At first I thought it was an excellent idea to start an online marketing blog with an article with the title: ‘Revisiting the Marketing Concept’. Then I thought, “No way; surely by now, everybody understands what marketing is!” But just as I was about to abandon the idea, there was it again– another confusing use of the term ‘marketing’ in the local media! And that did it for me; it was time to try to set the record straight!
It is generally thought that the so-called ‘modern era of marketing’ began in the nineteenth century. This era marked the intensification of the Industrial Revolution, a period that made possible the mass production of cars, clothing, food and an array of products we enjoy today. The Industrial Revolution brought about fundamental economic changes. As Toffler (1980) has noted:
The Second Wave [The Industrial Revolution]…created.. a situation in which the overwhelming bulk of all food, goods, and services was destined for sale, barter, or exchange. It virtually wiped out of existence goods produced for one’s own consumption… and created a civilization in which almost no one, not even a farmer, was self-sufficient any longer. Everyone became almost totally dependent upon food, goods, or services produced by somebody else”
Toffler, Alvin The Third Wave, 1980, 39.
The Industrial Revolution did not lead only to the demise of the individual craftsman; it also gave birth to an interesting problem for the new ‘industrial class’: how were these new businesses going to dispose of all the ‘wonderful’ products that they were now able to make relatively cheaply and in such large quantities? The answer to this problem? Advertising! Advertising was perceived as the means by which the ‘masses’ would be informed of and persuaded to buy these new products.
It should be noted in passing, that there is evidence that advertising in its basic sense predates the Industrial Revolution by thousands of years! According to a vintage MS Encarta article, archaeologists have found evidence of advertising signs (what we today call ‘signage’) among the Babylonians dating back to the 3000s BC.
The Caribbean Case [qw_members]
Too many owners, managers and CEOs in the Caribbean still equate marketing with advertising. However, the practice of marketing in the Caribbean, if traced back in time, would appear to be related less to mass media advertising than to the practice of merchandizing, i.e. display of goods, and the ‘market call’ (“the advertising”) which can be traced back to the era of slavery and the Sunday markets in which the salves brought their own produce – ground provisions, primarily – to the town for sale. The Mighty Gabby, celebrated Barbadian calypsonian and folk artiste, has indelibly etched the memory of these practices in his famous folk song, Bridgetown Early Saturday Morning.
Cart before the Horse
My thesis – if I may use such a grandiose term – is that these notions of marketing as being about advertising and merchandizing are not only erroneous but dangerous because they can – and do lead – to the practice of starting businesses without adequate consideration of the market for those goods or services. Businesses are often brought into existence via this ‘cart-before-the-horse’ syndrome. Many more continue to exist, at least for a time, without paying much attention to the needs of customers. Warehouses filled with unsold goods, slow moving goods and hastily abandoned office spaces are some of the symptoms of this approach.
Two reports by the BIDC on the furniture and arts and craft industries in Barbados that confirm this view. In the report, Profile of The Furniture Sector (BIDC 2008), it was noted, among other issues that:
Given that consumer preferences include quality, durability, functionality and comfort, these characteristics must be incorporated into a competitive thrust if local producers are going to find lucrative export niches.
This criticism suggests a deficiency in the quality of the furniture product. One factor which accounts for this poor product quality is simply the lack of emphasis on, ignorance of, or disregard for customer requirements.
A similar report, Profile of The Craft Sector (BIDC 2008), noted the ‘lack of understanding of the role of product designers and product development and a reluctance by some crafts persons to embrace product development’.
These excerpts suggest an emphasis on what is known as the ‘production concept’, a term attributable to Philip Kotler. According to him, the emphasis of the production concept is on producing more and doing so in the hope of making a cheaper product. Ironically, in the case of Caribbean economies, production has been shown to be very inefficient and this explains why the reports referred to above outline the existence of multiple weaknesses – production, management and marketing– in the industries cited in the reports. All of this still leaves unanswered the burning question: What is marketing? This I will address in earnest in the part 2 of this article.[/qw_members]