Who owns the future of marketing

Saturn The surgery went okay, I think.  (Thank you to everyone who offered well wishes.)  The drugs are formidable.  Not a  bad thing under the circumstances. 

This afternoon, I had a moment of clarity, possibly.  I know marketing discourse is not supposed to be drug assisted.  But sometimes you have no choice.  I am taking Oxycodone.  (insert joke of choice here)

I found myself wondering.: Who owns the future of marketing?  There are several contenders:

1. the MBA programs and the academic marketers who staff them

2. the marketing practioners working inside the corporation

3. the marketing practioner working as a consult outside the corporation (jack of all trades variety)

4. the marketing practioner working as a consult outside the corporation (single method seller; e.g., Jerry Zaltman, Claude Rapaille)

5. the design community now poised to take over branding and other aspects of the marketing field

6. various social scientists, including anthropologists and ethnographers

7.  [other contenders, please suggest]

One way to answer this question is to see which of these contenders is best qualified to answer the following question:

What is the best way to think about the

1. extended product

2. as it speaks to/works for/connects with

3. the whole consumer (i.e., the multiple consumer, one or several aspects thereof)

4. in several categories (another multiplicity, this one created by the fragmentation of definitions of class, lifestyle, region, family type, gender, etc.)

5. as a result of  best methods and most illuminating research contact

6. in the creation of greatest value on several registers

7. all of this changing in almost real time to respond to the dynamism of contemporary markets and cultures.

7.  for the extraction of greatest price

Now to answer the question.  I believe that the business schools have pretty much disqualified themselves.  They continue to use an economic man model of the consumer and it is precisely this that is now under challenge.  The designers are making a very interesting challenge to the branding world, and they are strong in the matters that the MBA graduate is weak: what is the visual language that allows the brand to define itself.  Neither one is especially good, in my opinion, in summoning the social scientific theory that should help us understand who and what the consumer is becoming, what and who the brand must be capable of coming, and what theories can help us make real contact with the consumer.  Academic social scientists continue to be hostile to the market place and to marketing.  B-school "importers" of social scientific theory and method continue to borrow and retrofit when they should in my opinion be working much more from the ground up. 

In sum, none of the would-be claimants appear to have a very good claim.  The future of marketing has got away from us.  It has become suddenly and vastly more complicated.  Products and services must deliver many, sometimes subtle utilities to consumers who are now evidencing an internal and an externality complexity they did not have before.  How to talk to the consumer, how to discover what these many values are, how to define them, and most important how to harvest them, these are new questions for which we do not appear to have ready answers. 

I know this is a little too summary to be useful.  I will have another go tomorrow.

16 thoughts on “Who owns the future of marketing

  1. Peter

    Grant — First, glad that you’re OK!

    Second, another couple of contenders:

    7A: The data-miners, busy-beaver-analyzing all the data which corporations are collecting about their customers, looking for patterns, trends, unserved niches, beer-drinkers-buying-nappies, etc.

    7B: Various mathematical scientists and quantitative market researchers, applying quant. methods (which they usually claim are more rigorous than ethnographic methods).

    Personally, I don’t think either of these two groups stand any chance of owning the future of marketing, although I am sure that is not the opinion they hold themselves.

    And, as regards economic views of man: I always say that Marketing only exists to the extent that the assumptions of Economics are false (eg, perfect competition, complete information, the existence of commodities, so-called rational decision-making, etc).

  2. Aldon Hynes

    Interesting questions. Hopefully my comment will be interesting as well, particularly since I am coming at this from a slightly different perspective.

    So, let me start off by introducing myself, and then making my comment. My background is as a technologist. I worked for years on Wall Street in Information Technology Management roles. I’m very interested in online culture and have been involved with groups like the Association of Internet Researchers. I’ve even ended up being a case study in one academic paper.

    Recently, I’ve become particularly active in politics. I worked extensively on Gov. Dean’s 2004 presidential bid and am currently working as Blogmaster for New Haven Mayor John DeStefano’s 2006 Connecticut Gubernatorial campaign. ( Stop by at http://www.destefanoforct.com )

    A lot of my thinking has been influenced by Stephen Johnson’s book Emergence, as well as recently by Elihu Katz’s classic book, Personal Influence: The Part Played by People in the Flow of Mass Communications.

    From these perspectives, I tend to think that it isn’t the MBAs, the social scientists, the designers, consultants, etc. who own the future of marketing. It is what is emerging from the adapting and rapidly changing community of consumers.

