The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at www.emeraldinsight.com/0263-4503.htm VIEWPOINT Marketing is everythingMarketing is everything: the view from the street 11 Michael Saren University of Leicester, Leicester, UK Received October 2006 Accepted October 2006AbstractPurpose – To show how the conceptual framework of the marketing discipline can be radicallyrevised and rethought, to be better in tune with the realities of the producer-consumer relationship inadvanced societies in the twenty-ﬁrst century.Design/methodology/approach – Commissioned as a viewpoint, with permission to “think aloud”.Findings – Marketing thinkers need to broaden their horizons, look at the marketing phenomenon asconsumers experience it, and be prepared to learn from research conducted far beyond the conﬁnes ofconventional marketing theory. Speciﬁcally, the present-day context of marketing demands increasedattention to the relatively familiar concept of relationship marketing and the so far relatively unknownperspective called “critical marketing”.Research limitations/implications – There is much integrative work to be done in effectivelyintegrating the wide range of theoretical inputs required to explain what “marketing” means today.Practical implications – Though the rethinking advocated may be challenging for marketingpractitioners, the readings cited provide means for marketing educators to build the conceptualframeworks into applicable research and useful learning.Originality/value – A glimpse of the future.Keywords Marketing, Relationship marketing, Critical marketingPaper type ViewpointWhere’s the horizon?Most academic authors discuss marketing as a business discipline, from a managerialpoint of view: how to “do” marketing in companies and other organizations. But marketingas a subject is not just about being a marketing manager. On the contrary, the discipline isnowadays all-encompassing. Everything and anything is marketed – religion, politics,science, history; celebrities, careers, sport, art, ﬁction, fact. Marketing affects everybodybecause, as consumers, we cannot escape the market, even those of us who try to live thesimple life (Hill, 2002; Holt, 1998). Marketing is not just an economic activity. It drives the consumer society, a cultureof consumption. Many contemporary commentators have pointed to marketing as oneof the key cultural architects of our time. They suggest that, since the 1950s, it hascome to play a signiﬁcant role in the creation, maintenance and reproduction of tastes,dreams, aspirations, needs, identities, desires, morality and hedonism. The abundanceof marketing messages and signs for which the so-called “culture industries” are Marketing Intelligence & Planning Vol. 25 No. 1, 2007responsible in everyday life may even qualify marketing professionals to carry the label pp. 11-16“ministers of propaganda of the consumer culture” (Hirschman and Holbrook, 1982; q Emerald Group Publishing Limited 0263-4503Hirschmann, 2000). DOI 10.1108/02634500710722362
MIP Marketing may appear to affect more and more of the world nowadays, but its25,1 powerful effects are not new. Over the centuries, trade, exchange – what we now call marketing – inﬂuenced how and why empires were built, technologies were applied, property law was developed, transport routes were constructed, languages developed and spread and the architecture of cities coped with shopping.12 Friend of foe? Research by authors such as Elliott and Wattanasuwan (1998) shows that consumers are not passive recipients of what marketers do. They re-interpret marketing messages; display maker’s logos on products consumed; “present” themselves though what they consume; make choices; complain; window-shop; view celebrities as brands; compete with other consumers. Marketing needs to be studied and explained as consumers experience it, as active participants in it. This requires a clear perspective on marketing as a social and cultural phenomenon, not just as a business function. We academics also need to understand how consumers, organizations and society can and do use marketing – for example, in areas of social marketing and the construction of consumer “identity”. The study and teaching of marketing has to move beyond the structure that has traditionally been imposed on it, reﬂecting the so-called core marketing functions: advertising, distribution, strategy, sales, product development, and so on. Even if we were to remain primarily concerned with the managerial aspects of the subject, we should at least move beyond these “old” functional categories and start to view afresh how companies and managers think about and set about marketing in the real world of marketing practice. In any case, the old marketing concepts are highly gendered. They adopt – for reasons I could never understand – the militarized language of strategy and tactics, campaigns and offensives, intelligence and planning, control and implementation, targeting, market penetration, winning customers, beating competitors. The question is how can we rethink these notions and achieve a broader perspective on marketing? The are a couple of possibilities. The rise and rise of relationship marketing One way of achieving a different perspective on the subject is to study marketing from a relational perspective. This entails looking at how actors and organisations relate to each other in and through marketing. The rationale for what is nowadays called “relationship marketing” is that few businesses, or people, can do everything by themselves, so the building of relationships is a key element in marketing, indeed the key element. Increasingly, companies realise that customers are their most important asset, and view customer relationships as opportunities that need to be managed. The essential aim of relationship marketing strategies is of course value creation for both parties through relationships and even partnerships in the marketplace. The most important of these is usually with customers, but no-one should neglect other stakeholders and partners who can inﬂuence and support companies’ marketing operations. Webster (1992) has much that is wise to say on this subject: There has been a shift from a transactions to a relationship focus . . . From an academic or theoretical perspective, the relatively narrow conceptualisation of marketing as a
