Lest you lapse into marketing mysticism

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D. Murali

WHY another book on marketing? With that natural question begins Shyamal Ghose's book titled The Practice of Marketing: Science or Superstititon? from Roli ( . And he answers: that his book attempts to `pry open the doors' of marketing academics whose cacophony behind closed doors is drowned by the practitioners.

On the disconnect between the two worlds, of theory and practice, R. Gopalkrishnan writes in his foreword that marketing academics live in their own world of "multi-dimensional scaling, conjoint analysis, and neutral net-based predictions," while the practitioners are driven to find solutions for their immediate problems. "This indeed is a great pity," laments Ghose before launching his corrective.

Marketing is a strategic activity and so it is highly goal-oriented, he explains. While there is no confusion on marketing's goals, the events that marketing deals with "show a very complex combination of randomness and determinism which makes it extremely challenging to identify the true pattern behind these events."

Practitioners who fall for false patterns have their own `flat-earth theories' and superstitions. "The general conceptual difficulties of the field encourage the attitude of relying on wisdom handed down from the past through the generations," and such mythologies may prove to be ineffective in the marketplace, points out Ghose, scratching free from all received wisdom, to redefine marketing.

"Marketing is the discipline of optimally allocating the company's resources for fulfilling consumer needs so as to ensure a balance of consumer's subjective profit and the company's long-term financial profits," he states. To explain, there's an interesting grid titled `transactional balance,' with producer's surplus and deficit on one side, and those of the consumer on the other, yielding four situations - continuation of business, death of business shortly, business bankruptcy, and national wastage. The last one, as you'd have guessed, happens when deficits of both producer and consumer intersect.

A chapter that can arouse your curiosity is the one on measuring. Ghose rues that measurement discipline is less developed in marketing, with headcounts masquerading as quantification. Thus, instead of thermometers and rulers, marketing relies on questions and answers. "Merely recording the different answers and counting how many of each answer was given is nothing more than a headcount," decries the author.

On `the danger of invalid measurement' here's an example from the book: "In an advertising pre-test, there may be a question of the type: `Can you please tell me whether you like this ad or you do not like it?' If a respondent says he liked the ad, we may mistakenly believe that we have measured his true liking. We may have actually measured his politeness." Such disarming narration makes the book a smooth read, even as Ghose treads the hazardous edge of pedagogic preaching.

"Science is more a verb than a noun," notes the conclusion, citing John Casti's book Complexification. Don't expect to get on par with physics by applying all models and marketing theories. Marketing can at best be a `soft' science, says Ghose, for two reasons: one, the best of measuring instruments can never be as reliable because of "noise in the measurement of the psychology of a person", and two, law-like generalisations are impossible.

"The best of our equations will be context-specific," he declares. Yet, softness of the end product does not make it less imperative for following the process of science in marketing, he'd add. "Try harder," exhorts Ghose. For, "the alternative is to lapse into marketing mysticism."

But why should we take the bumpy road of marketing science? For better profits? Ghose would urge you to go beyond that and look at the "opportunity to find some fun, fulfilment and purpose, while making a living."

A book you'd find hard to put down.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated May 12, 2005)
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