​What do cakes, oranges and ladders have to do with marketing?

Perhaps it’s my background in education, but they are great teaching tools! These three items are practical analogies I like to use in explaining 3 important marketing concepts.

Sometimes, you just need a tangible object to make sense of all the jargon!


The cake: The marketing mix


Let’s start with the cake, the most popular of the three! It’s like the Marketing Mix.

The Marketing Mix (also called the 7P’s) is defined as the set of controllable tactical marketing tools that the company blends together to produce the response it wants in the target market (Kotler & Armstrong, 2012).

Imagine your organisation as a cake, and the ingredients are the 7 Ps. Each ingredient introduced into the cake will have an impact, some more than others. Usually, one ingredient is given greater emphasis than the others. For example, more flour is used, or more sugar or butter or baking powder, resulting in a different outcome.

In the same way, the 7P’s of marketing (product, promotion, price, place, people, process, physical evidence) may be seen as ingredients for your marketing strategy. Different organisations will mix up the 7P’s in different ways with different results.

What is the mix you are using?


The orange: Segmentation


And then along came an orange. The orange represents Market Segmentation.

Segmentation involves the dividing up of a market into distinct groups of buyers who have differing needs, characteristics or behaviours and might require separate products or marketing programmes. The four basic segmentation variables are: geographic, demographic, psychographic and behavioural (Kotler & Armstrong, 2012).

Imagine your market as an orange with many segments. These are usually slightly different in size.

Why eat an orange in segments rather than in bites? It’s certainly less messy. It’s efficient and effective. Easier to handle. Easier to share parts with others (co-operation). A telling point is asking yourself: What segments do we NOT want to target?

Is it an orange or a mandarin? This is because I believe we always need to check that we are in fact looking at the right market in the first place before we even start to segment it. Ask: Who is our customer?

Have you segmented your market? Which segment is your most attractive?

Read more on segmentation in a LinkedIn Article I wrote in 2017 on this topic here.


The ladder: Market positioning


Market Positioning is like a ladder. I learnt this in my early days as a management consultant. This is not to be confused with the brand ladder, by the way. This one has to do with the competition.

A ladder has steps or rungs from the bottom to the top.

Positioning is a marketing method for creating the perception of a product, brand or company identity. I especially like this quote from Trout & Ries (1981): “Positioning is not what you do to a product. Positioning is what you do to the mind of the prospect. That is, your position (place) the product in the mind of the prospect (buyer).” Positioning is always expressed relative to your competitors.

This is how the ladder analogy works. Imagine each company is sitting on a rung of a ladder. When a company positions itself in a market, it is best to be the only player on that rung of the ladder. Competitors may try to crowd in or take your rung (position) by copying you or part of your offering. You need to own that rung. Then you have a positioning that distinguishes you from your competition.

What rung of the ladder do you have in your customer’s market, and is it all your own?

In closing, it’s useful to bear in mind that the market is in constant flux. But these 3 analogies: the cake, the orange and the ladder, have not changed.

I like to think of the cake as something you have in your back pocket (your toolbox), the orange is the market out there that you want to reach, and the ladder is your battle position in the market, dodging between all the ‘bullets’ from your competitors.

Do you have any favourite business analogies?

All three of these strategic marketing analogies are discussed in the ISASA publication I authored, entitled: A Guide To Effective School Marketing. It is available on the ISASA website for purchase here.

I'm Keryn House

I enjoy creating marketing anecdotes and visuals related to my horse as there is a lot to be learned from animals, and this provides a unique context to my writing. My horse Slick (aka Sports Express) has been with me for many years and is a source of inspiration and relaxation for my strategic mind. He lives on a friend’s farm in KZN and I see him twice a week.

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