White Paper 2:
How To Differentiate Your Brand: The 4Ps

There are always considerations other than price and product
functionality in the buying decision.  The challenge is to define them.
When you do that you are defining your brand.

What a customer buys when they are buying a product or service is the
total package of benefits associated with the selling organization, the
people who work there, its image and reputation, and the way it does
business. These are much more than the features, benefits, price and
tangible aspects of a specific product or service, something that adds
value to the transaction. For example, when a customer chooses a bank
for a cash management system, he or she buys that bank's experience
and track record, the quality of the people who developed and maintain
the system, the "image" of how that system is perceived and how easy the
bank will be to work with. There are always considerations other than
price and product functionality. The most important point is that that what
a customer buys transcends the product itself. The challenge for those
responsible for sales and marketing, therefore, is to capture the power of
this notion and define that "something more: so customers can easily see
it and the value it brings to them. It is the "something" that ultimately
determines form whom the customer buys and how much is paid. The
"something" is at the core of the organization's brand.

These ideas are at the core of the 4Ps model that Singularity has
developed as an important conceptual tool. The 4Ps --Product, People,
Past and Process--represent those resources of a company that can be
differentiated from one institution to another. Often these differences
have evolved over time with little intention or planning. For instance, one
bank has a reputation among its customers for being helpful to new
businesses. Where did this notion come from? A policy? A particular
group of employees? A specific, well-known and publicized incident? With
some thought, some veteran employees of this bank might be able to
trace how this perception came to be, but most likely they will report it
"just happened." On the other hand, if management is aware of the
importance of differentiating the bank from its competitors, it can
specifically create, develop, communicate and manage notable
differences that the customer will perceive as valuable around the bank's
products, people, past and processes. (See definition of the 4Ps at the
end of this article.)

Plainness and a Promise

The origin of the 4Ps stems from two compelling problem areas in
marketing: selling a commodity and selling a service. A commodity is a
product that is fundamentally the same from one vendor to another. Steel,
potash, sulphur, nails and screws are commodities. A service, on the
other hand, doesn't exist at all until it is delivered; it is intangible and
cannot be experienced by the buyer in making a buying decision. The
commodity exudes undifferentiated plainness; the intangible service
presents a promise, an uncertainty. A bank has the unique distinction of
offering a number of commodity-type services.

Theodore Levitt of the Harvard Business School has written a number of
articles on product differentiation. (Harvard Business Review, January-
February,1980 and Harvard Business Review, May-June, 1981) which have
contributed to the 4Ps concept.

What A Product Is: Beyond the Obvious

Levitt has developed a product diffentiation model that opens a new
perspective as to what a product is. This model defines a product on four
different levels: the generic product, the expected product, the
augmented product and the potential product.

The generic product, as Levitt presents it, is the product itself--the cash
management system, the letter of credit, the term loan--whatever it is the
customer can use to help improve the business. Even though these
generic products are found in most banks, they are not necessarily the
same. Slight differences in product design may make one bank's lock
boxes more attractive than another's. This is the most obvious area for
product differentiation as anyone who has ever seen a development team
laboring long and hard to generate creative nuances for a new product
will report. But there is more to a product than its parts.

The expected product includes those aspects that relate to delivery,
terms, support, new ideas for product applications, all of which are one
step removed from the product itself, but without which the product
simply could not be successfully sold. The augmented product refers to
Levitt's notion of adding something to improve or modify the product for a
particular customer. Developing a report on how much money is saved
using a cash transfer system, for example, is a vehicle for demonstrating
what the vendor will do for the buyer. Augmenting the product goes
beyond the product by exceeding the buyer's expectations. Finally, the
potential product is "everything that might be done" to attract and hold
the customer. This includes making suggestions for technical changes,
reporting the results of surveys regarding product usage and attitudes of
customers, installing new technologies to better use the product, and
advising customers on business conditions, feasibility of business plans
and employment of experts in specific technical areas.

Levitt's model is a useful framework for defining the various levels of
product a customer can buy. Most important, as a development source for
the 4Ps, it introduced the idea of moving away from product as a cluster of
defined features, benefits and prices, into a more expanded view of what
can be sold. In a bank, the idea of building more value into a loan or a
trust account or any product or service is compelling. Every bank has the
same products; an expanded view would include the unique value of
people who service the product, the manner in which it is installed and
how customers interact with the bank as well as the success the bank has
had in the past. All these elements can be made to be different from the

Reducing Uncertainty

Most bank products are services provided for customers. This brings into
focus the other marketing challenge faced by banks, that is, selling
services, and the associated problems of convincing customers that an
intangible that customers can’t see, touch or feel will improve their
business operations.

