Mon 20 Sep 2010
The concept of marketing is one that has been both broadly and narrowly defined for more than a half-century. However, more ink has been spilt over an existential question that has absolutely no objective answer; Karl Popper (1959) is right in suggesting that philosophy has no definition. Whether or not we broaden, widen, deepen, or refine the boundary definitions of marketing, these definitions are in essence, arbitrary. As a result, the framework approach to marketing scope is of referential context only, not of absolution. The boundaries of a science are artificial; as researchers we constantly force those boundaries to evolve. Thus, while the arguments posed in this week’s set of readings are valid, their fragmented subjectivity only constitutes the basis of a set of opinions from which marketing practitioners and academics can work.
In the original “Marketing Myopia” article (Levitt 1960), a theory is posited, wherein the activities of a firm will ultimately become stale if the definition of that firm’s business becomes too narrow; a firm will only grow if it constantly redefines its markets. The same claim can be made about any academic disciple or science. For successful academic pursuit of knowledge, a domain must constantly be broadened, narrowed, and refined.
The articles by Kotler and Levy (1969a; 1969b), Luck (1969), and Enis (1973) provide suitable discourse defining the “marketing concept,” while Hunt (1976) prescribes normative and positive facets for the marketing scope. However, while Hunt’s scopes of marketing may continue to flourish in the contemporary marketing environment, evolving, granular details enable the fundamental “definitions” of marketing to possibly leak into other domains. This should not be considered uncommon for the sciences as knowledge-leaks only serve to embolden a particular science, giving more credence to our answers to the question, “Why?”
A multidisciplinary approach to science often provides new (and sometimes, more rewarding) answers to old questions. For example, a group of mathematicians at a university in Rome decided to apply fluid dynamics concepts from physics to solve a traffic engineering problem. By “overreaching” the traditional definitions of any one of those three domains (mathematics, physics, engineering), the resulting algorithm they developed paved the way not only for normative objectives, but also for positive future research objectives. As researchers, we could choose to philosophize the merits of their boundary definitions, but it is objectively moot; as they stand, the results of the research are, indeed, very real.
Marketing therefore has no real boundaries; it borrows from various other fields of study (mathematics, economics, social and cognitive psychologies, sociology, and more) and virtually contributes in-kind to each of those fields. Hunt (1976) suggests that the core of the marketing concept is based on the “science of transactions.” This science itself seems to be based on Homan’s (1958) notion of social exchange theory (n.b.— Homans (1967) also states “what makes a science are its aims, not its results.”). The marketing concept (Houston 1986) is all-encompassing, yet in an applied context: commerce. “It is a willingness to recognize and understand the consumer’s needs and wants, and a willingness to adjust any of the marketing mix elements […]”
Thus, both the positive and normative studies of marketing enable the researcher to extract maximum value out of the social exchange process. As we constantly discover the nuanced dimensions of the science of transactions, we contribute incremental knowledge to the disciplines we borrow from. It comes as no surprise, for instance, that many marketing academics are wont to publish in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. So long as marketing has distinct subject matter, presumes underlying uniformities, and adopts intersubjectively certifiable procedures (Hunt 1976), there is no reason why its principles cannot be found applicable to all other disciplines. It would be nothing less than myopic to presume that boundaries must remain static both between and within disciplines; rather marketing thrives and evolves from this constant redefinition.
 Bretti, Gabriella, Roberto Natalini, and Benedetto Piccoli (2007), “A Fluid-Dynamic Traffic Model on Road Networks,” Archives of Computational Methods in Engineering, 14(2), 139-172.