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The Six P's of Foodservice Marketing

For some years, it has been fashionable to use the term " marketing" in describing a variety of activities undertaken to build onsite foodservice business. Some foodservice departments are large enough that they have been able to justify a full time position dedicated to this function, but more typically the responsibility to support and manage these activities falls to the director and others on his or her immediate staff.

It seems to me that very often the term "marketing" is misused in this context. It is common for people to say "marketing" when they are really describing promotional activities—implementing improved signage, better merchandising, themed events or advertising programs that encourage dining participation in one way or another (many manufacturers, brokers and distributors also tend to mis-use the term, saying that they are marketing a product line when in fact they are focused primarily on selling it!).

In fact, true marketing is much more than developing a program to build business or sales. Expressed simply, in the words of Peter Drucker, marketing is a way of looking at a business "from the customer's point of view."

To market is to study the basic value exchange between a business and its customers and to seek to understand that relationship in the context of the customers' wants and needs. A strategic marketing plan is based on analyzing and segmenting those needs and presenting the organization's products or services so as to better satisfy them.

The most common mistake marketers make is to forget this basic orientation. "Lunch business is down? Let's do some 'marketing' to build it back up."

If you fail to consider the customer's view first, and instead focus-immediately on the business need, you have already abandoned the first premise of marketing.

The marketing mix. That said, there is another aspect of marketing theory that has always intrigued me in the context of onsite foodservice. It is the concept of the " marketing mix." Northwestern University professor and marketing guru Philip Kotler described this mix as "the set of controllable variables and their levels that the firm uses to influence the target market."

In college marketing courses, the mix is typically presented in the context of "the Four P's:" Product, Price, Place, Promotion. I like to add two more "P's" to this list, People and Presentation, for extra emphasis, although from a purist's point of view these are considered already included.

None of the "P's" should be considered as givens. If a foodservice department is serious about developing an effective marketing program, the only given is the customer—everything else is a variable, and must be seen as controllable to some degree.

A few definitions. For our purposes, it's important to define the "P's" in more detail, since the words' meanings are somewhat different in this context than in normal usage.

Product, for example, entails the full range of a product or service's attributes. In terms of food, that includes its quality level, packaging, portion size and Presentation (it is because the latter is so important in foodservice that I like to consider it a separate 'P' altogether). It includes product or concept branding and any service options that may be available.

It is also here that I add a sixth "P," People, because having the right people, correctly trained, on the front lines of foodservice is part and parcel of the service itself and how it is perceived and valued by customers.

Price refers to what you charge for your products and services, but is also more than that. It includes various discounts that may be available (e.g. the employee discounts customary at many healthcare facilities or the "variable" cost of meal credits in college board plans), any credit or payment terms (think POS systems and card swiping) as well as the many formal and informal subsidies that may be extended to onsite foodservice programs by host organizations.

Place is the most misunderstood "P." It traditionally refers to a manufacturer's distribution channels. In the context of onsite foodservice, Place should be seen in terms of service locations, production flows, logistics (e.g. the movement of food from inventory or kitchens to servery counters or satellite locations) as well as " convenience" options such as vending, merchandising racks, direct-store delivery options from suppliers, etc.

Finally, there is Promotion, which includes any advertising, publicity generating or promotional activities that are used to raise customer awareness of a product or service and how it fulfills needs or wants that they have.

It is through various adjustments to this mix that one "goes to market." Some aspects of the mix can be adjusted quickly; others can only be changed over time and after much planning. In my next several columns I will offer some additional thoughts on how these elements of the marketing mix apply specifically to the challenges facing FM's readers.

"The Product: It Is What It Is (Or Is It?)"
"Managing Place, Your Distribution Channel"
"Promotion: The Battle for Your Customer's Mind"
"Price--The Market's Way of Measuring Value"
"Integrating Your Marketing Plan"

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