Paper in Word format (4 pp.)
scholasticism & bureaucracy
Alexander Repiev, Moscow, Russia
There are now two types of
those with a marketing department and
those with a marketing soul… the latter are
the top performing companies, while the former,
steeped in the business
traditions of the past,
are fast disappearing.
– Antony Brown (IBM, 1995)
Since the early 1980s, the literature has been
brimming with sighs, moans and lamentations about a crisis, end, or collapse of
marketing, and with suggestions that marketing needs badly a renaissance,
rebirth, revival, or rejuvenation. Well, but... WHAT marketing? Real marketing (the creative process of meeting
the Client's needs) is not to blame; the culprit is its ugly dark
shadow – rampant pseudomarketing. Its financial, imagerial and other harm is
hard to overestimate. Shall we face the music or play the ostrich game,
MANY BUSINESSES have largely exhausted their capabilities of improving their production, logistics, finances
and other operations, so that it is getting ever harder and harder for them to
ratchet a purely operational notch or two against competition. Moreover, this
all would be
of no use if your Clients would not buy your products. Competition has
thus largely moved to meeting your Client's needs, to persuading your
Client to buy. That is, it moved to marketing.
And here we bump into an amazing paradox:
Marketing grows in importance, but...
its practical yield and prestige are
Why? Because real marketing is being actively ousted by its ugly cousin
pseudomarketing, a stillborn child of the scholasticism of formal marketing
education at universities and business schools and the bureaucratization of
corporate marketing departments. Talks about a crisis in marketing are going on
since the 1980s, and their tenor has not changed.
No wonder that according to Chicago's Spencer Stuart, "the
average tenure for chief marketing officers at the top 100 branded companies is
just 23 months." In apparel, it is only 10 months. Even in Russia I know
of such examples.
Science, art, or craft?
This question seems to be of absolutely no interest to members of hundreds
of respectable practical professions – to engineers,
teachers, farmers, doctors, soldiers, piano tuners... But it is an
obsession with some marketing scholars. They go overboard pretending to be
Let's take a closer look at their claims. It is believed that for a field to be a science it must include some universal principles that would
some predictions to be made. In marketing we have nothing of the sort.
But WHAT do we
have? A sea of nebulous definitions: marketing itself boasts upwards of 2,000
definitions; there are many definitions of "brand", etc., etc. The acme of
marketing "science" is the gorgeous 4P! – some pundits would juggle with words
like children to get precisely four P letters – product,
place (?!), promotion. "Learned" marketers are said to keep coming up with further
additions to the P-zoo: probing, packaging, public relations, people,
processes, power, partition, prioritize, position, performance, penalty,
perception, preservation, and so on and so forth. And each "pee-pee" addition
must be a PhD-able affair!
The content of marketing books is largely a compendium of quasi-knowledge
(e.g., fast-dating distillations of motley experiences), pseudo-knowledge, or
knowledge noise. Admittedly, there is a fairly good idea of segmentation, but
different marketers would segment differently.
But even if we for a moment agree to refer to the content of marketing books as knowledge, this
will make up just one percent of the knowledge body of physics. Not more. And its
complexity is at the level of high school.
Academics are working hard to compensate for the lack of real knowledge in
marketing by obscure systematization of the obvious and a constellation
of scholastic schemes, matrices, grids, paradigms, most of which are
useless, to say the least. Some are absolutely absurd. This game of science in marketing has assumed such
threatening proportions that Professor Andrew Ehrenberg of the UK even coined a name for it –
Since the body of non-knowledge available for SONK-ing is as good as exhausted, the
SONK-ists are now going through a second circle. So, instead of the nearly useless
scheme of the product cycle you are now offered the Boston matrix, with its
dogs, cash cows, problem children, and stars. This replacement is good for
nothing, but these funny names have to be remembered by hapless students. Woe betide you if
you do not remember them, because at an MBA entrance test you may be asked such
a nonsensical question:
"Cash cows" – is it a piece of:
A. Matrix _________________
B. McKinsey matrix
C. Porter's competition model
And if you do not want to litter your head with that junk, you have no place
in marketing – off with your head!
