Our society is largely based on mutual perceptions. Wherever the perception by others is relevant, there is an incentive to influence it. So it seems logical that such influence is omnipresent in our everyday lives. Companies in particular, but also other organizations, spend large sums of money to market themselves or their products and services to the public. Moreover, digitalization and technological change in recent years have not only changed the way people communicate privately, but also how organizations do it with their stakeholders. The continuously increasing number of companies competing with each other for market share is also accompanied by an ever-increasing volume of marketing. Organizations rely on visibility, with the consequence that individuals are no longer able to escape information overload. The concept of marketing is nowadays sometimes quite negatively tainted, although it is questionable to what extent the common prejudices are well-founded. This post should help to better understand and correctly use the term as well as provide explanations as to what the negative perception might result from.
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The first thing to emphasize here is that marketing and advertising cannot be used as synonyms. Marketing or marketing management goes far beyond what we understand as advertising. For example, the American Marketing Association (AMA) delineates the two terms as follows:
“The main difference between these two business practices is that advertising is a part of marketing. A successful marketing strategy typically dedicates resources to advertising at multiple levels, placing corporate marketing communications in various types of media.”¹
If one follows this understanding, advertising is only one part of the fully comprehensive communication structure of organizations, which is defined within the framework of a marketing concept. The concept of marketing management, coined in particular by Philip Kotler, goes a step further by taking into account a wide variety of activities that contribute to the achievement of predefined goals. Kotler and Keller (2015) understand marketing management as follows:
“[…] we see marketing management as the art and science of choosing target markets and getting, keeping, and growing customers through creating, delivering, and communicating superior customer value.”²
Accordingly, marketing management can be understood as a broad and supportive activity that impacts all areas within organizations. Thus, marketing management is involved in the entire process structure from product development to control and adaptation. The overarching goal of all marketing activities is to create a consistent organizational identity that is reflected in all actions, whether or not they can be perceived by external parties. Successful marketing is always generous and aims to improve the situation of all stakeholders.
The central raison d’être for organizations of any kind is that they solve problems within the scope of their activities so that the situation for society as a whole improves, either directly or indirectly. To achieve this, they must not only be able to identify such problems, but also know and understand their potential customers and themselves. In this context, marketing or marketing management is an important tool and a suitable marketing strategy is a prerequisite for successful communication on the part of the organization. Internally, this means that all contributors know and understand the organizational goal and are able to align their actions with it. This leads to increased effectiveness and promotes efficient structures, since misunderstandings can be eliminated and the coordination effort is reduced. In addition, the consistent self-image of the organization’s members means that this can also be communicated to the outside world. The reduction of discrepancies regarding self-perception and external perception makes it possible for people to identify with the organization and for companies to build a long-term bond with loyal customers. Unfortunately, however, various organizations are increasingly using the power of this tool to realize their own interests through deliberate manipulation, knowingly accepting that they are harming consumers and thus also the population. However, when used responsibly, information transfer helps people make better decisions or feel better about decisions they have already made.
In addition to decision support, it is important for organizations to be perceived as part of their entrepreneurial activities, as this is the only way they can survive in the market. Their own presentation generates visibility, which, in conjunction with generous products or services, leads to companies gaining market share. However, when monopolies or strong oligopolies are created, this is always accompanied by high market power of the individual companies. The lack of competition can lead to a form of arbitrariness, as the companies have their market share secure and are almost free to decide on prices or even the direction of development of an entire industry. This is not to imply that such a situation must always have negative consequences (e.g., first mover advantage in new business areas), but this is often the case, especially if there is a certain dependence on the specific products or services. It is then not possible for consumers to switch to a substitute offered by a competing company. However, if there is healthy competition for market share between several companies, this limits stagnation and usually results in a drive to innovate so that the respective players can remain competitive. Consumers often benefit from such competitive battles and new innovations move the entire society forward.
While the previous sections have explained why marketing is important for organizations and how society can benefit from marketing activities, the question still remains as to why the term often has such a negative connotation in society. One possible explanation could be the situations in which we are confronted with advertising and other marketing activities, since acceptance is often determined by the degree of commitment. For example, if we are prevented by ads from watching a video on YouTube, rejection toward this form of marketing is often stronger than if we just see a billboard on the side of the road. If we are prevented from doing what we actually want to do, this can quickly be understood as an unwanted interference in our own decision-making power and result in strong rejection or even a negative perception towards the advertiser. In addition, it is quite conceivable that it is not the sheer volume of advertising and the associated overstimulation that is perceived as disturbing at all, but that the problem lies in the way marketing is used in practice. When organizations deliberately manipulate addressees through advertising campaigns or other marketing activities in order to persuade them to make a decision, unrealistic expectations are often created which are then not fulfilled. Such disappointments lead to dissatisfaction, and in some cases individuals assume in the future that the created expectations cannot be met in other marketing campaigns either. This general loss of credibility undermines the marketing efforts of any organization, whether such fears are well-founded or not.
Those who use marketing and advertising as synonyms neglect much of what marketing actually is. As a fully comprehensive and supportive activity, it represents one of the most important areas in almost every organization and is the basis for effective communication with all stakeholders. Due to its sometimes irresponsible use, the negative perception of the term is justified, but the misconduct of individuals should not lead to a general condemnation. Good and successful marketing is capable of triggering a cultural change from which the entire society can benefit. However, users must always be aware of their responsibility and should only use manipulative methods if they have the good of society in mind.
¹ American Marketing Association. N.d. “Marketing vs. Advertising”. AMA. Accessed January 16, 2021. https://www.ama.org/pages/marketing-vs-advertising/.
² Kotler, Philip and Kevin Lane Keller. 2015. Marketing Management, Global Edition. Pearson Education, Limited. ProQuest Ebook Central.