend to pay attention to, or a new device or app that demands your attention. And it's not just the means of marketing that is subject to major overhauls; the very methods marketers employ to communicate effectively with their target audience are also liable to evolve over time.

One tenet of marketing that has been going through a metamorphosis over recent years is that of the marketing mix and more specifically, the 4P’s. It seems that where P once reigned supreme, the 4C’s are now where it’s at.


The Parties were at P’s Place…

With origins dating back as far as the early 1940’s, the 4P’s can be attributed to marketer and academic, E. Jerome McCarthy. Known as the Original Marketing Mix, they provided a decision-making framework when it came to the following marketing aspects:

  • Product

  • Price

  • Place

  • Promotion    

A Cooler Cat…

In 1990, a seemingly cooler cat, Robert F. Lauterborn proposed an alternative framework. The 4C’s were born:

  • Clients / Consumers

  • Costs

  • Convenience

  • Communications

This proposal came about at a time when there was a deliberate shift being made from mass marketing to a more niche kind. The consumer (not the product) was now king and marketers had to adapt accordingly.

Nearly three decades have passed since the coining of the 4C’s. During that time, they have continued to grow in relevance in comparison to their P counterparts, but why is this?


P’s or C’s

Following the shift in marketing mix approaches, marketing methods also had to adapt. The decline in a one-size-fits-all mass marketing ideal meant the 4P method of marketing (where the emphasis is on the seller and what they want to sell to you) was no longer viable. The growth of niche marketing and the 4C’s was instead a better fit, taking into account the wants and needs of consumers.  

Once the differentiation of approaches are outlined it becomes clear that, when it comes to marketing your school, the 4C’s marketing mix is a better fit for you and what you are trying to achieve.

For a parent, the process of choosing the school they will be sending their child to is a unique one - as unique as their child, in fact! Likewise, the same decision-making process is an extremely personal one. And unfortunately the 4P’s are just not personal enough.

Customer vs Product

In the customer vs product discussion we need to look at what it is you are actually selling.

An education, opportunities and fond memories of a childhood well spent are not a product. The intangibility of what you offer to every pupil who matriculates through your school means you cannot easily market your product. But the 4C's have the solution to this. If you can't focus on your product, you can focus on your customer. 

Having the client as your focus in your marketing strategy is incredibly important, particularly when it encourages you to better understand your customer - not just how you can get them to buy what you’re selling.

What do your parents want by sending their children to your school? What do your pupils want? By crystallising the answer to this question, your school can ensure you are offering the core experiences and services that appeal to your target audience.

  • What subjects matter most to your pupil’s parents?

  • What will aid your students the most in the future?

  • Which extra-curricular activities will turn out well-rounded individuals into society?

  • Which ways do your parents want to be interacted with, and for what purpose?

  • What kind of careers do your parents and pupils envisage for themselves? 

  • What languages will be of most relevance in the world in 15 years time? 

These are just some of the kind of questions that present themselves when the focus from your marketing mix is on the customer and not simply your (intangible) product.


Costs vs Price

While an acceptable price point for your product is an important part of any marketing mix, when there is a more consumer-centric focus we realise, that for your prospective parents, it will not be the sole financial consideration that will be taken into account.

My child is costing me how much?

My child is costing me how much?

When a parent decides to enrol their child at your school, they know that paying for the services and benefits you will provide will not be a one-time purchase. By paying their deposit, by submitting their application, they are agreeing to pay fees for the foreseeable future. They are aligning themselves with the decision that they will be required to pay for uniforms and trips, and to attend and donate to your charity events, among other things.

Further to this, while we are aware that competition in the marketplace is healthy, encouraging businesses offering similar products to up their game and vie for buyer attention, a sole financial competitor strategy is not the way to go. According to Rory McClean (Web Marketer and Digital Analyst with Custom Fit Online), when you “rely strictly on price to compete you are vulnerable to competition - in the long term”.

Well, it's not stupid...but it's not smart either

Well, it's not stupid...but it's not smart either

If the only financial considerations you are taking into account are your school fees, you are leaving yourself open to another school (with a better marketing strategy) swooping in to tell your prospective parents why their school is better than yours.  