At the moment, many seem to be obsessed with the so-called Balanced
ScoreCards. Emblazoned on the banner of that school of thought is "if you can't
measure it, you can't improve it". As simple as that! I do not know whether or
not you can measure everything in finances, production, logistics, and other
operations, but every marketing sophomore knows that in marketing it's only rarely that
measurements yield any sensible results. Nevertheless, the BSC scheme also
incorporates a so-called Customer perspective, that is to say the
Customer is also "measured". In the concept of the multi-attribute product they
also "measure" the product, by assigning to it several attribute-numbers taken
from God knows where.
An age-tested trick of denizens of the ivory tower is to invent some
kind of "closed-club" jargon. David Ogilvy, himself a 1972 Winner of the Parlin
Award for marketing, admitted that he did not understand such cadaverous pieces
of marketing writing:
"Though use of sample cross-validated correlations is acceptable, the
infrequently used squared population cross-validated correlation coefficient
(P(2)) is a more precise (although slightly biased) measure (Cattin 1978a, b;
Schmitt, Coyle, and Rauschenberger 1977). It utilizes all available data
simultaneously rather than bisecting the sample into arbitrary estimation and
holdout components. Because of these comparative advantages, P2 is used in the
present analysis. Though several versions are available Srinivasan's (1977)
formulation of P2 is acceptable for models containing fixed predictor
Ogilvy referred to this as "all
It's all Greek not only to the famous advertising guru. It's double Greek to
all practitioners. Somebody coined the expression KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid).
But the stupid take no heed.
But why then produce texts absolutely incomprehensible and useless to
practitioners? Perhaps they are needed and understood by academics? A
funny answer is given by Scott Armstrong in his "Unintelligible Management Research and Academic Prestige”:
"32 faculty members were asked to rate
the prestige of four passages from management journals. The content of the
passages was held constant while readability was varied. Those passages that were more difficult to read were rated higher in research
Armstrong also describes such a prank:
"Dr. Fox was an actor who looked distinguished and sounded authoritative. He
was provided with a fictitious but impressive biography and was sent to lecture
about a subject on which he knew nothing. The talk, "Mathematical Game Theory
as Applied to Physician Education," was delivered on three occasions to a total
of 55 people...
The audiences consisted of highly educated social workers, psychologists,
psychiatrists, educators, and administrators. The lecture was comprised of
double talk, meaningless words, false logic, contradictory statements,
irrelevant humor, and meaningless references to unrelated topics. Judging from
a questionnaire administered after the talk, the audience found Dr. Fox's
lecture to be clear and stimulating. None of the subjects realized that the
lecture was pure nonsense."
A mailing was sent to members of the Market Research Society of Australia
asking them which techniques they (a) were aware of and (b) used. Along with
Chi Square, multi-dimensional scaling, etc., the phantom "Scranton's Capper"
was inserted. Something like 30% of all these expert researchers had heard of
it and about 13% claimed to use it.
This all would be funny if it were not so sad. By the way, have you heard of
"the Emperor's new clothes"?
Well then, if marketing contains no scientific knowledge of note, is it very simple? To arrive at a reasonable answer, let us seek some suggestive
parallels. For instance, we will not find much knowledge in versification and
music. But that does not make poetry and music simple at all.
In most occupations, performance skills and talents are much more important than
theoretical grounding. That is even true of sciences with formidable bodies of
knowledge, such as physics; let alone fields with a negligible body, as is the
case with marketing.
In the present-day economy of the spoiled,
cynical Client assailed with proposals, fed up with advertising, and armed
with the Internet, persuading whoever to buy turns into a Herculean task. And
only the naive would expect any help from dusty marketing tomes, which by the
way are also available to your competition. A remedy is your
marketing thinking, marketing creativity and marketing inventiveness. Not by
We should admit that:
Marketing is no theorizing, but rather
a complicated "performance skill".
It's creativity non-stop.
Says Prabhu S. Guptara:
“There is a distinction between the philosophy of marketing and the techniques of marketing. You can have the philosophy
without many of the techniques, of course; but, surprisingly, you can also have
the techniques without the philosophy. Under many circumstances, the first can
make sense; but the second makes no sense in any circumstance”.
His definition of marketing:
Marketing is the creative process of
satisfying customer needs profitably.
When shaping approaches to marketing, marketing education and
marketing practices, it would be a good idea to analyze at first the rich experience of
successful creative marketers, such as Zino Davidoff, Lee Jacocca (Chrysler),
Akio Morita (Sony), David Kerns (Xerox), John Scully (Apple), and Bill Gates (who
has no higher education, let alone marketing education). Some of them have
authored books. Reading them is more rewarding than reading the dusty tomes
produced by the academia.
