Take back the Marketing Mix: The Four P’s

Product, Price, Place, and Promotion — known as the marketing mix — are the four classic variables a marketer controls in any exchange. Each contains opportunities to shape a proposition so well suited for the customer that selling it doesn’t require much persuasion, because it meets a genuine need in a way they want to do it. Commercial and social marketers pay a great deal of attention to each of these areas in order to craft attractive offers for you.

Why should personal marketing be any different?

When you’re trying to get yourself to do something, take a page from the big guys and use the variables in the marketing mix to anticipate problems and solve them for yourself before you concentrate on execution. If you get the Four P’s right — especially the first three — iron-willed discipline is seldom necessary. It’s well worth it to plan strategically like this for important goals, because of course others do it to you about their goals all the time.

The Four P’s

You’re planning a marketing campaign because you want to do, be or have something. In marketing terms, the thing you want is your Product. It will cost you something in terms of time, resources, and hassle, but that cost will be balanced by receiving both tangible and intangible benefits. That’s its Price. You’ll perform the behaviors necessary to reach your goal in some location. That’s the Place. And finally, TBYB! readers make ads to automatically remind ourselves that this is a priority. That’s Promotion.

You usually have several choices about each of the four elements in the marketing mix. The smart marketer will make every effort to get the first three right before launching a Promotion.


Product has two main dimensions in personal marketing: what do you want, and why do you want it?

What, exactly, do you want to do, be, or have? Be as specific as possible describing both your goal and the behavior you’ll need to do to get there:

  • “Swim for 30 minutes three times a week” is more specific than “Exercise more”.
  • “Put $100 in my savings account every time I get paid” is more specific than “Save money”.
  • “Save $400/month toward a down payment on a house” is even better.

Do you have confidence that doing this activity will get you to your goal? And if so, is it a goal that’s important to you? I love Stephen Covey’s reminder to make sure the ladder you’re climbing is leaning against the right wall. Do a gut check at this point. Have you chosen your goal well? Does this goal have heart? Do you believe in the path you’ve chosen to get there?

Once you’ve accurately identified your goal, look honestly at the reasons you want it.

The core product … consists of the major needs that will be fulfilled, wants that will be realized, and problems that will be solved by consuming this product. It is the real reason the customer is buying the product and is determined by the customer’s answers to such questions as, “What’s in it for me to buy this product?” You’ll want to keep in mind that people don’t buy drill bits. They buy quarter-inch holes. They don’t buy a cosmetics. They buy hope. They don’t buy a room they can rent while away from home. They buy a good night’s sleep.

–Kotler and Armstrong, Principles of Marketing

What are you really “buying” here? What is your quarter-inch hole?

A product is not just a physical object; it is a bundle of benefits or values that satisfies the needs of consumers. The needs may be purely functional, or they may include social and psychological benefits.

–Belch and Belch, Advertising and Promotion

The article Create a brand for your goal: decide how to position your change suggests all of the following as possible motivations for saving money:

  • A loving and responsible way to care for your family
  • The ticket to a lifelong dream, such as owning your own home
  • Getting ever closer to fun, such as saving for a vacation or expensive toy
  • A way to keep score in the competitive game of business and/or life
  • A strategy to achieve financial independence so you can control your own time
  • Putting something away for a rainy day, to provide for your own security

What reasons might you might have for reaching your goal? Each of them will combine differently with who you are to evoke an emotional response. None of them are right or wrong, just different. Your job as a personal marketer is to figure out which of them are true and will work best on you, and then intentionally amplify those feelings to leverage their power.


The customer in any exchange weighs benefits vs cost in order to make their decision. This is as true for personal marketing as it is for commercial marketing. What will you gain from doing your target behavior compared to how much of a hassle it’s going to be for you to do it? Your job as a marketer is to increase the benefits and reduce the cost of performing the behaviors necessary to reach your goal.

