Is marketing simply teaching new dogs old tricks?

Can anyone tell me if they’ve come across any new earth-shattering insight about marketing that hasn’t been discovered already?

Marketing is all about new ideas

The impression of marketing given in social media is that it is a profession that is forever in a state of flux and that if you don’t keep up with change you are doomed to failure.Well there’s an old trick for a start! Fear sells – terrify your prospect that their future career or business is in jeopardy if they don’t take on your ideas.The principles of marketing are enduring and are unlikely to change. This is because they combine into a particular managerial world view. What Thomas Kuhn called a Paradigm.

Marketing is all about old ideas

Now the thing about paradigms is they create acolytes. Acolytes are people who are introduced to the mantras and creed of a world view and fall in love with the paradigm because it makes sense of the world in a way that was hidden to them before. The paradigm is so helpful that the acolytes then evangelise about it (tell every and anybody that it is ‘the way’ and the only way and all other ways are wrong.

People new to marketing are initiated into the rites of the marketing profession, its principles methods and language. Many of these people are at the early stage of their commercial career others may come to marketing mid-career whilst studying an MBA or similar.

Seasoned business professionals are rarely taught anything fundamentally new about marketing – they actually know it all and practice it’s principles instinctively.

Of course other paradigms come along to replace prevailing ones but only when a completely new way of seeing things is put forward. Views such as Service Dominant Logic might be classed as one and the ideas published in the area of Critical Marketing. Everything else I read about concerning everyday marketing management and problem solving sits within the conventional marketing paradigm.

So whilst I read a lot about new techniques such as the application of social media in marketing activities, and trends such as the importance of story telling for brands,  because I’ve been around a while I don’t actually see anything truly new in terms of everyday marketing management thinking. Let’s check a few of the marketing stalwarts out.

Marketing’s old ideas

  • Customers buy benefits not features
  • There is a difference between need and want
  • Brands are a promise of value
  • Customer segmentation and targeting is an effective use of scarce resources
  • Make the marketing mix relevant to the target customer
  • Firms need meaningful differentiation to compete
  • Customer centricity should be your focus
  • Keep an eye on your competitors
  • Plan what you by following the structure; where are we? where do we want to be? set out how to get there, and measure your effectiveness
  • Don’t give profit away
  • Have a dialogue with your customers
  • Changing the logo is not changing the brand
  • Some customer aren’t worth doing business with

Have I got this wrong? Are there any new principles you would teach new dogs?

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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