Lorna Hawtin, Disruption Director at TBWA\Manchester will be chairing our Back to Basics Thinktank at EffWeek 2017. Here she asks whether we are at the beginning of a renaissance in marketing theory or the end of a classical age.
During the dark ages, much of the rich heritage and knowledge base of the classical age become buried under layers of emerging culture and behaviour. Finally, as the renaissance took hold; powered by the printing press and its liberation of ideas, old theories came under renewed spotlight and the rest as they say…..
“Perhaps it’s time to look afresh at some of the classical theories of marketing”
I suppose there’s some sort of parallel emerging today. Marketers and brand communicators are falling increasingly out of love with some of the classical marketing ideas in their lust for the bright and shiny new. Sure, the fundamentals of media, consumer behaviour and influence seem to have changed irrevocably over the last few years; making me wonder whether the so-called ancient frameworks and principles should already be obsolete; but perhaps it’s time to look afresh at some of the classical theories of marketing and see whether the lenses we now look through reveal fresh insight? After all, that’s the point of a theory isn’t it? To put forward an idea, and see if it holds up to scrutiny and real world experience.
“Many classical marketing theories and frameworks are still stubbornly knocking about.”
I suppose I’ve got a rather Darwinian view on theories though. If they’re of use, people will continue to use and tweak them. If they cease to serve they will gradually become extinct.
Indeed, it seems that many classical marketing theories and frameworks are still stubbornly knocking about, take for instance the 10 Ps (or however many Ps you’re supposed to have these days) or even widely discredited concepts such as AIDA. Despite critical scrutiny, they seem to endure, perhaps because they provide a comfortingly simplistic explanation for what is in essence too complex a process for us to comprehend, let alone measure.
Even Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (first proposed in 1943) and Market Segmentation still get serious credit as ways of framing consumer motivation. Both were once central tenets of marketing theory and both have come under increasingly regular sniper fire, whether it be from evolutionary psychology, behavioural economics or even common sense; but still they refuse to die. It’s incredible to think that Maslow’s work was based on the observation of only a handful of individuals in the first instance, and as with every powerful theory it’s an idea that just seems to have stuck in spite of its omissions and limitations.
“The challenges we face might be different, but the hardwiring is not.”
So what fundamentally has changed?
Obviously touchpoints and behaviours have altered. But I seriously doubt that humans have really changed that much. Marketing is about understanding and influencing humans, and as we learn more about human instinct and what drives us all it simply seems to underline, rather than contradict this point. It is our desires that drive habit and behaviour, and all that’s changed therefore, is that technology has given us new and different ways in which to achieve our primal desires. The behaviours and the tools we use are merely the means to an end and those ends are dictated by biology. As long as marketing theory addresses itself to decoding and measuring this fundamental relationship, we shouldn’t go far wrong. The challenges we face might be different, but the hardwiring is not.
So returning to the original analogy, do we find ourselves at the end of a classical marketing age or the beginning of a renaissance in marketing theory? It certainly feels like we are at some form of major tipping point. A time when the industry should be reflecting hard on our theoretical inheritance so we can if necessary consign ideas that are no longer relevant to some sort theoretical graveyard. Either way, I hope to find out at the IPA’s EffWeek thought leadership conference on Tuesday when we’ll crunch through the question with some of the industry’s theoretical hard hitters, please do come and join us.
Book tickets for EffWeek 2017 here.
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