    Now, to stay with this idea, all of those consultants out there can change the geography, like the way they might try to move a log to change the flow of ants, but the ants, or the consumers adapt and find a different solution which may or may not match the intended results of the consultant or the person moving the log.

    So, if anyone is going to own the future of marketing, my guess is that it is going to be wise futurists that immerse themselves in the culture, in the stream of ants, following the example of a good anthropologist doing field work so as not to disrupt the culture being observed.

    Of course, this begs the question of who does one a good futurist and be able to predict the changes of course of the army of ants. I don’t know. I’m just an old IT guy who is having fun playing in politics.

    I look forward to your future observations on this topic.

  3. jens

    getting all the best ideas under medication…
    hail to those feverish thoughts….

    very interesting post. from an extemely sensitive mind. great post.

  4. Acad Ronin

    1) Grant: I am glad that you are OK. Hope you recuperate rapidly. Enjoy the meds: better living through chemistry.

    2) I would second Peter’s point that marketing arose to deal with a number of issues that economics assumed away. One can see this, for instance, in issues that Marshall initially touched on in speaking about demand, such as my demand depending on how many other people also want a good, and then dropped in later editions of his text. The key assumption in the Law of Demand is that my demand is independent of your demand.

    3) J. Scott Armstrong has a solid critique of B-school marketing research that has appeared in the first 2002 issue of the Journal of Business Research (vol. 56), together with commentary and a rejoinder. When Scott went public in the WSJ with an op-ed that stated that Wharton’s students were learning little of use in their marketing classes, this caused a tempest in a teacup among the students at Wharton (where he teaches).

  5. steve

    No fair being so provocative on a Friday! I doubt that any one specialty will “own” marketing. My guess is that different types of marketing problems will get tackled by different sorts of people over time, and industries where particular types of problems dominate the agenda will likewise be “owned” by those specialists.

    As an economist, I find the notion that marketing steps in where econ ends too restrictive for both subjects. First, there are lots of important topics about demand which are in theory amenable to economic reasoning but with which economists historically have not grappled. The new journal, Quantitative Marketing and Economics seems to be addressing things from this end. (And as a side note, models where the demand of one buyer depends on how many other buyers purchase something have been studied for over 25 years in economics. The work on network externalities in the 1980s, for instance, hinges on just this idea.)

    Second, there may be traditional econ topics that could be illuminated better by deploying various insights from marketing. The notion of consideration sets and how they are formed, for example, might have important implications in the study of oligopoly. Anthropological ideas about identity and meaning might be extended from consumption choices to labor choices (e.g. why certain people won’t take certain jobs even if they are pay well and are not unpleasant).

    In short, this blog sits at an interesting intersection. I’d hate to think of it as being a hermetically sealed border.

  6. Pingback: linkage

  7. Peter

    Steve, all —

    My reason for saying that Marketing starts where the assumptions of Economics end is because I have sat in numerous business strategy meetings with an economist present who has tried to tell the meeting (usually with some insistence) how the world outside behaves, based on assumptions which are demonstrably false to all of us except the economist.

    For example, it is a rare corporate economist who does not talk about “commodities”, IME. With the possible exception of some products in financial markets, there are no true commodities in the real world. Even raw materials such as coal have distinct attributes which distinguish one supplier’s product from another (eg, chemical composition, quality, burn-rate, delivery times, propensity of the miners to strike, supplier financing packages, etc), all of which can make a difference to the decisions of a coal-buyer. If a commodity product really does exist, then some marketing manager is not doing his/her job. I have had to say this repeatedly in telecoms firms, where the notion that the core product (telecoms service) is a commodity can have pernicious effects on the company and its fortunes if it takes hold.

    My problem is not with economists creating idealized abstractions of reality, such as commodities or unbounded reasoning. My problem is with economists forgetting that their abstraction is not in fact reality; the map is never the territory. Worse is the practice of many economists (at least, until recently) to use the map to tell the territory how it should behave, as in the use of the word “rational”, a term taken and mis-applied from philosophy, to describe one very specific and value-laden type of reasoning (and arguably, not a very sensible form of reasoning at that).

    It is possible that my experiences with corporate economists are atypical of them, and that I am therefore wrong in my assessments of mainstream economics and economists. However, the existence of the post-autistic economic movement tells me that my experiences are unfortunately far too common.

