Paul Harrigan outlines the findings of research comparing what is happening in marketing practice to what is being delivered in marketing higher education.
How can marketing academics best serve marketing practice through education? It is contended that, where technology is driving marketing in practice, it is afforded significantly less attention in both theory and education. Thus, the marketing graduates that are being produced from universities are often lacking in the skills that 21st century marketers require (The Development of Competent Marketing Professionals
, Journal of Marketing Education).
Certainly there seems to be a gap between marketing theory (i.e. academics) and marketing practice (i.e. marketers). But the impact of technology on marketing practice in the last 20 years also points to a new conceptual framework for marketing education.
The link between theory and practice in marketing has been questioned throughout its history, never more so than now. Basically, it is clear that marketing writing and research has made little impact on other disciplines and on marketing practice. Often this is blamed on the reward systems in academia, where rigorous methodology is often preferred over practical impact. The American Marketing Association
even referred to an "adversarial, sadomasochistic, and ultimately demoralising editorial review process." For one, the insistence on quantitative methods is stifling marketing thinking, when what we should be doing is undertaking more qualitative studies of what marketers in different contexts actually do. As it is, much research tends to be a ‘re-packaging’ of ideas. Another point is that the notion of journal rankings, forces academics to concentrate on a select group of publication media, rather than new and interesting journals covering niche areas of marketing.
No longer does the Journal of Marketing
appear to cater for seminal articles based on real-life experience. And as S W Brown aptly sums up: "experienced fishermen know as much, if not more, about piscine habits and behaviour than a shoal of academically inclined biologists".
To react to this sustained criticism of marketing academics, we’ve carried out some research as to what actually is happening in marketing practice and to compare to what is being delivered in marketing higher education. The problem is the notion that marketing education is not reflecting what is happening in marketing practice, and thus not delivering marketing graduates with the skills to actually work in marketing.
The following section presents selected interesting quotes from 70 interviews carried out with marketing managers and executives in the UK.
A large number of respondents provided insights into the role of marketing in organisations. As one senior marketing manager asserted, ‘marketing is about us telling the customer what we can do, but also the customer telling us what they want’. The following quotes also sum up the attitude towards marketing today:
- "For us, marketing begins during production. It’s not about ‘selling’ as such – it’s about involving the customer from the off."
- "I think technology has just given marketing the ability to do what it always sought to – understand customers and make business easier."
Regarding how marketing education is delivering for marketing practice, specifically through marketing graduates, respondents provided the following opinions:
- "We are a big fan of employing graduates but unfortunately we aren’t seeing the skills we need in marketing graduates – we’re employing a lot of stats and IT graduates to do our marketing roles."
- "Universities seem to provide students with a knowledge of why marketing is important, but fall short of explaining and teaching how to actually make it happen."
Based on an analysis of the data, a number of distinct yet inter-linked areas of marketing have been derived. These are delineated in the following sub-sections and supported with relevant data.
Findings show that marketing tends to be led by the customer. One senior marketing executive stated that ‘marketing is about building customer insight’. In further depth, respondents asserted the importance of gathering information and data on customers, specifically customer insight, as the following quotes exemplify:
- "Customers are our most valuable asset. It’s only natural that building an insight on them is one our most important activities."
- "We track everything a customer does. Yes, that’s do make sure they have a good experience with us, but it’s also to make sure we know everything we can about them to make and save us money in the future!"
The notion of managing the experience that the customer has with the organisation is also reported to be prominent. In this regard, a marketing manager stated that "the internet has opened up the whole area of managing the customer experience across channels, and it isn’t easy."
Value-driven strategic marketing
The second component of marketing that was deemed significant from the data was the notion of organisations selling value propositions, not just products, to customers. According to a senior marketing executive, "our core product a key selling point yes, but there is much more that helps us compete." This approach to marketing seems to be strategic, as the following quotes illustrate;
- "We let customers pick and choose what they want for their money, even within one product – we have to or we’d be left behind."
