Marketing Standing On Its Own Feet

People ike to ask “where are we all going?” and marketing academics are no different. A recent editorial in JAMS (a major marketing journal) examines the future of marketing. Overall, I agreed with the author, Jan-Benedict Steenkamp, on most things. I just wasn’t sure, in direct marketing terminology, what the call to action was. Who should do what now that we have read the piece?

Firstly, the author  outlines the positives. I don’t always agree, I personally think that, despite the financial crisis, marketing is still playing second fiddle to finance. That said I take his general point that there are many things to like for marketing academics about the job market.

Moving onto challenges his notes on teaching make a lot of good, if familiar, points. More use of technology tends to allow the star professors (however that is defined) to teach more students. Given this star professors will make more money and non-stars less. This is the basic dynamic in a lot of fields where technology allows the copying of outputs. In the past a musician could only play for a very limited number of listeners, now the same mega-stars can be heard by everyone. (Yes I am comparing star marketing professors to Beyoncé).

Steenkamp turns to research.  I have to agree that we define ourselves too much by number of papers and not enough by impact, that said I’m not sure about his solution. Citation counts tend to reward academics popular with other academics so this doesn’t seem to entirely solve the problem of lack of external impact. I’d be keen to hear other practical ideas. Why would a young marketing professor/phd student pursue more useful research? You can hit it big doing useful research but you’ll probably fail. Most will prefer the safety of doing, slightly pointless, work that will be more likely to get you tenure.

I agree that we are diverging too much into behavioural and quantative people. Ideally I’d love more practical steps on what we should do about this. Again the incentives tend to be to specialize. Our major journals are relatively specialized. Plus as a reviewer it is easier to reject a paper for technical failures than because it is too specialized and of interest to very few. Given young faculty are rated on their publications aiming for very specialized, but technically perfect, papers over more interesting but less “tied with a bow” papers seems best aligned with their incentives to publish.

One thing that especially resonated was that marketers are a little embarrassed to be marketing scholars. I agree that we have to get out of the shadows of psychology and economics, disciplines which have their “own very serious issues” (Steenkamp, 2017, page 3).  Let us be proud to be marketers and realize that behaviour matters but so do the numbers. This makes our discipline messy. “Let us focus on cleaning up this “mess” by drawing on insights from our own discipline and other disciplines, rather than being dazzled by so-called core disciplines than may assume away many factors” (Steenkamp, 2017, page 3). I agree, it is often the messy factors that make marketing interesting to study, if we assume them away what are we doing?

A colleague said he had heard this all before and I do fear that we will be saying the same things over and over again if we don’t seriously tackle academic incentives. That said at least Steenkamp is saying many of the right things. Lets work on how we can solve the challenges that he notes.

Read: Jan-Benedict E.M. Steenkamp (2017) The future of the marketing department at business schools, Journal of the Academy of Marketing Sciences, online, September.