Intent MarketingMarketing Strategies

Are the Marketing Principles You Learned in College Still Relevant?

By Nadav Shemer
Wednesday, November 27, 2019

There are 2 schools of thought when it comes to getting a college marketing degree. One says it is essential to get formal training (like the 4 marketing principles) to be a great marketer. The other says that anything you can learn in the classroom can also be discovered on the job.

As with most things, the truth is somewhere in between. There are benefits to both a college education and on-the-job training. 

But let’s look at this debate from a slightly different angle, shall we? 

The big question is: Are the marketing principles we were taught in college still relevant to the digital marketing strategies we use today?


In order to answer this question, let’s look at these 4 traditional marketing principles we’ve all learned in marketing courses (or were lectured on by our previous bosses back when we were still juniors).

So let’s blow the dust off them, 1 by 1, and see if they still hold up today:

1. The 4 Ps – Still Relevant?

The concept of the 4 Ps is as good a place as any to begin.

This principle has been taught in marketing schools since it was formulated by Harvard professor Neil Borden in the 1950s and 60s. 

Let me refresh your memory, in case you slept during the endless lectures you probably had to undergo:

The concept of the 4 Ps marketing mix natural intelligence
  • Product: The goods or services your company offers to customers.
  • Price: The amount your consumers pay for these goods/services.
  • Place: Where your company sells these goods/services, and how you deliver the product to the market.
  • Promotion: Showing consumers why they need your goods/services and should pay a price for it.

The first 2 Ps—offering a product that fulfils a certain customer demand, and linking the product’s price to its perceived value—will presumably always stay relevant. 

If anything, the digital age has increased the importance of Product and Price. Thanks to the internet, customers can compare you to your competitors in an instant. 

What this means is that you must be transparent, and demonstrate clearly how you beat your rivals in terms of the value offered for the price quoted.

The third P (Place) has evolved the most because marketing today is increasingly done in a virtual location (online) rather than in physical places. 

With that said, the principle remains highly relevant today. What Borden meant by “Place” was the importance of getting your products in front of the consumers who are most likely to buy them. In the digital sphere, we use intent marketing: the bottom-of-funnel strategy that targets high-intent users at the point when they are ready to buy (e.g., when they type a high-intent query such as “Best student loans 2020” into Google search).

In the digital age, promotion is all about reaching the user at the point they are considering purchasing a product/service you offer and are not “married” to any brand yet. 

Where is the user at this moment? 

Typing in a search query, most likely on Google, Bing, or social media. There are 3 types of search queries your potential customers are typing into search, and intent marketing helps you detect transactional queries, and take the user through a funnel of product comparisons, reviews, and more.

2. SWOT Analysis – Strong? Weak? Or Opportunity?

SWOT analysis is actually a general principle used in all sorts of professions, including marketing.

To use Pied Piper COO Jared Dunn’s words: “SWOT is a way of evaluating a decision; you break it down into Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities, and Threats. You can SWOT a concept, a department, or a new initiative. You can even SWOT a person, although you have to be careful because they might SWOT you back!”

And if you haven’t watched the hit HBO comedy Silicon Valley, now’s the time.

So, can SWOT analysis still be useful today?

I think it can.

The SWOT analysis marketing strategy natural intelligence
  • S (Strengths) is where you write down what you do better than your competitors. These strengths should go into your paid search ads, landing pages, content, and every other touchpoint where customers encounter you and absorb information about your products.
  • W (Weaknesses) is where you chart the things you can improve on. It is different from T (Threats), which relates to external risks that might impact your marketing efforts (e.g., a change to Google’s algorithm that affects your search ranking). 
  • O (Opportunities) is the most exciting part for a marketer because opportunities can be found everywhere—especially where there are challenges.

Jens Reich, a global market leader at meal-kit provider HelloFresh, discussed the challenges of working in a market where there is a lot of negative sentiment. Surprisingly, he saw this as an opportunity to partner with rival meal-kit companies in order to educate the market.

So Jared isn’t so off the mark (in this matter at least).


3. Competitors Analysis – Still Provides a Competitive Edge?

Competitors analysis is like SWOT—only you analyze your competitors. 

It involves an assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of current and potential competitors, helps identify opportunities and threats, and helps inform your company’s business and marketing strategy.

Marketing Land has noted that understanding your competitors’ content strategies helps you outperform them where it matters most: in the search engine results pages (SERPs). 

The process begins by learning which competitors are performing well in the SERPs—easily done by searching for important keywords in your industry. 

Once you’ve identified who your top competitors are, it’s time to find out why they perform so well. 

Start by looking at their content (blog posts, landing pages, articles, etc.). Carefully examine how they structure it, which topics they cover, and what their voice and tone are. 

You can also use a backlink tool such as SEMrush, Ahrefs, or Moz, to find out which websites link to your competitors the most. 

This can be eye-opening because backlinks from authoritative websites are a guaranteed way to move up the search rankings).

4. The Persona – Dead or Alive?

I recently discussed how demographic targeting is becoming a thing of the past

When you focus your digital marketing efforts on a particular customer persona (a semi-fictional representation of a typical customer based on the key traits of a large segment of your audience), you run 2 risks: 

  • Messaging people who have no interest in your product
  • Missing out on people who are interested

Both are bad for business, right?

This isn’t to say you should abandon the customer persona altogether. Indeed, when producing content, it can help to picture who you are talking to. 

However, in terms of an overall digital marketing strategy, it makes more sense to pay attention to signals the user is spreading across the web than to know what cereal they like to eat and at what time of the day.

As I mentioned earlier, intent marketing is all about understanding the different types of signals users give away when they type something into search—and knowing which user experience to showcase for each signal type. 

Focus too much on a certain persona, and you run the risk of missing high-intent signals from consumers who don’t fit the persona—but are in real need of your product.

Here’s a nice video that can shed light on the shift from persona to intent:

Be There When They Compare – Natural Intelligence


The Internet has revolutionized marketing.

This is no exaggeration.

Gone are the days of direct mail, flyers, and telemarketing (well, almost gone). 

But it doesn’t mean we can’t learn from the old concepts our teachers instilled in us. 

All 4 marketing principles covered in this blog post are still relevant and fresh today. But when tapping into these principles, it is important to stay agile and adapt them to the digital marketing era.

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