- "The best way to compete and to make the most money is to build a mutually-beneficial relationship with customers over the long-term. That way you can react to what they want quicker."
Other points that were raised in this domain related to the value of customers over the longer term (i.e. customer lifetime value) and the need to maintain relationships with customers, as these quotes illustrate;
- "Part of our marketing strategy is to work out the value of our different customers and market to them accordingly."
- "Of course building a brand is important, but we like to try to do that at the individual customer level – just by providing a good service."
Channels to market was inferred from the data as another important and distinct domain of marketing. For example, a senior marketing manager stated that ‘there are so many ways for customers to get our product now, we don’t know whether we’re coming or going!’ The differences in managing different channels was also underlined, as this quote proposes: "Online is one channel and requires certain skills to manage, face-to-face is another that requires different skills, yet we have to present a united front across both."
This domain of marketing came through strongly in the data, and covers areas such as CRM, CEM, data mining and analytics. As one executive asserted, "our marketing is built solely on data we have on the market and on customers." Building on this notion, organisations seem to be using CRM and CEM to gather, manage and analyse data on customers. The following quotes underline the important, yet varied, roles of CRM and CEM;
- "Yeah, CRM is important for spotting trends in customers’ behaviour. It’s just another tool in building up a database of customer data."
- "In our business it’s all about the long-term. We just have to track every contact a customer has with us. Technology has helped us to do that and bring it all together. Of course, it’s not perfect, but we know that any slip ups and the customer will feel let down."
Another relatively recent development in marketing is the increase in use of ‘dashboards’, which present data to marketing managers in a coherent, actionable manner. As one manager states, "there is just so much data, we had to go down the route of paying for some software to make sense of it and make it real for us." It appears that the invaluable nature of data combined with the amount of data available has created this phenomenon. "Just knowing what customers are doing isn’t enough any more – you need to be able to predict what they’re going to do and we need data mining software skills to do that," according to a senior marketing manager.
Online and offline integrated marketing communications
The final area of marketing that has been derived from the data corresponds to the nature of marketing as the function at the interface between organisation and customer. For example, "the whole point of us gathering and analysing data on customers is so that we can communicate more effectively and efficiently with them." More than this it infers that communication with customers is very much multi-channel. The following quotes serve to illustrate the importance of digital channels of marketing communication:
- "We communicate in so many different ways with customers, usually it depends on what the issue is – complicated issues are face-to-face or phone, simpler ones are the internet or email."
- "More and more, we’re finding that it’s taking more effort to manage our online presence. We got some advice on how to make it more ‘social’ and how important that is, and we’re currently thinking about where to go on that."
It is also emphasised that integrating online and offline communication channels is vital as part of strategic marketing. For example, ‘online affects offline and offline affects online – we’ve tried hard to makes these different departments in our business talk to each other so that there is a chance for it to feel that way for the customer’.
The findings derived from this study have presented a general overview of how marketing is actually being carried out in businesses day-by-day. To try to reflect this, we have developed the ‘new Marketing DNA’. The ‘DNA’ metaphor was chosen due its applicability to marketing, where marketing is different in each and ever organisation, yet the constituent strands and or components may be similar and mutually dependent.
The ‘new Marketing DNA’ is presented and proposed as a new model of marketing education. It is contended that it better represents and caters for the disruptive and pervasive nature of technology in marketing. Thus, rather than e-marketing being a mere context of marketing in marketing education, technology is infused throughout the marketing curriculum. In summary, the ‘new Marketing DNA’ attempts to bring coherence to understanding the disparate knowledge and skills required in 21st century marketing. It is possible to conclude that there may be four major aspects of marketing management in the early 21st century: customers at the heart of strategy, the delivery of value, accountability for marketing spend and the pervasive use of digital technology.
Paul Harrigan is a lecturer in marketing in the School of Management at the University of Southampton.
The author would like to acknowledge the Academy of Marketing in the UK, and the Higher Education Academy’s Business Management, Accountancy and Finance Teaching, Research and Development group for their support in the research underpinning the ‘new Marketing DNA’.