Another business writer provided some insight into how intangibles, such
as services, can be made tangible. Warren J. Wittreich, in a classic article
on selling professional services (Harvard Business Review, March-April,
1966), succinctly outlined the issues. To be successful, Wittreich writes
that uncertainties surrounding who the customer is dealing with, how the
service will be implemented and whether or not the money is being spent
wisely must be dealt with. The degree to which a professional who sells
can persuade the customer that he or she (and the bank) understands the
problem, has solved similar problems in the past and has a way to do it or
process which is logical and easily followed is the degree to which the
customer's uncertainty can be reduced. The seller can sell him or herself
by demonstrating command of the methods to be used, familiar
relationships key people who are resources in solving the problem, and
knowledge of and preferably involvement with related success stories.
When people who sell do this, Wittreich writes, the "high bidder often
wins" because there is much more value in dealing with certainty than

Wittreich's article was a forerunner of the many articles and books written
about the service culture, excellence and customer orientation. Today,
corporations are attempting to develop new ways to add value to the
customer relationship while still maintaining low costs. Consumers are
aware of the competition and are attracted to banks that provide what
they need with the most added value. Among many examples, combined
statements with summary information, account information accessible
online and even advice about markets, investments and other specialized
knowledge-based services are the kinds of developments banks have to
make to give the customer more for his money. In fact, as the age of
disintermediation accelerates, the types of services offered and the
resources surrounding those services should be more important to banks
interested in keeping market share. The concepts provided by Wittreich
are an additional essential ingredient of the 4Ps, offering a wider view of
what has to be sold when selling these types of services.

More To It Than Talking Product

As a final resource for the 4Ps, a recent Sales Competency Study (Miller
and Maginn, 1987) isolated the activities of high performing sales people
in banks. In general, people who excel in selling in banks mention a
variety of activities that revolve around themes of specificity, initiative,
involvement, planning, focusing and analysis. Of critical importance to
these individuals is the concept of selling yourself, of bringing more to
the table than the competition, of creating an image of personal value to
the customer. From a series of focus groups with these individuals, it
became clear that high performers considered themselves a virtual
product of the bank, an extension of the institution and behaved in a way
that lead customers to recognized them as such.

These individuals were good at selling the resources of the bank, but
they were also excellent at selling themselves. In Wittreich's words, they
were good at reducing the customer's uncertainty in the way they
responded to problems, in the genuine interest they displayed in the
customer's business, in their understanding of the customer's needs, in
their knowledge of how the bank does business and how resources
within the bank work, in demonstrating their experience with solving
similar middle market business problems. In the 4Ps model, the
Relationship Manager is one of the resources the bank has to offer.
Those sales people who recognize this can develop ways to differentiate
themselves from their counterparts at competing institutions. A firm
knowledge of the bank's resources--the 4Ps--and how to talk about them
in sales situations represents a personal strength and an expanded view
of what can be sold to the customer.

The 4Ps—A Practical Model

The 4Ps represent a synthesis of concepts from different areas of
marketing and sales literature. From selling commodities comes the
concept of looking beyond the generic product and into the arena of what
additional value is delivered or can be delivered to the customer along
with the product. From selling services comes the idea of reducing a
customer's uncertainty by making the intangible more tangible--talking
about personal knowledge and experience, the process of working
together, and related success stories. Finally, from the Sales Competency
Study comes the high performers' conviction that they, as individuals, add
value to the relationship by demonstrating what they know, who they
know and how to get things done.

The 4Ps model is not a difficult concept to grasp. Yet, when faced with the
task of defining what products are really different, what individuals are
valuable, expert resources, how doing business is more user friendly
than the competition and what success stories are worthy of corporate
legend status, many bank Sales Leaders and Relationship Managers
struggle. While many of the 4Ps can be tactically defined at the work unit
level using local heroes and successes, the real work of defining the 4Ps
is for the corporation's directors. It is up to them to clearly specify what
the bank should be known for and to clarify how their products, people,
process and past are better than the bank down the street.

The 4Ps

The 4Ps represent resources of an organization which, when created and
managed, become differentiators defining the brand. That is, they
describe what the total offering of an organization is.

The features and benefits of the product. This is the baseline of
differentiation. To be competitive, the features and benefits of a product
have to convey valuable differences to buyers. When there are no or
minimal differences, the other Ps in the 4Ps model must be used to
differentiate the product or service.

One resource is the combined experience of the organization with the
type of issues the buyer is facing. For example, if a customer is having
trouble defining the kind of leasing arrangements to use, having a
reputation as “the bank that helps small business get started in leasing”
is a definite way to reduce uncertainty.

The individual or team working with the client represents another facet of
the total offering. As a product, the individual or team literally has
features and benefits. The level of expertise, ability to get things done,
experience with similar clients, and even industry status represent
examples of potential features of individuals that can help reduce

How the organization does business is a strong potential area for
differentiation. If the actual buying, delivery and implementation process
is efficient and user friendly, it can be a major differentiator. Careful
definition of this process, especially for intangible services, can bring a
sense of security to an uncertain buyer.


Levitt, Theodore, "Marketing success through differentiation--of
anything." Harvard Business Review, January-February, 1980.

Levitt, Theodore, "Marketing intangible products and product
intangibles." Harvard Business Review, May-June, 1981.

Miller, N., and Maginn, M., "Business Development Competencies for
Bank Relationship and Sales Managers." Lending, Winter, 1987.

Wittreich, Warren J., "How to buy/sell professional services." Harvard
Business Review, March-April, 1966.

Copyright © 2002 Singularity Group, Inc.
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