Marketing In Modern Times

Larry Price
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Wednesday - July 07, 2010
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The centennial issue of the American Petroleum Institute Quarterly, published in 1959 to celebrate the discovery of oil in a place called Titusville, Pa., contained 21 feature articles proclaiming the industry’s greatness. I liked a couple of the articles about how service station architecture had changed. Other articles were special sections about “New Horizons,” which was devoted to showing the magnificent role oil would play in America’s future.

The articles were ebulliently optimistic, never once implying that oil might have some hard competition. They even referred to how oil would help atomic energy achieve a cheerful success. There wasn’t one apprehension expressed that the oil industry’s affluence might be threatened or a small suggestion that the industry might include new and better ways of serving oil’s present customers.

Like those in the Gulf of Mexico.

I know reading old trade magazines is not fertile ground for investigation of the role marketing and research play in business today. But in light of today’s world and the troubles facing the oil industry, it is quite interesting. There are several lessons for those who tout the importance of marketing in today’s businesses without a real grip on what marketing in the 21st century means.

Marketing obviously was a stepchild in management back in the ‘50s. There is some evidence, unfortunately, that history may be repeating itself. In a world of iPhones and iPads, cell phones that text messages and send faxes effortlessly, marketing is often left to occupy a stepchild status in the hierarchies of management’s things to consider.

You can sit back and watch the frenzy. Top management of electronics companies are transfixed by the profit possibilities of technical research and development. The greatest danger that faces these glamorous new companies is not that they don’t pay enough attention to research and development, but that they pay too much attention to it.

Most of these companies probably owe their eminence to their heavy emphasis on technical research. But that’s not the point. They have vaulted to affluence on a sudden crest of unusually strong general receptiveness to new technical ideas. Example: I was interviewing Gov. Linda Lingle last week and she had to excuse herself to whip off a text message to her director of communications. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Everyone must be doing it.

The popularity of the electronic industry has been almost totally devoid of a serious marketing effort. You may argue that’s not true, but these conditions come dangerously close to creating the illusion that a superior product will sell itself. It’s no wonder that management continues to be oriented toward products rather than the people who consume them. It develops the philosophy that continued growth is a matter of continued innovation and improvement.

Engineers and scientists are at home in the world of concrete things like machines, test tubes, production lines and even balance sheets. What is getting shortchanged in today’s business world is the realities of the market.

Reading old magazines is a boring hobby, but it has its moments. It reminds one that consumers are unpredictable, varied, fickle, shortsighted, stubborn and, generally speaking, bothersome. This is not what most engineers would admit publicly. These companies are in the felicitous position of having to fill, not find markets. They don’t have to discover the customers’ needs and wants because the customer voluntarily comes forward with specific new products and demands.

Marketing is a philosophy that cannot be ignored.

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