Take, for instance, Akio Morita. He and his executive team at Sony followed
the wisdom: carefully watch how people live, get an intuitive sense as to what
they might want and then go with it. The flip side of their management
philosophy was this: don't do market research. During the 1955-1979 period,
Sony introduced 12 very successful disruptive-technology product lines, from
the transistor radio in 1955 to the Walkman in 1979. Sony's Walkman, the most successful consumer product in the 1980s, was greeted by skepticism
during prototype tests: who in his or her right mind would want to lug around a
tape recorder? In the early 1980's Morita began to disengage himself from the company, and
the company hired its first MBA's. The MBA's quickly began to conduct market research studies and base the company's strategic decisions on the
data. The result did not take long in coming: Sony's famous marketing
inventiveness dried up and it turned into another "good" company.
What is common among the above mentioned marketers? – Love for the Client,
understanding the Client, inventiveness in meeting the needs of the Client. A
born marketer, the cigarette king Zino Davidoff was wont of saying: "I've never
practiced marketing. I simply never stopped to love my Clients." He is echoed
by Japan's Mitsuaki Shimaguchi:
Modern marketing is love. Love for your consumers, meeting their
In his “Autobiography" Lee Iacocca stresses the ability to exercise creative
intuition and to take risks. The importance of these qualities in business
is understood by many outstanding minds. Back in 1885, the founder of Stanford
University Liland Stanford wrote:
"The imagination needs to be cultivated and
developed to ensure success in life. A man will never construct anything he
Not that the idea of creative marketing was absolutely unknown in the
profession. Its elements are available in the so-called guerrilla marketing and
lateral marketing. These schools of thought preach cheap and efficient methods,
or so they maintain.
Do creative marketers write papers? Of course. But only when they are needed
for business. And should a rare creative idea occur to them, then... Einstein believed that really great ideas occur so rarely that they could
easily be remembered.
Furthermore, creative marketers waste no time on developing algorithms of
assessing their contribution, they just work hard. And results, I can assure
you, will be forthcoming.
Unfortunately, marketing students are not taught creative marketing,
marketing philosophy, and marketing thinking. Instead they are taught methods
that "make no sense in any circumstance".
Scholastic education & research
I received an acerbic message from a person who, after 20 years in
international consulting business, switched to teaching marketing at a
university. Here is his opinion of that establishment:
"The university system is a self-sustaining political monster that has
a limited interest in really preparing the students for the reality of the
business world. So I am a frustrated business person inside an academic system
that has little regard for practicalities and operational efficiency. Form is
more important than substance and the system protects the mediocre while
failing to reward initiative. As you can see, I have little respect for what
man has done to the institution of higher learning called a university! I
sometimes wish I could go back to the world of business, but since I got my PhD
they think I am an academic and irrelevant – I guess you can't win!"
I, a practitioner-cum-teacher myself, went through similar experiences.
The ghettoisation of academic life from real-life practices
does worry some marketers. But most academia, it seems, could not
care less – everything in the garden is just lovely!
From time to time there occur abortive ELMAR discussions on the uselessness of
current marketing "science" for practitioners. I treasure a contribution by
Professor Ian F. Wilkinson (School of Marketing, University of New South Wales
"I wonder if animals and ants listen to what biology professors have to say
or if atoms and chemicals listen to their physics and chemistry
professors. Then I ponder who has a better science or understanding of biology,
physics or chemistry – the professors or the animals, atoms and chemicals. Then
I stop thinking and have a beer."
There was a "Note: Many of my papers are downloadable from
www.impgroup.org." I did download, and as
I was muddling through a couple of "papers" I was wondering as to how
often Professor Ian F. Wilkinson would "stop thinking". And I felt I could use a
couple of vodkas, to regain senses. I also felt sorry for companies that would
hire Ian F. Wilkinson's "products".
Education is said to be what is left after you have forgotten what you learned.
Well, but what is to be left then? Says Scott Armstrong of
“Ask students to describe the most important things they learned from
the textbook in a recent marketing principles course. I have tried this and few
are able to think of anything. Those that do, say things like the 4 P’s,
positioning, and segmentation.”
What should marketing education look like?
