On Your Marks, Get Set, Bake!


The marketing mix — what’s it all about and how do you apply it? Marketing communications expert Alison Gallagher-Hughes takes you through the ‘ingredients’ to deliver the perfect bake.

Image: The marketing mix need the right blend.

The marketing mix…it sounds like something that might feature in ‘The Great British Bake Off’ but unlike its bread and cake cousins, this recipe has all the ingredients for success without any of the calories. 

We refer to it as a mix because in order to get the best ‘bake’ we must add a little bit of this and a little bit of that — choosing our ‘ingredients’ and integrating them so that they work with each other to get the best results for our business.

But before we grab our aprons, let’s take a step back to consider what we mean by marketing and why we need to do it.

What is marketing?

Marketing has many definitions — many of them abstract — but put simply it’s an approach to business which centres around the needs, wants, and expectations of customers or prospects and underpins our planning, decision-making, and processes.

It wasn’t always this way…and in reality, many businesses still limp along without a strategic approach or implementation. But if we are to maximise the potential for our businesses, we should consider how a marketing ethos can work against a retail landscape.

Before moving forward, let’s look back. The grand-daddy of marketing, Philip Kotler, believes that we have moved through five eras of marketing: production, product, sales, marketing, and social/holistic marketing:

The Production Era

This was the advent of brand. Industrialisation enabled mass production with marketing efforts focused on securing greater distribution. Think of the emergence of brands in Victorian England when loose consumables, from flour and tea to chocolate and tobacco, were replaced by the assurance of recognised brands with quality standards.

The Product Era

In the product era, marketing focus was placed on conveying the attributes of the product itself to attract consumers, including labour-saving devices. In-store demonstrators were popular during the 50s and 60s and even today, when technology leads to innovation, we see it used to explain difference. Remember the launch of the Dyson vacuum and explanation of its cyclone?

The Selling Era

The selling era saw promotion as the key to success — the heady days of advertising. Kotler refers to this as businesses "selling what they make, rather than making what the market wants to buy." Sadly, some sales-led businesses still focus on targets and unit sales as a means to an end without considering how the bigger picture could enable them.

The Marketing Era

This was the fundamental shift in thinking. Instead of trying to persuade consumers to buy products, companies focused on making products that customers wanted to buy. This led to market research becoming prevalent in order to better understand those needs. The pet sector naturally dovetails into this approach. Our relationship with pets — their place in our hearts and homes and what we are prepared to invest in order to preserve health and quality of life — has led to social change and the industry has mirrored this with innovation and variation. Forecasting and adapting to customer wants, needs, and desires is key, as is tapping into the psychology of pet ownership and its requirements.

The Holistic Era

This is the era of social or relationship marketing which link all aspects of a company's operations. Digital communication channels allow us to temperature check and engage with customers like never before. As a consequence, we can use this business intelligence to inform our business approach and processes, enabling our organisations to respond to changes or opportunities in the marketplace. This not only takes into account a company’s profit margin but also whether it is acting in the interests of wider society. Within the pet sector we have seen this reflected within sustainable product development, from carbon-neutral product credentials to eco-packaging, plant and insect-based food products and natural grooming ranges.

So, what does this mean for us on the retail side? Changing times require different approaches to remain relevant to key market segments, such as the emerging Millennials. We must understand their requirements in order to stock the right products, present them in a way which will make them want to buy, and be prepared to sell or distribute them in ways that are desirable and convenient.

And so, we come to the marketing mix. We touched on this in a previous feature on public relations and how it fits in to the promotional ‘P’. There are various permutations of the model but most frequently used is the 7 Ps.

These include:

  • Product — for retailers, this is essentially about brand: the values, relevance, range of your business and those you stock. Understand the brands that are available to you and what you can offer that provides something different while meeting customer needs. Informed brand advocacy is essential to manufacturers looking to grow their brand and you are their route to market.
  • Place — this mean distribution, location, and specific places of sale, be they temporary (exhibitions or markets), permanent bricks and mortar, or online. The development of place is essential to your market positioning: from the acquisition of essential provisions to boutique shopping experience. Deciding where you fit in the market will help you create the retail experience that your market segment requires.
  • Price — value for money does not always mean the cheapest available; one of the main tenets of marketing is that customers will be willing to pay what they feel the product and its delivery mechanism are worth. As retailers, we not only need to consider trade and retail pricing structures but also what we are adding by bringing those products to market, including our operating costs.
  • Promotion — this includes advertising, PR, sales promotion, personal selling, and social media. These are things that we can actively undertake in order to promote our business and what we have to offer. These tools should be used to convey key messages: activities, promotions, opening hours, location, and seasonal events.

The emergence of the service sector led to the creation of three additional Ps which are particularly relevant to retailers. This is how you can highlight your marked differential: your expertise, customer service, and alternative/extensive product range.

People — this is where physical retail environments have the advantage. As social beings, we like to engage with others (especially after months of lockdown) and we still essentially enjoy the shopping experience. There’s no substitute for seeing something in reality, trying something for fit (especially relevant for dog harnesses), or being enticed to buy something new. The quality of the people you employ — their customer service, expertise, willingness, and approach — is essential. Having the right people is as much a part of your business as the products/services you are offering.

Processes — the delivery of your service is usually undertaken with the customer present, so how that service is delivered is key. This could include your methods of storage/display, categorisation, payment methods, and the management of customer orders. Review your processes through the eyes of a customer and identify if there are any gaps. Treat any feedback as constructive criticism and an opportunity to review and improve.

Physical Evidence — making the intangible tangible is what this is all about. This is where your brand, its visual identity and activity, blend. From eco-friendly carrier bags and personalised receipts to loyalty schemes and promotional giveaways, physical reminders of your business are an investment that will help retain customers. Think Tesco Clubcard, I’ll say no more.

Now, like any recipe, we won’t necessarily use all ingredients at the same time. We may choose to prioritise some over others and plan our activity over a six to 12-month period. Some things will be easier to achieve than others, especially on a tight budget. But don’t rush into marketing activity in order to tick a box: it must have clear objectives and parameters. Use your market and business intelligence to inform this.

You don’t need to invest in expensive market research. Reports are likely to be available from your trade association (PIF or PPRA), business support network (Chambers of Commerce or Federation of Small Businesses), local authority or Department of Trade and Industry. Closer to home, review your own data. When carrying out the day-to-day business, it’s easy to forget what a wealth of information we have at our fingertips, such as customer records/subscriptions (subject to Data Protection), epos/stock control systems, website transactions, and social media interactions.

It’s all valuable information — the trick is to make sense of it, identify emerging trends, seasonal preferences etc, and use it to underpin your planning and implementation.

And when you’ve done all that, you can put your feet up, have a nice cup of tea…and a slice of cake!

Alison Gallagher-Hughes is the owner of Tillymint Communications, a marketing communications agency which specialises in a range of B2B and B2C industries, including the pet sector. For more information visit www.tillymint.co.uk or email [email protected]

The right mix brings success!