The Absolute Truth About Marketing
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
  What is your Philosophy of Marketing?
Would you buy a used philosophy from this man? My next 3 blogs will introduce the concept of Philosophy of Marketing. The first is a gentle introduction. The second should disturb you. And the third should send you running out of the room.

PART THE FIRST: PIERCING THE SURFACE

In another incarnation I taught at university an obscure subject called ‘the philosophy of history’. The philosophy of anything is the study of what it is, why you do it, how you do it, etc. Pretty academic, you’d say. Curriculum filler for keeping academics in their comfortable ivory towers, I can hear you thinking.

But studying the philosophy of some practical activity can have profound impact on the people in the field. For instance, it can reveal what your basic assumptions are, what schools of thought there are in the field that are based on these assumptions, and which camp you fall into. There are at present two warring camps in marketing thought: Globalists and Granularists (see “The Tribes of Marketing: where do you belong?” in Marketing*, December 2003). Globalists are mass marketing warriors who see the world from above the line and Granularists are data-driven individuals who live below it. Each operate on the same consumer but with vastly different beliefs about who and what that consumer is. Knowing what camp you are in, that you are governed by assumptions, that you have made a choice that affects the outcome of your work and knowing what camp your new boss comes from, can be critical.

Unless you know what assumptions you are making and how they a ffect your outcomes, you are a sitting duck for a good case of “future shock”. For instance, there are many answers to the question “what is marketing?” that reveal the assumptions of the holder of each answer. For some, marketing is a process of demand management that aims to soak up manufacturing capacity. For others, it is a system for transforming an organisation’s output into shareholder value. Yet another answer would define marketing as the function of identifying and satisfying consumer wants and needs. An even wackier definition is that marketing is the practice of creating communities of common interest, ie. enabling people to share a passion for, say, Harley-Davidson motorcycles and lifestyle. An even more extra-terrestrial version would say marketing is a means of making the world a better place to live in.

The basic orientation of the ‘demand management’ people is product focus – the engineers rule the roost. “Sell what we make,” is their credo. Consumers are targets to be hit, suckers to be sold to, sources of revenue to be controlled, etc. “Push marketing”, relying heavily on promotion to even out poorly-aligned supply chains, is the dominant technique used by these people. These companies often make unattractive products and sometimes make a profit.

The ‘shareholder value’ operators will make a buck by following the ‘spread’ or the size of the gap between the cost of making a buck and the size of the buck. Marketing includes new product development (product innovation). Marketing is the means of harvesting or making hay while the sun shines, entering markets as they become explosive or at least differentiatable. They live by ROI. They make and sell hot items and what they think will be the next hot item. To them consumers are fickle maniacs who can make or break you overnight.

Those who believe in ‘satisfying consumer needs and wants’ often slavishly follow consumers and, as a result, are rarely innovative, because consumers have no means of imagining what they would like if it existed before it exists. Consumers do know one thing: they like low prices. The consumer is king. The price is cut.

‘Community builders’ see consumers as fellow consumers and share their view of life. Dream the same dreams. For them, marketing is not an arm-wrestle with an unwilling buyer, but a love-in. Price is often not an issue. These people are enthusiasts. The brand is a tribal totem.

Those who want to ‘make the world a better place’ are disrupters. Consumers are not in control, but they are the beneficiaries of the ingenuity of these operators. Disrupters innovate around consumer needs – inventors, people who take risks on new technologies or processes or management systems. They provide new solutions for old problems or give access to previously unobtainable experiences.

Few companies are purists – ie. totally dominated by one camp or philosophy of marketing. There is also a bit of crossover between camps, especially among the consumer-focussed types.

But this rough thumbnail depiction of the schools of thought and the operational implications that arise from their basic assumptions reveals how important it is to be aware of your prejudices (that you inherited from whoever taught you first principles). I guess this is a plea for The Philosophy of Marketing to be taught in our academies of learning and churning out marketing operatives. (Once they catch up to the needs of Granularists for training in direct and database and CRM issues.)

The choice of marketing as a profession is not the end of the game. You’ve got to choose your school of thought (or have it chosen for you by the job market). You also have to choose which ethical base you will build your career or company upon. (This involves the ‘dharma’ and the ‘karma’ of marketing – which I will have a go at in a future column.)

PS. I am a Granularist with Globalist sympathies, and I have a foot in the following camps: ‘better place’, ‘community builders’, and ‘shareholder value’.


*Australia, not Britain.
 
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