The Transformation of Marketing’s “Fourth P”

In November’s column, SLRG President Jon Last speaks to how the proliferation of vertical sports media has presented new strategic necessities for sports marketers looking to optimize the impact and effectiveness of their communications with sports fans.

I still remember the first session of my introductory marketing class at Wharton, where the professor outlined the enduring marketing mix concept of “The Four P’s.” Product and price were intuitive and obvious…among the first things that one might surmise from an uninitiated consumer’s perspective. Promotion also seemed obvious, as it was what a wet-behind-the-ears student got most excited about. I initially perceived promotion to be all about the glamour side of marketing, encompassing advertising, brand positioning and my former life in public relations.

I wasn’t totally correct, there, because there was the important intersection of promotion and pricing that was of particular interest to our very quantitatively oriented professor. But regardless of how “promotion” was defined, “place,” the fourth “P” was the wild card surprise. Simply defined as distribution and channel strategy, “place” was less intuitive, and something that I hadn’t previously perceived to be in the direct purview of marketing management. Now as I am a couple of decades past that first class and still applying the marketing mix construct to the world of sports, one recognizes that of all four of the “P’s,” place has undergone the most seismic transformation. In our world of sports marketing and consumer behavior and research, there has been a sea change in the distribution mechanisms that deliver sports brands and properties to the target market.

Yet, what we are witnessing is far from the breaking down and replacement of old tried and true channels that one might perceive to be the norm, from the more provocative marketing speak headlines. Rather, we are at a fundamental inflection point where the number of “channels” of importance have been multiplied, and as our most valuable targets are often engaging in all of them (often simultaneously), the understanding of “place” in the marketing mix requires some new thinking.

How Do I Communicate With The Customer?

The default and clichéd answer to the above question is that if the target is under the age of 45, communication and dissemination of brand message is all about social media, and mobile delivery systems. To reach such a blanket conclusion strikes me as fundamentally wrong, and we’ve had the good fortune to have recently completed some interesting proprietary studies for multiple sports properties that prove it. Illustration number one comes from research with a property that was assessing the impact of paperless ticket delivery and learned that it wasn’t just demographics that drove fan preferences. Our research identified a number of motivations and benefits that would lead one to prefer physical hard tickets, rather than an electronic version. Similarly, in several studies that we have been engaged in, it has become apparent that multiple and alternative choices of delivery mechanism can both enhance the consumer’s experience and also amplify the message points that a property is seeking to deliver. Further, this research strongly suggests that the dynamic at work here is more than just a byproduct of traditional reach and frequency optimization, but part and parcel to how today’s consumer digests and processes marketing messaging.

Media Proliferation—More is More

Concurrently, we’ve been immersed in a number of sports media utilization research initiatives that support the above observations and my overall assertion that with the rampant increase in available delivery channels, the most engaged and valuable consumers of a sport are actually increasing their year-over-year utilization of both traditional and new media. The presence of new media has not been a substitute for legacy channels; rather, it has complemented them and enabled consumers to enjoy a more immersive and value-adding experience. This doesn’t make media mix allocation any easier, but it certainly dispels the notion that we are seeing a rapid migration from the traditional to the new. Rather, the research informs us of the relative strengths and weaknesses of each medium as well as opportunity pockets that each vehicle delivers in optimizing reach, frequency, and perhaps most importantly, engagement levels.

The Venue as a Differentiating Delivery Mechanism

Last but not least, the importance of the 4th “P” remains a central opportunity for leagues and properties that have focused more attention of late to adding value to the experience of sports as live, in person entertainment. I’ve used this space before to assert the unique environment that is physically attending a sporting event. To that end, we’ve conducted numerous studies over the past few years that definitively demonstrate the uniquely engaging environment of the event site, which accrues to the benefit of advertisers who activate through the ever improving capabilities of the new breed of video boards and enhanced sound systems. As leagues and venues continue to invest in upgrading wi-fi bandwidth capabilities, the interactive opportunities to engage fans in ways unique to the onsite experience, will only further grow the myriad of message delivery mechanisms and require even more rigor to optimizing the ways in which the 4th “P” becomes a more critical element of the sports marketing mix.