Emerging after recent months of recent blogging hibernation I’ve started re-pondering ‘my research question’. I know that, all sounds very academic and a seemingly very obvious thing that someone doing some university research should easily get a grip of. It isn’t. Surely I hear you think, if you want to find something out, it’s because you have an unanswered question and there must loads of those! For me though, 2010 was the year of the ‘unidentified research question’. I need to crack on.
In order to break the log jam (hibernating beaver metaphor alert!) I’ve been reading a variety of articles about current issues in marketing thinking and management. One stood out. “Are We Nearly There Yet? On The Retro Dominant Logic Of Marketing.“ Written in 2007 by Stephen Brown of the University of Ulster, this is a great example of his insightful, bitingly humourous, and thought provoking style. In this article he uses the metaphors of cars and journeys to talk about the state of contemporary thinking and practice in Marketing. Here’s a flavour:
“Once or twice per decade, a radically new concept car makes an unheralded appearance. Souped -up, fully loaded and kitted out, inevitably, with a paradigm shift as standard, this go faster model is universally lauded as the next big scholarly thing, and, for a short time at least, become marketing’s conceptual vehicle of choice, the car that that’ll carry our discipline to its final destination, the fabled city of Scienceoplis.”
To mash up the metaphors. In a nutshell Marketing is a fad rich environment which is strewn with empty new bottles that had old wine in them. A world where practitioners regularly wake up with a splitting headache after over indulging in marketing nouveau and mutter…never again.
Stephen Brown writes from a Critical Marketing perspective which seeks to bring to our attention the problems created by the all pervading dominance of the Postivistic tone and aspirations in marketing management thinking, writing and practice. The unswerving aspiration, in some quarters of marketing, to become a natural science, to become the fig leaf that covers up any academic embarassment and provide the unequivocal facts and direct causes and effects that managers crave. This is not merely an academic reverie. He does point to a serious issue for marketing. He urges caution towards management notions such as the ‘hot new’ Service Dominant Logic concept (the prime target of his article). He cautions us that such ideas merely serve as what he describes as a “conceptual comfort blanket, something that helps marketers face the reality of mounting marginalization and ever increasing irrelevance”
Now we start to get close to some questions. What is marketing capability? Where is it kept? Why would anyone want it? How critically aware are marketing practitioners? How do practitioners judge the value of new marketing concepts? What are the mechanisms that generate the tendencies towards the various forms of marketing deployment? Why does post modern marketing scare me? What is marketing realism?
Marketing has now gone Service Dominant, or has it? I don’t believe you can change reality by just changing how you talk about it (see Critical Realism and Bhaskar, Collier et al) Maybe that’s why marketing is marginalised by many because ‘marketing mystics and gurus’ believe you can and that doesn’t wash with everyday people like you and me because it isn’t ‘real’! Skunks aren’t pungently challenged…they stink!
Because it seems so many senior executives agree with Matthew Parris (writing in the Times on the 25th Novemeber 2010) that marketing is just communications, PR and word games. An after dinner game to played with nuances and innuendos, a bit of in the dark fumbling (Ambler) it is trivialised as a business ‘entertainment’ exercise. The marketing job can be dropped when times are tough because we know its all just flannel really.
Is it any wonder marketing is burdening under ‘ever increasing irrelevance’ (Brown ibid ). Parris wrote, “when hired to advise on improving the ‘brand’ of an organisation marketing professionals will usually find that clients already know and promote their strengths but shrink from confronting their weaknesses. Therefore the client will be professionally advised to identify and remedy brand weaknesses…the corporate image consultant is not hired to rethink the product itself.”