If I were to venture an opinion, I would propose the following criterion of
the quality of any education (of what is left). It is the degree to which a graduate is fit
practical work in the respective profession. Even most of theoretical training
should be viewed from a practical perspective: "Nothing is more practical than
a good theory" (L. Boltzmann). But practice calls not so much for theory, knowledge and memory,
but rather for skills and ability to think. There is no denying Immanuel Kant's
the student should be taught not thoughts, but thinking, that "he is to be
guided, not carried, if he is to be able to walk alone in the future".
The "not-thoughts-but-thinking" wisdom applies to whatever domain, even to
those with a huge body of "thoughts", such as physics. And it is an absolute
must in practical marketing, where you cannot hide behind formal knowledge. A
would-be marketer should be armed with an ability to think, to think from the
If and when we understand this, the next thing we will have to understand is
that marketers must be trained and even drilled, like
musicians and artists. They must be taught performance skills, i.e., how to creatively handle unpredictable
They must be
"intoxicated" with Clientomania and leonardesque marketing thinking,
which would enable them to ask themselves dozens of relevant "client" questions
and to perform emotional analysis of
the Client and the Products in order to identify and use selling points of
products and companies. They must be taught how to be protectors of the interests of the Client in the company,
how to be skilled marketing "midwives" of new products, how to make inventive
and productive marketing decisions, how to become marketing achievers and
valuable contributors to the financial success of their companies. That's precisely what I try to do in both
my MBA classes and at my own distance courses of marketing and advertising
Simply going over dozens of "cases", especially as it is normally done in
class, is as good as useless.
“Whatever be the detail with which you cram
your student, the chance of his meeting in after-life exactly that detail is
almost infinitesimal; and if he does meet it, he will probably have forgotten
what you taught him about it. The really useful training yields a comprehension
of a few general principles with a thorough grounding in the way they apply to
a variety of concrete details. In subsequent practice the (students) will have
forgotten your particular details; but they will remember by an unconscious
common sense how to apply principles to immediate circumstances.”
The Aims of Education
and Other Essays
There is one well-known simile. We can give a hungry person some fish;
can give him a fishing-rod and teach him how to catch fish – this way we would
not need to give him fresh fish every time he is hungry.
But we can make a step
further and teach him manufacturing fishing-rods and other implements, to make him
fare all right on his own. Ideally, any education should teach how to make
a wide variety of "fishing-rods" to suit every specific situation. This
skill is especially valuable in marketing, since marketing deals with a zillion of
Hardly anybody needs to be explained that whereas specific techniques may
date, the fundamentals and philosophy of a profession absorbed at college must serve a graduate throughout his carrier. Can
you imagine a physicist, chemist, biologist, builder, design engineer,
agronomist, doctor, mariner, pilot, etc., who would not employ in their
practical work what they had grasped at college? I don't think so.
And now, dear reader, you are in for a surprise. In his paper "What is
marketing knowledge?" the Australian professor John Rossiter writes:
"A largescale study by Hunt, Chonko and Wood (1986) demonstrated that
neither the short-run nor long-run success of marketing managers, in terms of
income received and title achieved, is dependent on having acquired a degree in
marketing (in the first 10 years of employment, the correlation between
possessing a degree with a marketing major and income is r = .04 and over the
total career it is r = .00). Hunt et al. observed that this does not bode well
for the validity of marketing knowledge as taught in academia".
Those with marketing majors had lower positions. Those with higher grades at
school typically did worse on pay and title and they reported less satisfaction
with their work.
In plain language, this suggests that modern marketing education
is good for nothing, and has nothing to do with what a marketing practitioner
will have to do in real business. And if we remember how fast dissatisfied
companies fire useless "book-learned" marketers, this education... well, does
Something has gone seriously rotten in the kingdom of marketing – no
A testimony of that sorry state of marketing is this charming
piece of reasoning by Professor Rossiter. Having found no examples of true
scientific knowledge in marketing and having just supplied devastating evidence
of the failure in the field of graduates stuffed with "marketing science",
and behold, proclaims:
"Marketing knowledge is absolutely fundamental to our discipline.
Marketing knowledge, supposedly, is what marketing academics and consultants
teach and marketing managers draw upon in formulating marketing plans."
Suddenly things clicked very nicely: marketers are taught not to make money
for companies, but rather to write nice neat marketing plans and other papers.
Simply put, they are taught marketing bureaucracy.
Business schools are churning out MBA's non-stop, with the result that
marketing departments are manned by MBA-brats properly.
