Progress in Marketing?
Most disciplines like to talk about the progress that their discourse has taken over a long period of time, from biology to politics to education. Most disciplines that move between academics and commercial application are very focused on progressing its insights, theories, and applications.
The discipline marketing seems to be a very different animal, not too many marketers talk about progress.It might be helpful to separate three different forms within the marketing discipline:
- The academic world of marketing
- The commercial word of marketing
- The output of marketing
First, marketing academics would claim that its discipline made significant advancements over the last decades. Probably rightful so, we have seen emerging the theory of brands, the deeper understanding of consumers, the theory and practice of pricing, the more insightful analysis of the retail space, etc. Academics continue to make the marketing discipline more rigorous, more insightful and more empirically based.
Second, it’s much more difficult to assess any progress in the commercial world of marketing. The industry itself has grown substantially over the last decades and with this financial growth its sophistication, too. But it would be far fetched to identify any substantial progress beyond strong diversification and expansion. The emergence of more and more channels and targeted marketing programs are less about progress, and more about maximizing profits in a capitalist society.
Third, the output of marketing: From creative to pricing to new products. I would argue that it is inappropriate to talk about progress. The consumer facing output of marketing is closer linked to art objects, though with commercial intent. No one would talk about progress in art over the last decades or centuries. Modern art objects have incorporated older art objects but there has not been a objective degree of progress. It’s not about progress towards any particular point but understanding, learning, “borrowing”, and reassembling of previous art forms and expressions into something new and unique. Or sometimes it is about rejecting the past and its norms but always with full understanding of the past.
Unfortunately I have too often observed that there is ignorance within the marketing community towards previous marketing expressions and work. A lot of marketers are less educated and not alt all interested in understanding the previous generation of marketing work. While new marketing ideas should be grounded in the work of previous marketers, they mostly celebrate its historical ignorance. It’s not about a plea for progress in marketing but an urge to be smart and historically grounded in our marketing discipline.