The way mnemonic devices help people process and remember information fascinates me. I mean, I still remember small details about Kingdom-Phylum-Class-Order-Family-Genus-Species thanks to “Kings Place Cushions On Five Girls’ Seats.” I honestly feel like I could lecture on biological classification just by repeating my King Place Cushions line a few times.

[Quick side note for any biologists out there: I found myself trying to think about whether any other animal uses mnemonics. I think dogs using scents to remember where they’ve been is analogous. Is it? Any others?]

Back to the blog: the issue with memory recall via mnemonics is that memory vividness only applies to information we learned/discovered along with the mnemonic. We unfortunately don’t download brain software updates automatically (at least no virus risks!), so new learning about a mnemonic-ized concept seems harder to retain.

Take for example my biological classification example. I can’t remember for the life of me what else I learned about biological classification other than my 1992 classes and homework assignments during the discovery of Kings and Cushions. But I am positive that I did learn more, it just doesn’t have that mnemonic context.

Which bring us to the 4Ps. AKA, one of the best mnemonics ever. Using the 4Ps we can describe a complex concept (marketing) in just 4words: promotion, place, price, product.

But, as some people are pointing out, perhaps the 4Ps are actually just a really cool mnemonic that has unfortunately passed its fifteen minutes of fame.

The basic argument is that three of the Ps are no longer relevant. Massively successful companies like Facebook, Google, and Zara spend/do nothing with regards to advertising (sorry Promotion). Two Blue Chip IPO companies from this year, LinkedIn and Pandora, are free to use (no more Price). More and more companies are pulling budgets away away from traditional outlets like television, print and radio, opting instead for all online (there goes Place). Product is the only thing that matters any more.

So can it be true? Have these 3 Ps really become irrelevant/extinct, when at one point they were three fourths of the most famous marketing mnemonic known to students nationwide?

In my opinion, the short answer is no. Apple has been pretty succesful and is revered for its promotional acumen. Price gaffes can still be hugely detrimental for business. And “online” is just too big to be one place (just ask any marketer juggling Social, Mobile, Blog, Email, Website, Mobile Website, SEO, SEM, etc.).

That said, I don’t think these 3 Ps as we originally learned them still work. Promotion is becoming much more tactical than strategic. Price has become more about business model (e.g. Freemium) than how many dollars and cents to charge. And place I think has become much more like a river than an ocean (i.e. less static, more targeted, more integrated/interconnected with other bodies of water – work with me). In short, these 3 Ps have evolved.

But, they still start with P. So for marketers relying on a mnemonic taught to them years ago – be warned. It’s time to update your assumptions. And for students studying up for their next big exam? I think you’ll be just fine.

Well, for now.

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