In a recent article you read the assertion that “deception is essential to modern marketing” and that marketing is to blame for society’s overconsumption and diseases of affluence (moral weakness, depression, obesity). Of course, blame rarely rests with one party. For a different view as to what marketing is and where else to point the finger, read on.
Many people think of marketing as only selling and advertising, because these are the most visible and noisy aspects of marketing. However selling and advertising is only the tip of the iceberg and no more important than other elements in the marketing ‘mix’. Conventional marketing is about delivering ongoing customer satisfaction at a profit. The process for achieving these dual goals is a complex set of strategies covering identification of the target market (the group of consumers whose needs are to be satisfied) and the ‘4Ps’ – Product (or service) development and its packaging, Placement (or distribution), Pricing and, of course, Promotions (or marketing communications).
Product development often goes unnoticed by consumers as it happens behind the scenes. New product concepts and improvements are driven by market research into consumers’ expressed and latent needs. Products are designed to offer solutions to consumer ‘problems’. Given their overriding profit and customer satisfaction motives, marketers focus on commercialisable products (innovations), not product ideas (inventions). They do not create products for needs which don’t exist, as this would not be commercially viable. This is why marketers have been relatively slow to move on the ‘sustainable’ product front.
Getting the product for the right customer to the right place at the right time is the credo of the placement function of marketing. The aim here is to make it as convenient as possible for consumers. Hence the growth of shopping malls, e-tailing and fast food.
As the only revenue-generating ‘P’ in the mix, marketers also work hard to get the pricing right. Research into understanding the value which target consumers attach to the product is required, so that prices are set at a level which encourages purchase (preferably repeat) and delivers a profit to the business.
The truth about promotion or communicating the value-proposition to a target market is that it has become more challenging than ever for marketers. Light-speed technologies, global competition and more demanding consumers are forcing marketers to work harder for their messages to be noticed (eg through far-fetched associations). Even if well-executed, the marketing communication will have some impact on some viewers for only a short amount of time at best. Any marketer using deceptive communication techniques is shooting themself in the foot. It is unethical (see Australian Marketing Institute Code of Professional Conduct), illegal (see Trade Practices Act 1974) and thwarts repeat sales efforts.
At the core of marketing is consumer focus – a genuine understanding of consumer needs and how they might be profitably fulfilled. Deception is detrimental to and inconsistent with successful marketing. Organisations practice ethical marketing because it makes good business sense.
So, who is to blame for consumer addictions? Marketing is just one in a host of factors in consumer decision making. Other factors identified by consumer behaviour researchers as being more influential than marketing are individual psychological (eg personality, motivation, learning), social, cultural and group (eg family) and general environmental (eg political, economic, technological). This suggests that we need to examine our own behaviour and lifestyles as well as our unquestioning acceptance of entrenched economic and political structures of capitalism and modernism. Meanwhile, the real challenge for marketers is how to offer meaningful solutions to consumer ‘problems’ in the future by incorporating sustainability into their practice. We’ll look at ways this can be done next time.
Tania is a lecturer in marketing at Southern Cross University.