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COVID-19 and marketing: How to review the marketing four Ps


The four Ps have long served as a basic framework for assessing and adjusting a marketing strategy.

In the face of the unprecedented disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, this is a good time to review your marketing plan and ensure it is still effective.

Patrick Grenier, Senior Business Advisor with BDC Advisory Services, walks us through the basic points to consider when reviewing the four Ps of marketing in the wake of the disruption caused by COVID-19.

1. Product

Under normal circumstances, products and services evolve gradually. New car models will be released or updated every few years, for example.

But for some products, the COVID pandemic has totally upended the natural evolution cycle.

The first question to ask yourself, then, is whether your product is still relevant. If not, then you will need to evolve your product or pivot to making something else.

“A banana is still a banana,” says Grenier. “But let’s say you are selling soup. Grocery stores are still selling your product, yet hotels, restaurants and reception halls are no longer selling it. These are the kinds of situations where companies have to quickly pivot to make new products or adapt existing offers.”

Companies have also had to adapt their products for online sales and, in the case of service companies, online delivery. As many customers will maintain their online shopping habits, rethinking your products or services to ensure they are relevant online should be a priority.

2. Price

The COVID crisis has increased operating and supply costs for many businesses. Dentists are just one example of businesses seeing less clients, while rent and salaries have remained the same. Over time, this could result in rising prices for products and services.

But Grenier advises entrepreneurs not to be overly ambitious when it comes to raising prices.

“Studies show that people will pay up to 5% more to buy local products,” he explains. A Leger survey of 1,500 people in Quebec found that 58% of them intended to purchase more local goods in the wake of the crisis. Yet, on average, they were only ready to pay 5% more for local purchases, according to the survey published in May 2020.

“They want to help, but at the right price. It’s not just because I make a local product that people will accept to pay anything. People aren’t crazy; you have to be realistic in what you are asking for.”

Buyers will quickly notice price increases. Grenier advises entrepreneurs to remain transparent and explain why you are raising your prices.

“Adding a special ‘COVID tax’ line on your invoice might not be very good marketing,” he adds.

3. Promotion

The initial reaction to COVID was to cut marketing spending to a maximum, but this wasn’t the best decision for all businesses.

Grenier gives the example of a cosmetic company he colalborates with. At the onset of the crisis, the client contacted him saying they were about to stop their promotion activities. Yet upon further discussion and reflections, the company realized that their product could easily be sold online and shipped. Having decided to maintain their marketing spending at the same level, the company saw its sales triple the next month, as people who stayed home had more time to shop online.

Yet many businesses who relied on traditional marketing methods such as events didn’t have a choice but to limit their marketing activities. They now have to rethink their strategy.

“Companies are switching a lot of their promotion to advertise online and on social media ,” says Grenier. “You have to stay smart; everyone who can sell online should try to do it.”

4. Place

The old saying went “Location, location, location.” But the COVID crisis showed that location can be a double-edged sword.

Companies located in shopping malls were hit especially hard by the crisis. Meanwhile, companies with a storefront on commercial streets were able to re-open a little faster.

“All of that was out of your control,” says Grenier.

Nevertheless, it is probably a good idea to review your business location(s) to see if it still meets your needs and those of your clients.

Three new Ps

The four Ps have evolved over the years. Grenier says that marketers have added three new Ps over the years to make a fuller analysis of a company’s marketing efforts.

5. Packaging

Making a good first impression is as important as it’s ever been. Whether that’s through the packaging on your products, the look and feel of your website, or how you and your employees present themselves in front of a camera.

“If I’m in my living room during a video conference and there are construction workers with ladders and I’m looking all askew, people are going to wonder whether I’m really a professional,” says Grenier. “Employees are an important part of your packaging when we work remotely.”

A professional brand that’s uniform across all your communications will comfort clients in knowing that they can trust you, says Grenier. “There’s a strong chance that they’ll buy from you instead of from your competitor.”

“It’s the same thing with your website,” he adds. “If it still looks like it was made in 1999, forget it; you’re out.”

6. Positioning

Customers might not be able or willing to visit your business in person, but they’re going to research your business online and on social media. You need to seriously think about how you want them to perceive you.

“How do you think you are positioned in the mind of your customers and your prospects?” asks Grenier. “Clients are going to compare you to others. They’re going to benchmark you. You need to think about how others will see you.”

The visual quality of you brand and you marketing assets is important, but so is your story telling. Grenier says entrepreneurs need to tell their story; tell customers how they are different and what makes them better.

“Take a cosmetic product as an example,” he says. “If your clients feel better and prettier after using it, and if you can tell that story, then people will automatically associate you to those feelings and it’s going to become and element of your brand.”

7. People

Now more than ever, the people who participate in your sales process are extremely important.

Whether it be in a remote meeting or in a face to face meeting, they need to be competent and credible. They need to have something that they’re prepared to say and they need to make customers feel welcomed.

“If I’m in a store and the staff makes me feel like I’m a menace because of COVID, it doesn’t work,” says Grenier. “Employees have to take precautions, but you need to have that human touch. Whether it’s B2C or B2B, that human element is always there. Empathy and sensitivity will help you stand out from the competition.”