proﬁt-maximisation problem, focused on market transactions, seems increasingly out of Marketing is touch with an emphasis on long term customer relationships and the formation and management of strategic alliances . . . The focus shifts from products and ﬁrms as units of everything analysis to people, organisations, and the social processes that bind actors together in ongoing relationships.The relationship marketing concept has attracted attention and grown in popularitysigniﬁcantly over the last decade or so, particularly since the seminal articles in USA 13by Webster, as just cited, and Morgan and Hunt (1994). Its roots reach back, however,to academic studies of the conditions and behaviour in industrial and servicesmarketing in Europe in the 1970s, notably in Sweden and Finland. The key ﬁnding wasthat long-term relationships between buyers and seller were particularly important toeach party, and the conclusion that they were also critical in explaining marketingbehaviour and the development of markets. This was labelled the interaction approachby the inﬂuential Industrial Marketing and Purchasing (IMP) group. In the UK, Ford (2004) has interpreted it this way: The interaction approach is based on the idea that business markets aren’t made up of a large number of individually insigniﬁcant customers. Nor do they consist simply of action by suppliers – who assemble a Marketing mix and launch it towards a group of passive buyers, whose only reaction is to chose whether or not to buy. Instead the process is one of interaction between active buyers and sellers that are individually signiﬁcant to each other.Considering that interaction between parties is one of the most important drivers ofrelationships, it seems astonishing that 30 years of evolution have resulted in littlemore than references to the “Nordic School” and the concept of interaction in thebusiness-to-business literature. The protagonists themselves now recognize the needfor further development of the construct and its theoretical underpinnings (Ford and ˚Hakansson, 2006). Nevertheless, a strength of the construct as it stands is thatresearchers’ and managers’ attention is focused on the relationships withoutnecessarily privileging the ﬁrm above the so-called “sovereign” customers. Indeed,the original ethos was precisely that of a “win-win” outcome for both parties tothe transaction (Moller and Halinen, 2000).“Critical” marketingWhat I have called “critical marketing” extends its domain beyond the traditionalmanagerial and business conﬁnes, and beyond the familiar critique of unethicalmarketing practices, to analytical questioning of established, traditional marketingtheories and the assumptions behind them. In the broader ﬁeld of management ingeneral, theorists have gathered together since 1999 in an international conferenceseries in Critical Management Studies, held bi-annually in the UK. As the convenor ofthe marketing stream convenor at all ﬁve conferences to date, I feel qualiﬁed to observethat marketing has lagged some way behind other academic management disciplinesin this arena, both in volume and visibility. Some ground has been made up recently, ina series of seminars in the UK between late 2004 and 2006, for which a “Group of Six”British marketing academics received funding from the Economic and Social ResearchCouncil. The seminars were conceived as a means of bringing together scholars from avariety of disciplinary backgrounds and a number of countries, to foster a stronger
MIP critical forum within the academic marketing community. The proceedings25,1 demonstrate the debate and controversy surrounding the meaning and use of the term “critical” and consequently around “critical marketing”. The organisers did not intend to be prescriptive, or to deﬁne our understanding of such terms too precisely in advance. Instead, we wanted the seminars to open up a space where scholars and marketing practitioners could discuss, argue and negotiate. The preﬁx “critical” is used14 to signal that authors who take this standpoint subscribe to one of a number of radical philosophies and theories, which seek to make explicit certain ideologies and assumptions underlying the production of knowledge, the marketing and management processes, and the wider context of socio-economic relations within which those activities labelled as “marketing” occur. One illustration of how a consumer-centred, critical view of what constitutes a marketing phenomenon can provide new insights into customer behaviour is provided by the recent stream of research asserting that the human body itself is the site of all consumption. The act of consumption is “embodied” taking place in and through the body. Sensory organ must “ingest” signs, symbols, messages and things, taking them into the body, which is thus “contaminated” by the object of consumption. This conceptual framework has yet to gain wide currency in marketing. Lest it sounds a little too postmodern, consider how much consumer and marketing activity is centred on the body and consumers’ view of their own bodies – adornment, clothing, perfumery, cosmetics, tattoos, piercing, surgical and dental “enhancement” and so on. The use of products and services to “improve” one’s “body image” is a means of identity construction using the body as a site of consumption. Identity is often related nowadays to the consumption of particular beauty, health-care and cosmetic products. People’s identities and self-esteem are so closely associated with their bodies that they can strongly motivate the choice of foods, diet, sports, ﬁtness, and medical and surgical products aimed at affecting or changing body-image. Some consumer behaviour researchers have recently taken interest this aspect of symbolic consumption – for instance, Thompson and Hirschman (1995). A particular focus has been the role of the “embodied self” (Mauss, 1979), including studies of cosmetic surgery and body art (Velliquette and Bamossy, 2001). The ﬁeld of body modiﬁcation provides a wealth of possible case studies for understanding the degree of consumer involvement both in the production, creation and consumption of a new highly visible “identity”. This single, very speciﬁc example of a framework for analysis of consumption behaviour demonstrates how any attempt to provide a comprehensive treatment of marketing as an academic discipline must encompass the wide range of activities and effects that it manifests in practice today. It is not possible to make all the traditional marketing theories and concepts ﬁt this broad agenda. That requires an alternative approach, which sets the subject in its wider contexts and draws on relevant ideas from associated literature beyond conventional marketing. It also calls into question the conventional view of “relevance” in marketing, reaching beyond managers’ and ﬁrms’ direct interests to encompass consumer, social and public policy implications. As Wensley (2007) will point out, this questioning should take place in the context of critical marketing itself: Within the critical approach, the issue of relevance and impact is frequently seen as problematic. This is particularly true of ﬁelds such as management and marketing, where
relevance itself has often been deﬁned in a restricted manner to imply usefulness as measured Marketing is by a sub-group of either practitioners or self-selected intermediaries . . . We can recognise there are also questions to be asked about the basis and purpose of critical approaches in everything marketing.So what now? 15Some of you may well be wondering exactly how the relational and (particularly)critical approaches to the subject can be adopted in mainstream marketing practice.That requires a fundamental reappraisal of what constitutes marketing activity bystrategists and planners. We are past the point of believing that it can be reduced andsimpliﬁed into a set of point-by-point managerial prescriptions. For those of you whothink it might be intriguing or even useful to take all this further, the readings in thereferences will provide stimulating tasters of the rethinking required.ReferencesElliott, R. and Wattanasuwan, K. (1998), “Brands as resources for the symbolic construction of identity”, International Journal of Advertising, Vol. 17 No. 2.Ford, D. (2004), “The IMP group and international marketing”, International Marketing Review, Vol. 21 No. 2, pp. 139-41. ˚Ford, D. and Hakansson, H. (2006), “The idea of business interaction”, The IMP Journal, Vol. 1 No. 1, pp. 4-27.Hill, R.P. (2002), “Consumer culture and the culture of poverty: implications for marketing theory and practice”, Marketing Theory, Vol. 2 No. 3, pp. 273-93.Hirschmann, E.C. (2000), Heroes, Monsters and Messiahs: Movies and Television Shows as the Mythology of American Culture, Andrew McMeel, Kansas City, MO.Hirschman, E.C. and Holbrook, M.B. (1982), “The experiential aspects of consumption: consumer fantasies, feelings and fun”, Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 9 No. 2, pp. 132-40.Holt, D.B. (1998), “Does cultural capital structure American consumption?”, Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 25 No. 1.Mauss, M. (1979), Body Techniques in Sociology and Psychology, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, (Trans. B. Brewster).Moller, K. and Halinen, A. (2000), “Relationship marketing theory: its roots and direction”, Journal of Marketing Management, Vol. 16 Nos 1/3, pp. 29-54.Morgan, R.M. and Hunt, S.D. (1994), “The commitment-trust theory of relationship marketing”, Journal of Marketing, Vol. 58 No. 3, pp. 20-38.Thompson, C. and Hirschman, E.C. (1995), “‘Understanding the socialized body: a poststructuralist analysis of consumers’ self conceptions, body images and self-care practices”, Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 32 No. 2, pp. 139-53.Velliquette, A. and Bamossy, G. (2001), “The role of body adornment and the self-reﬂexive body in life-style cultures and identity”, European Advances in Consumer Research, Vol. 5, p. 21.Webster, F.E. (1992), “The changing role of marketing in the corporation”, Journal of Marketing, Vol. 56 No. 4, pp. 1-17.The Gang of Six Wensley, R. (2007), “Relevance of critique: can and should critical marketing inﬂuence practice and policy?”, Critical Marketing: Deﬁning the Field, Elsevier, Oxford (in press).
MIP Further reading25,1 Saren, M. (2006), Marketing Grafﬁti, Butterworth Heinemann, Oxford. Vargo, S.L. and Lusch, R.F. (2004), “Evolving to a new dominant logic for marketing”, Journal of Marketing, Vol. 68 No. 1, pp. 1-17. Corresponding author16 Michael Saren can be contacted at: email@example.com To purchase reprints of this article please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Or visit our web site for further details: www.emeraldinsight.com/reprints