  8. jens

    do not think that marketing is much about anything in the future.
    i do actually think that in 10 to 20 years the term will be forgotten

    historically speaking marketing had its function in bridging the structural gap between mass-production on the one hand side and human needs for something more than purely rational solutions on the other.

    the marketing attempt to close this gap is to build a huge bridge head on the corporate side and to control, to manipulate and to direct the masses.
    the dream of manipulative power is an integral part of marketing. it is actually what marketing is about.

    today marketing is nothing but an old crutch.
    it makes funny noises when you use it and is far, far too complicated. i guess we will just throw it away.

  9. jens

    but to come to your question: who controls the future of marketing?
    i think, the answer will be found on a level that profoundly challenges companies on an organizational level.
    marketing will be absorbed somewhere between entrepreneurial guts, leadership and innovation.

  10. steve

    Peter: Corporate economists who falsely assume that products are commodities are shoddy economists. I don’t know of any serious empirical economist who would make that assmumption without evidence to support it. Sure, the analysis is simpler if you ignore differentiation (and it’s a good approximation for some purposes even when not strictly true), but it is in no way entailed by economic theory.

    Models with differentiated products have been around since the 1930s, and empirical methods of hedonic pricing and such have been around since the 1970s. Marketing professors like Hauser and Urban developed quantitative methods for implementing some of these ideas.

    As for “rationality”, that plays a number of different roles in different subfields of economics. Game theory (for its own sake) is an almost philosophical inquiry into what rationality means in collective decision processes. Empirical labor economists have little direct recourse to it much of the time. In terms of consumer behavior, rationality usually amounts to nothing more than assuming a stable, complete, and transitive ordering of preferences over options, and supposing that buyers choose the best option based on that ordering. It may be inaccurate, but I don’t think it is an unduly “philosophical” assumption–in fact, many experimentalists claim to have falsified it.

  11. Peter

    Steve —

    Perhaps its a matter of the lag between the leading edge of research of a discipline and when that reseach finds its way into applications beyond the academy. So, for example, you mention that differentiated-product models have been around since the 1930s. The person marketers usually credit with these models is Kelvin Lancaster, who wrote about them in the 1960s and 1970s. Reading his work, one gets the impression that he faced opposition to his ideas from other economists of the time (ie, the 1960s). As I mention, I’ve faced opposition to these same ideas as late as this decade, with economists telling me that (eg) telecoms service is a commodity.

  12. Susan

    This is a fascinating thread. I don’t know any of you, as I just found this via a Google search this evening. But first, glad all surgeries have gone well. And thanks to all for sharing your thoughts/opinions on the topic.

    I’m currently in my 2nd year of an MBA program and I’m a marketing/strategy concentrator. However, my undergraduate areas of study were English and Psychology. So, I’ve never believed in the ‘rational’ view of economics and man. Fortunately, I have chosen a business school where the approach to economics is very behavioral. In fact, two of my classes this semester are Behavioral Finance and Behavioral Economics. So, rest assured, there are plenty out there – even MBAs (or at least the Ph.Ds who teach them)- who are on the same page as you.

    As I look for a job post-graduation, I’m pondering the basic question, “What is the future of marketing?” but the question, “Who owns the future of marketing?” is perhaps an even more accurate and helpful question to be asking. As I contemplate a role in marketing vs. consumer insights (marketing research) and consulting vs. corporate, I’m trying to find a) which role most excites me and b) in which role(s) does the future of marketing truly reside. (I will not mention c)a job that pays enough to help me pay off my loans as painlessly as possible).

    Perhaps the answer is ‘none of the above’ and it is the cultural anthropologist, hired by industry, who owns the future of marketing. This is, essentially, what corporate roles in marketing reserach or consumer insights do – some of them. You’ve got everything from ethnography groups to quantitative methodologies being used in corporate consumer insights groups. But I digress.

    I find it useful to study and understand the history of marketing and to ask seemingly over-simple questions like, “What IS marketing?” to ultimately get at the answer to “What is/Who owns the future of marketing?”. I’m interested in exploring how the answer to the question, “What is Marketing?” has changed over time. This is where the history and evolution of the discipline come in. I believe that understanding the role/goal of marketing and how it has evolved through history will get us to a better understanding of where the future is and who owns (or is currently best poised to own) it.

    Having said all that, I’m too busy with my classes in Finance, Strategy, etc. to delve into this topic right now. Almost makes me wish I was in a Ph.D. program where I COULD dive in and figure it out.

    Have any of you read any good books/articles relevant to this discussion? Can you recommend any?


Comments are closed.