3 April 2013

Aren’t we all marketers, too?

By Dr Anand Agrawal

Are you engaged in marketing? This question may sound strange and irrelevant if you are not working in a marketing department or not running a business, but the fact is that it is almost impossible for anyone not to be engaged in marketing. The American Marketing Association (AMA), one of the largest and most active institutions of marketing practitioners, academics and researchers, defines marketing as “the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large”. This suggests that if you had forwarded any social cause-related messages on Facebook, written a blog on any of the three newly opened malls in Kuching, recommended a restaurant or movie to a friend, instructed your children to watch only Discovery or National Geographic channels on TV, for example, then you have engaged in marketing.

It is not difficult to realize that marketing can be considered as old as human civilization. But, the concept of marketing and theories of marketing management being taught and learnt in business schools today are no older than the Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries. The Industrial Revolution brought drastic changes in the configurations and amount of economic activity. This led to the rise of economics as a discipline, particularly in the 19th century, which brought about the emergence of marketing as a field of study.

While it may not be wrong to consider trading, where merchants sell goods in bustling markets of historical towns in the old days, as an early form of marketing activity, the marketing practice in the modern world is not limited only to selling physical goods. The most basic marketing activities practised by modern progressive companies today include understanding customers (using market research), producing and/or customizing the offers to suit customer needs (product development), packaging (including labelling), branding, pricing, promotion (including advertising), sales and distribution (retailing and other forms of making the offers accessible to customers), and managing customers (increasing customer loyalty using customer relationship management). With the increase in competition, many companies invest substantially in building in-house teams for various marketing activities and also using outsourced services of specialized marketing agencies. Planning and implementing all marketing activities in an integrated manner after careful formulation of marketing strategies to attract and retain customers in profitable market segments is a challenge. In addition, companies have been encouraging customers to promote offers using “word of mouth” and since the dawn of the Internet era, “word of mouse”. A specific form of engaging customers in marketing is network or multi-level marketing, as practised by Amway and Tupperware.

In addition, the list of entities being marketed is growing. If you visit theme parks like Disneyland, Resort World or Water Park, you are buying an “experience”. Similarly, you might have noticed road shows or stalls in public areas where you are expected to acquire awareness of organizations such as UNICEF, Red Cross and World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and their activities. These are marketing “organizations”. And, prior to elections, you are exposed to the marketing of “persons” while the catchy music and lyrics of the song, Malaysia, Truly Asia, is an example of marketing a “place”. If you are an investor then you already know about the marketing of “properties”.  The marketing of “information/data” in digital forms is becoming very popular with the spread of the Internet. Campaigns depicting the hazards of smoking and drunken driving are examples of the marketing of “ideas”.

However, the marketing process is not as simple as it appears. A gymnasium targeting only health conscious persons who exercise regularly may get a limited number of members and therefore limited profits, but a health club that explores the reason people avoid exercise by listening to non-customers and providing the support to change the lifestyle of those who need to exercise will enjoy long-term sustainability.

Although the process of marketing is becoming complex and specialized in progressive companies, traditional firms and organizations (including various small and medium enterprises, NGOs and government organizations) have not been practicing marketing in its full repertoire due to the lack of either awareness or resources. But it may be difficult for an organization of any size and form, operating in a competitive industry, to survive without resorting to systematic marketing.

The good news is that marketing experts have also been providing professional service to traditional businesses, small and medium enterprises and social entrepreneurs. In fact, new marketing tools that use on-line or digital media have made marketing affordable, for example the space at the right hand side of your Facebook page and the advertising space on some blogs.

So next time, when you dine with your friends in the restaurant you recommended, tell them that you are also a successful marketer.

Dr Anand Agrawal is a Senior Lecturer and Associate Dean (Curriculum Enhancement and Accreditation) with the Faculty of Business and Design, Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus. He is contactable at aagrawal@swinburne.edu.my