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Why Publishing Is the Fifth "P" of Marketing

Why Publishing Is the Fifth "P" of Marketing
Image credit: Startup Stock

Anyone who’s taken a Marketing 101 class in the last 30 or 40 years has likely been introduced to the subject with the concept of the “Four P’s” of marketing.

The four P’s are a widely used mnemonic device coined by the head of the American Marketing Association in 1953 meant to help illustrate the role of a marketer. They include: product, pricing, placement and promotion.

For a long time these four P’s were sufficient to explain the entirety of what marketers did, but marketing has changed a lot in recent years and suddenly these four categories don’t tell the whole story.

In this article I argue that the new realities of marketing have made a fifth P necessary – and that fifth P is publishing.

With blurring lines between platforms, publishers, brands and media, actually publishing content is a new necessity for brands who hope to spread their message and grab the increasingly scarce attention of their customers.

Marketing Has Changed

Publishing may be the fifth P of marketing, but it has grown out of one of the original four P’s. It has come to replace a large part of what promotion used to constitute.

Promoting products has always relied on content in some way. However, in the past, promotion relied almost exclusively on interrupting other publisher’s content.

Publishers created content that people wanted to see and the incredibly high cost of producing and distributing this content was subsidized by advertisers aiming to grab a bit of the attention and goodwill this content earned.

Now the costs of both creating and distributing content have dropped so drastically that becoming a publisher has become much more viable.

Compounding this trend is the fact that people now have very little tolerance for their content being interrupted and a seemingly endless appetite for content targeted towards their unique tastes.


In a world where traditional promotion is becoming less and less effective, and content creation is getting easier, publishing just makes plain marketing sense.

Publishing Is More Accessible Than Ever

One main reservation that brands have about publishing is that they think it is beyond their means to pursue this strategy. Many of the most prominent content marketing case studies center around brands like Red Bull and Intel who have the budgets to hire an editorial team.

It’s only reasonable to assume that brands that see this might feel discouraged and contend that even if publishing is necessary for marketing effectively, that they simply can’t afford to double down on content.

This thinking is incorrect for a few reasons. First of all, you have to consider the costs of not responding to this trend and continuing to market the way you always have. Not only is publishing becoming more effective, it is making promotion less effective, meaning you have to be more strategic about what you’re promoting by adding educational, entertaining and valuable content to your messaging in order to stand out amongst the noise.

Second of all, promotional marketing is pretty expensive as its, and once that money is freed up you’ll be shocked at the resources you can apply to publishing.

Lastly (and most importantly), you are likely overestimating the costs of what it takes to become an effective brand publisher. Sure, the Red Bull approach will certainly be outside of most organization’s capabilities, but a much smaller publishing strategy can still deliver returns.

While publishing requires concerted effort and man-power, it is entirely possible to tackle content marketing on a budget.

Publishing Builds Your Reputation

Not only is publishing more effective at getting your message out than purely promotional advertising, it also helps to establish your reputation and credibility within your industry. These are returns that might not be as immediate as straight promotion, but will accrue as brand equity over time with consistency.

Whether you are a B2C or B2B organization, doing content marketing the right way will require that you deeply understand your customer’s needs. Publishing necessitates that you create real value and form meaningful relationships with your audience.

Not only does publishing spread your brand message and give you credibility, it also strengthens the bonds you have with existing customers.

Now contrast a publishing-based marketing strategy with pure promotion. Even when it is done correctly, promotion often doesn’t enhance a brand’s reputation. A promoted brand might attract immediate attention, but will likely not hold that attention for very long.

AdWords for example might generate immediate returns and can be relied on to grow as you continue to pump funds into it, but the second you turn off the flow of investment any returns will dry up.

An even more pressing concern is that as promotion becomes less and less effective, brands that rely on it entirely will need to promote more and more often.

The risk here is that a brand becomes overly promotional and that the very promotions they rely on for business begin to erode their brand out from underneath them.

A cautionary tale of this slippery slope is what happened to JCPenney. For decades, they built a healthy, thriving brand based on marginal competition and promotional strategies.

As other fashion brands in their price-range began making the move towards content creation and brand publishing online and on social media (think Urban Outfitters and H&M) JCPenney stuck to their roots and continued to promote.


Even Legendary Apple Retail Head Ron Johnson Couldn’t Save Them

However, as consumers changed and promotion became a less tenable way of garnering attention (and turning that into intention), JCPenney was forced to promote with ever-increasing frequency and desperation until their brand had deflated and lost the credibility it had once enjoyed following a very similar strategy.

Although most brands are not in such a cutthroat business sector as fashion, a similar fate has befallen many (once solid) businesses built purely on promotion.

A move towards publishing can help insulate your business from falling prey to the increasing costs (both tangible and intangible) of relying purely on promotion. All the while, publishing can help you build long-lasting brand equity that won’t evaporate the second you stop investing.

Focus On Publishing, Not On Becoming A Publisher

There has been much digital ink spilled on the subject of brands embracing a new role as “brand publishers.”

This may sound similar to what I am arguing in this article, but don’t be fooled. Publishing as a category of marketing spend is justifiable, but being a “brand publisher” (in the sense it is often used) implies a complete shift in your organizational goals and structures.

In an earlier section I mentioned the content marketing brands often held up as examples as to why publishing is not accessible for the little guy.

The reason the content strategies of the Red Bull’s and GE’s of the world seem so beyond the capabilities of the average small to mid-size business is that these organizations have not just started publishing, they have reinvented themselves as publishers in their own right.

Many brands simply can’t afford to aim for this kind of goal, and they can realize many of the benefits of publishing without changing their entire company.

Moz’s blog featured a great article recently that forcefully argued a similar case to the one I am making. The main thrust of the piece was that brands can succeed at content marketing without having to go all in and transform themselves into bona fide brand publishers.

In fact, as is often the case, the main reason that many publishing efforts fail is that companies try and aim for this unattainable (and unnecessary) goal and inevitably fall short.

The alternative to trying to overhaul your entire organization to be reoriented towards publishing is to consider publishing as just one of the many approaches your company takes when considering its marketing mix. Your content marketing should have a strong ROI, not be an exercise in trying to emulate the biggest brands in your vertical.

Publishing Shouldn’t Entirely Replace, It Should Supplement

Although I strongly believe that publishing is key for any marketing strategy, I am not arguing that publishing is the only P of marketing; rather I am simply claiming that it is one additional element to consider.

Becoming a brand publisher would reorient all the elements of your marketing that your other four P’s encompass.

Pulling back on pure promotion and allowing publishing to pick up some of the responsibility of drawing and retaining new customers is a much more manageable and reasonable approach.

Not only does this strategy allow you to ease your way into new and uncomfortable territories, it also frees you from a good deal of risk and gives your organization the flexibility to experiment with what works and to not feel that every decision is do or die.

In much the same way that you are constantly seeking to tinker with your pricing strategy, improve your product and optimize your AdWords campaigns, you should focus on building and maintaining a publishing strategy that takes your customer’s needs and interests into account and that delivers tangible value that build your brand’s equity.

The principles that serve as the bedrock for traditional marketing should not be discarded. Instead they must be used as a foundation on top of which to build new, relevant and timely solutions to the continuously changing landscape of the industry.

Don’t forget the four P’s of marketing, just remember that there is now one more thing to consider.

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