Does Business School Thinking Affect Marketing Action?

service dominant logic-service theory-marketing theoryDoes business school thinking change the way that marketing executives do their job? Or do business schools simply look at how marketing done in the ‘real world’ and school business students in what already takes place?

I’m pretty sure that most marketing executives are unaware (and probably disinterested) in alot of the very specific and arcane thinking and research work of the majority of marketing academics. This is a fact that worries some academics as they perceive an increasing gap developing between what academics find ‘interesting’ and what marketing practioners would like to know in order to be better at what they do. There are many journal articles on this theme such as:

Musings on Relevance and Rigor of Scholarly Research in Marketing. Varadarajan, P. Rajan. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, Fall2003, Vol. 31 Issue 4, p368-376

Beyond the one-dimensional marketing manager: The discourse of theory, practice and relevance. Brownlie, Douglas; Saren, Michael. International Journal of Research in Marketing, May97


The Academy and The Practice: In Principle, Theory and Practice Are Different. But, in Practice, They Never Are.
Pringle, Lewis C.. Marketing Science, Fall2001, Vol. 20 Issue 4

The concern in Business Schools is growing so much that the July 2009 edition of The Journal of Marketing leads with a guest editorial by David Reibstein, George Day and Jerry Wind called Is Marketing Academia Losing Its Way?

I’m not sure this is actually the case. At the moment there are two key interelated conversations taking place. One in Academic circles and the other in the digital Social Media space.

The mantra of the Social Media is all about connecting, collaboration, networks, open source, and influence. (At the extremes of course its about SEO or internet selling but the dominant theme is about the social dimension and serving your customers well.)

The hot topic in Business School marketing is Service Dominant Logic This is an idea put forward by Stephen Vargo and Robert Lusch in a 2004 Journal of Marketing article called Evolving to a New Dominant Logic for Marketing. In a nutshell it claims that a new ‘theory’ of marketing is necessary to explain how marketing is done in the 21st century. The authors emphasise its not simply making a case for the value of Service Marketing versus Goods Marketing its actually concerns a profound mind-set change that embraces, co-creation, collaboration, and networks.

So how much of what we read on blogs, airport lounge management books, marketing magazine articles and so on really comes from this original source? and how much is the work of Vargo and Lusch simply a reflection of what is happening ‘out there’ in the real world? Perhaps it becomes self referencing. Marketers seeking out ‘academic’ verification and a pat on the back for things they are up to. A sort of co-creation is good because Pine, Gilmour, Vargo and Lusch say it is and overlooking the possibility that these writers might be simply making sense of what they see not actually prescribing something marketers should do!

As for Academia the Vargo and Lusch article has ruffled feathers. Not everyone has bought into the appeal of a new marketing logic that replaces the old ‘wonky’ one of Levitt and Kotler. In particular John and Nicholas O’Shaughnessy have claimed in their January 2009 Vol 43 no.5/6 European Journal of Marketing article The Service Dominant Perspective:a backward step that the Vargo and Lusch approach is a crude attempt to provide the impossible. They imply that seeking on absolute theory of marketing is based on a ill-founded positivistic assumptions. The idea that ‘out there’ there is an ideal form of Marketing just waiting to be discovered. They favour a multi-perspective approach. There are many ways to explain marketing.

Now how relevent this debate is for every day marketing is a moot point. It seems on the one hand we have a desire to improve the decision making and problem solving capability of everyday marketers and the other we have curiosity in marketing as a social phenomenon.

Maybe just maybe the muti-persepective approach is what Marketing really needs because versatility of perspective encourges innovative thinking. So think again when you read blogs and tweets about the service dominant imperative. Are you un-thinkingly being forced done one channel of thought. Are you sure you really know which marketing school is influencing what you do!

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6 Responses to “Does Business School Thinking Affect Marketing Action?”

  1. Pram Says:

    You make three errors in the reference of the citation of :
    «John and Nicholas O’Shaugnessy have claimed in their January 2008 Vol 48 no.5/6 European Journal of Marketing article The Service Dominant Perspective:a backward step.»

    In fact the authors name must be spell O’Shaughnessy (those Gaelic names…) The vol. is 43 instead of 48, and the year is 2009…

    But this article and yours are very good.

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    • Paul Johnston Says:

      Thanks Pram, very much appreciated! I’d like to claim they were deliberate oversights to find out if anyone was reading my posts. Sadly not! Simply poor attention to detail on my part and a pretty poor example to students too! Anyhow errors have been corrected and post re-submitted 🙂

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  2. Alexander Says:

    I’ve written a paper “Kotler and kotleroids.”
    http://www.repiev.ru/articles/Kotleroids-Eng.htm
    I dare to believe that it might be of some interest to you.
    Any comments of yours would be appreciated.
    Alexander Repiev
    Moscow, Russia
    Author of “Marketing Thinking, or Clientomania” (available on Amazon.com)

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    • Paul Johnston Says:

      This is great Alexander! Thanks for making me aware of your work. Judging by the titles these are just the sorts of issues that are conveniently swept under the carpet in many business school offerings. Your term Kotleroids made me laugh (which is often a sign that something profound is being alluded to!). I dismay sometimes at subject ‘acolytes’ of every persuasion who seem utterly convinced of the certainty of the knowledge they have accrued even at Masters level. Love the Drucker quote that heads your paper too!

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    • Andrew Moore Says:

      I was struck by Claude Hopkins’ damning indictment of University Business Schools quoted in Alexander’s paper:

      “The university system is a self-sustaining political monster that has a limited interest in re-ally preparing the students for the reality of the business world. So I am a frustrated business person inside an academic system that has little regard for practicalities and operational efficiency. Form is more important than substance and the system protects the mediocre while failing to reward initiative. As you can see, I have little respect for what man has done to the institution of higher learning called a university! I sometimes wish I could go back to the world of business, but since I got my PhD they think I am an academic and irrelevant – I guess you can‟t win!”

      Pretty scathing stuff!

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      • Paul Johnston Says:

        As usual it will depend on the institution Andy. I think a good first step is seeing if a critical management and critical marketing debate is taking place in the institution. Additionally a university is a space that will foreground thinking compared to practice, although a combination is good. The criticism is valid for those educators that merely regurgitate conventional wisdoms. If business schools are to add value in the future it is my firm belief that they should be encouraging critical reflexivity and dynamic capability not mere technical and analytical skill.

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