Thursday, October 10, 2013

Some Thoughts on Marketing

Marketing is usually seen from the point of view of its utility, but not always from the point of view of its scope. In almost any company, marketing clearly plays an important and useful role, but what is often less clear is that marketing is made up of a ragtag collection of disparate functions assembled under a common name. To do “marketing” can often mean doing at various times all or some of the following activities: sales, advertising, finance, planning, logistics, sociology, journalism, psychology and many others.

Marketing, therefore, can hardly be called a “science,” though many of its gurus do so all the time. There is hardly a better way to improve the brand image of marketing than to claim that marketing is a serious science, complete with its laws and theories. A lot of efforts are put into the marketing of marketing; the first subject of marketing is marketing itself. But perhaps marketing could be called science if sociology or anthropology can be called sciences. These subjects all deal with human affairs; they are therefore necessarily variable, imprecise and subjective. Marketing is empirical only in the popular sense that it slowly improves over time, as a response to external conditions. It is not empirical in the scientific sense.

Marketing can be more aptly described as a special mixture capable of boosting a company's sales. Its complex formula is often updated; the marketing mix is tweaked in order to improve its effect. The dream of the marketing executive is to find the magic potion that will work wonders on the customer.

Marketing was born as one of the modern corporation's many reactions to its market environment. It is therefore not a forward-looking activity by definition. The marketing method was not as developed half a century ago as is it today simply because today's sophistication was not needed at that time. Product offerings of the past satisfied the demands of those customers; competition in those days was not strong enough to stimulate any deeper thinking about pricing strategies; and corporate profits and shareholder returns were good enough for many innovative marketing proposals to be disregarded. Though some companies are better at it than others, marketing is always a product of its time. It seems reasonable to think then that in the future, as society evolves, marketing will continue its adaptation.

Despite this reality, scholars of marketing often try to have the last word by proposing a final, universally applicable, "unifying theory" of marketing. This is not surprising since it is the best chance for them to be remembered after they are gone. The desire to seek general all-encompassing theories has always existed, in all fields; it might be called the "Newton obsession." It is also a practical strategy since it allows academics to respond to all possible questions with the same answer. Currently, the grand unifying model of marketing is based on the concept that all goods, whether “tangible” or “intangible,” should be seen as services. 

However, as the world becomes ever more complex and specialisation has long been essential for any real expertise, it is rather counter-intuitive to try to develop a general theory of marketing to cover the entire business world. Actually, the opposite approach seems more logical. Marketing in heterogeneous societies should also be heterogeneous. As business areas become more and more specialised and competitive, marketing should be tailor-made to each one of them. For instance, marketing for a social media company cannot possibly have much in common with marketing for a medical equipment manufacturer.

Any proposal for a universal theory of marketing can therefore only be an oversimplified truism, appropriate only as an introduction for undergraduate students. It is in human nature to try to unite and simplify, but sometimes this temptation must be resisted. All the more so in the area of marketing, since it is practised separately by all big players in each business area. Instead, universities with a marketing interest could best contribute by focusing on giving structure and guidance to some of these specific business initiatives.