Using the cost aspect of the 4C’s as opposed to the price of the 4P’s you will be able to illustrate a more realistic approach when marketing to your prospective parents - one that is more in-line with their considerations and obligations. Yes, they know private schooling is an expensive business but your marketing team can take the time to assure parents that the value you will imbue into their children will far outweigh their financial outlay. This can be measured in the: 

  • the skills they will acquire

  • the friends they will make

  • the grades they will achieve

  • the notable universities they will be able to apply and be accepted into.

Further to this, you can also highlight financial aid to those it may be relevant to - leading us nicely on to the next element…


Convenience vs Place

Have you ever heard the saying, “If you don’t like where you are - move! You are not a tree!” While this is sound advice for an individual with the ability to get up and move, it is not something that can really be applied to your school. Your building is your building, your school is your school! Once again, it immediately becomes clear that ‘place’ does not really have a place in your marketing strategy. On the other hand, the customer oriented approach of convenience is something that can most certainly be employed by your marketing team.

In the context of the 4C’s, convenience is about making the process of your customers buying, accessing of or using your product as easy as it can possibly be. To do this, you again need to take into account the needs and habits of prospective parents and pupils.

The most obvious area in which you can provide convenience for parents and pupils is via your website. You can do this by providing the information that is going to be of most relevance to them, in the most convenient and easily-accessible way.

Our analytics show there are key pages on your school’s website that will generally experience higher levels of traffic from prospective leads. In descending order with highest levels of traffic at the top, these pages are:

  1. Admissions
  2. Fees
  3. Welcome from the Head / About Us
  4. Opening Morning / Day Events
  5. Bursaries and Scholarships
  6. Contact 

Using this above information, your marketing team can ensure the most sought after information about your school and pupils is made easily accessible. If the information that matters to your prospective parents also matters to you then the task of converting enquiries to enrolments should become that much more achievable. 


Communications vs Promotion

Promotion of a product can at times be considered a manipulative facet of marketing in the eyes of consumers. It is propagated by the seller, and as such can be deemed untrustworthy in its account.

Not sure if this is a genuine testimonial or one written by the marketing team...

Not sure if this is a genuine testimonial or one written by the marketing team...

Communication on the other hand implies a shared conversation between both the buyer and the seller. Used alongside the proliferation of social media, and its adoption by schools as a communication method, your ‘advertising’ can not only be achieved with incredible ease but also prove to feel extremely authentic. 

Communication is so much more than advertising though. It is every single way your school is able to interact with parents and pupils. The most prolific of these methods is of course your school’s social media platforms. The sharing of your #SchoolStories helps those interested in establishing relationships with your school to really begin to understand you and your pupils on a personal level. This in turn can eventually lead to greater brand loyalty.

It is a perfectly feasible notion that parents will now be looking to connect with your school via the various social platforms you subscribe to, in order to begin getting an idea of who you are and what that could mean for their child long before their intended enrolment.

Employing a plethora of communication methods (social media, emailing lists, etc) and coupling these with other methods of promotion will go a lot further than promotion on its own - both in terms of engaging with your target audience and staying ahead of the competition.    


So where’s the party at now?

While the original 4P’s still have a place within the marketing mix (they still pose important factors to think of when marketing a product or service), it is arguable that they do not fit in with the needs of today’s marketing objectives. The 4C’s have more relevance, particularly when it comes to marketing educational institutions and other companies offering intangible products and benefits.

The abstract nature of what you offer as a school, coupled with the fact that you are offering something extremely personal to your target audience, means you will have to really understand your audience. The 4C’s help you achieve this in a way the 4P’s could not, especially if employed as a sole marketing method.  

Having said that, it is also really important to remember that every business, product or service out there is different. As such, they may call on a marketing mix as unique as they themselves are, a mix that amalgamates the eight elements we have discussed in this article.

When making these kinds of decisions, there are a number of variables to take into consideration. The one thing that won’t change is the fact that marketing as an industry will continue to evolve. In order to stay ahead of the game, marketers need to ensure they continue to ‘mix it up’ in the most relevant ways.