...After months of studying his ass off our wanna-be marketing guru is out
to conquer the business world, an MBA certificate in pocket, fragments of
cases, formulas, matrices, BSC and other fashionable stuff in head. But the
most heart-warming thing about it is the expectation of a cushy salary. He is
yet to learn that a marketer, in the final analysis, is paid not for his
degrees and certificates but for his ability to contribute.
You can tell our hero from a crowd of self-taught corporate marketers (who
compensate for their ignorance of schemes by a creative shine of their eyes) by his
impeccable business suit and a languor from an excess of self-respect. He is a
master of CYA (cover your ass) technologies. He can create impressive
slide presentations, hold impressive meetings, write impressive plans, reports and market research
specifications. In other words, in the field he
brilliantly converts his impressive scholastic education into impressive marketing bureaucracy.
Our marketing bureaucrat is especially comfortable in large companies, especially those with a
huge marketing department and a host of
regional offices and dealers. Here they spend tons of
money on research, image advertising, corporate identity, exhibitions, press
Elegantly incorporated into the system of bureaucratic marketing are the
many freaks concerned with the now fashionable branding. You can for years
harangue about brand architecture, brand DNA, Lovemarks (a fresh freak), brand
awareness, image, personality, viral somethings, and God knows what. And if, as
is often the case, despite inflated ad spends improved awareness does not lead
to improved sales – well, things do happen!
Marketing bureaucrats do not understand and, it seems, will never understand
that real marketing is a creative endeavor, and that driving it into a Procrustean
bed is silly, to say the least. Picasso maintained that "every act of creation is first an act of
destruction." But this idea would abhor bureaucrats.
Their cozy world is reams of papers: reports, schemes, memos, and especially detailed marketing plans. These
plans are of little use, if
only because things in the market date nearly by the hour. But they look nice
in thick folders to be presented to top brass – you can hardly imagine a better CYA-product.
Our pseudomarketer is a front-page figure. I cannot deny myself the pleasure of quoting from
the book “Market-Led
Strategic Change” by Nigel Piercy of the UK:
The MBA code of practice
– Thou shall never smile
– Thou shall dedicate thy
career to being a boring, humorless jerk, for is this not how thy
professors are molded?
– Thou shall live by the
dictum that those things which cannot be measured precisely and validly to six
decimal points, simply do not exist (little things like customer
satisfaction and customer value shall not trouble thee...)
– Thou shall dedicate
thyself to driving the creative and unconventional people out of thy
organization, for do not they deserve to be in an agency somewhere,
where they can do no harm?
– Thou shall worship at the
alter of bureaucracy, for is not the neatness of the organization chart
a measure of thy true worth?
– Thy mission is to attend
meetings for the rest of thy life, for is not the number of such
meetings a measure of thy productivity?
I bet you see many guys like that around.
What's to be done?
What’s to be done to replace stillborn marketing departments by a corporate
marketing soul? If anybody wants to face the music, of course.
Understandably, I especially care about my Russia, that huge sparely-populated Eurasian
landmass of eleven time zones, dozens
of peoples and languages, a motley quilt of mores, religions, buying habits,
per-capita incomes, distribution infrastructures, etc. It has been making a
cumbersome U-turn to a market economy after several generations of command
With its enormous distances and poor communications, it is a classical
marketing country, which needs creative marketing savvy more than the West.
Down-to-earth survivors of the post-Perestroika box-moving
"capitalism" are painfully coming to understand the importance of marketing in a
hyper-competitive environment. Many Russian companies have established marketing departments. They are manned by a
wide assortment of personages, ranging from "home-spun" marketing buccaneers
who bite the bullet to languid US- and Europe-made MBA's, with the former
spectacularly outperforming the latter.
Scholastic and bureaucratic marketing does not work in whatever environment,
least of all in Russia. This year
some of my consultancy's clients have fired their entire marketing departments.
I do not blame them: they await inputs from marketing, and they are not
prepared to finance for years a team of self-indulgent data-collectors and
scheme-producers, generating no ROI. A vicious circle.
Is there a way out, gentlemen?
See also The Augean stables of
academic marketing and
Kotler and kotleroids
Paper in Word format (4 pp.)
articles by A. Repiev
Kotler and kotleroids
A glimpse of Russia's advertising and marketing
Lunatics have taken over the
The Augean stables of
Bubble of "22 Immutable Laws of Marketing — Review"—
"Physics envy" – physics abysmally misconstrued!