Is the target activity something you enjoy, or do you find it distasteful? If it’s something you basically like to do how could you make yourself like it more? Would a new outfit help? How about a bribe…ah, I mean reward? An activity you hate is going to be a tough sell, so if you don’t like it and never will what other activity would you enjoy that could meet the same goals? Perhaps your effort would be better spent figuring out how to make that possible for yourself. A smart marketer is always looking to create an exchange that the customer wants to do because the benefits outweigh the cost.

For example, I tried for years to make myself get up and exercise before going to work. I’d do it for a little while, but since I’m not even remotely a morning person, I never got much traction with that approach because it was genuinely painful. But I also resisted doing it after work, because I hated to use up the little bit of daylight when I got home on what felt like still working. Finally I listened to myself, gave up on both of those times, and started exercising later in the evening. That’s been working really well for several months.

Another strategy you can use related to price is to remind yourself about the cost of the alternative path. Emphasize the evils of the road not taken: health consequences, delayed financial goals, etc. But be careful with this one, as negative statements can backfire (your mind may delete the “not” part of the statement).


Where will you perform the behavior necessary to reach your goal? Is that place pleasant and convenient for you? Is it available when you want to be there? Does it have the tools you need to do the task? Analyze every aspect of Place and do whatever you can to tweak it to your advantage. Anything you can do to make it work better will make it that much easier to reach your goal.

For example, if you want to exercise more you have several choices about where to do it. You could work out at home, at a health club, or outside. Which do you prefer? Do it there if you possibly can. Even so, there may be elements that are a little awkward. If that’s the case, go ahead and get the stuff you need to make it work well, such as a lock and a gym bag.

Maybe you want to meditate regularly. Have you set up a quiet pleasant corner for yourself? If not, take a couple of hours and see if you can figure something out. Then attend to Place on an ongoing basis by caring for your special corner – for example, you could dust or bring fresh flowers.

Or say you want to save money. Set up the Place to store that money, whether it’s a bank, an online savings account, or an envelope. Then think through the actual steps you’ll have to do to put money in that Place and solve any problems that make it inconvenient.


Ideally, Promotion occurs only after all three of the the other “P’s” have been addressed. If you follow the marketing process in this order you’ll not be trying to persuade yourself with trickery or willpower to do something you really don’t want to do. Rather, you’ll set up a Promotion to remind yourself to meet needs that are important to you in a way you’ve designed to be pleasant or even fun.

Advertising to yourself is one form of Promotion. TBYB! has published lots of articles about advertising techniques, so I won’t go into that here. Check the article index for dozens of examples, including how to further associate the behavior with things you like.

Other possibilities for Promotion include support groups, rewards, and commitments. I have a friend who motivates herself to exercise with a written commitment she’s made to another person. In this contract she’s agreed to donate money to the political party she disagrees with each day she doesn’t meet her exercise goal. That promotional strategy seems to work well, because so far the amount she has donated is a big fat (unlike her) $0!

Marketing 101

To quote myself from Marketing 101:

Advertising is a subset of marketing, which is a much larger endeavor that involves strategizing about every element of the process by which you and your customer trade something of value. Marketing includes deciding exactly what you’re selling, honestly assessing your strengths and weaknesses, sizing up the competition, learning as much as you can about your consumer, and strategizing about how to position your product to appeal to him. It includes deciding how to manipulate the four classic variables over which you have control: Product, Price, Place and Promotion. Promotion, in turn, is divided into many possible persuasive activities, one of which is advertising. Other elements of the “promotional mix” can include direct marketing, interactive marketing, sales promotion, public relations and personal selling. In other words, advertising is just one tool in what is often a carefully planned and well-orchestrated campaign to convince you to do something.

If you feel like you’re working too hard to make something happen, you can probably make things easier on yourself by getting real about who you are and adjusting one or more element in the marketing mix to match. Do everything you can to make the behavior attractive and low-cost for yourself, until you find a way to make it something you actually want to do.

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