So Where Exactly Is Competitive Advantage?

Reading an article by Alexander Repiev struck a chord with me. Intringuingly titled The Augean Stables of Academic Marketing I had to confess I didn’t know what Augean meant. Googling to find a defnition I was shocked at the bluntness of its meaning.“extremely filthy from long neglect” said Princeton.

“Requiring heroic efforts of cleaning or correction” said the freedictionary.com

“resembling the Augean stables in filthiness or degradation.” said dictionary.com

Is this really state of marketing theory? The notion of Augean coming from the fifth labour of Hercules whose task was to clean up the stables of King Augeus who had been remiss in keeping on top of the job for years.

Alexander Repiev has choosen a powerful metaphor for his take on extant marketing knowledge and practice. I have a hunch he’s on to something. The marketing stable probably needs a spring clean.

No more so it seems than with the apparent uncritical reliance on classic marketing frameworks and tools. Do the analysis and out will pop the answer. Those “Quenchers of Creativity” as Alexander calls them. I agree. Yes they are helpful in mapping a version of reality, and as he goes on to say “At best those matrices, chains, “analyses,” etc., are reminders, visualizations, etc.”

They nevertheless pre-dispose the marketeer to sterile analysis. To grey descriptions of ‘facts’. They make someone highly proficient at flying a ‘desk’ and completely unskilled in the social skills of business. When has a PEST analysis inspired anyone? How can a SWOT analysis encourage the spotting of patterns that connect? (Bateson) when their purpose and method is splitting into parts. Where is the conversation about issues of categorisation, where is the talk of both/and instead of either/or? How many times do we have to hear the puzzled calls of ‘so which box does this fit in?’ or ‘this could fit in more than one box!’.

The skill of analytical thinking is celebrated in the stable of Marketing to the exclusion of everything else and large numbers of marketeers are wading around knee deep in the muck it generates. Ah I hear you say ‘where there’s muck there’s money’, so let me be clear, I’m not arguing for a cessation of analysis. I am arguing for a re-balancing, a re-thinking, a re-imagining of what matters in marketing practice. Its as if the ‘skill’ of marketing is only regarded as skilled use of analytical problems tools. Use the analytical frameworks ‘properly’ and you ‘know’ how to do marketing. Know of a range of analytical frameworks and use them ‘properly’ and your competitive advantage will spring off the page. The personal responsibility for making sense is abdicated to a matrix.

The challenge facing the Marketing stable is its stability. Its stability of subject matter (despite claims of new and different, just how ‘new’ is viral really?) Its stability of Positivistic ontological and epistemological assumptions.And lying deep within its underlying core are ideological principles of awareness and understanding of ‘other’, of sense-making (Weick) a concern with challenging paradigms a passion for innovation, skill in generative thinking, systemic thinking, leadership, entrepreneurship, social influence, and organisational learning. These notions however have all been hived off from the essence of marketing thought into separate subject specialisms all stepping out on their own Herculean labours in the search for competitive advantage. Subject Specialisms that would rather be anything than associated with an intellectually adolescent-subject like marketing that is seen to be trapped in the lower reaches of Blooms taxonomy.

It seems Competitive Advantage has left the marketing stable, and perhaps the horse that’s bolted needs to be caught and brought back. Once the stable has been cleaned of course!

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