During the past half century, in general, marketers have heeded Levitt’s (1960) advice to avoid “marketing myopia” by focusing on customers. In this article, the authors argue that marketers have learned this lesson too well, resulting in a new form of marketing myopia, which causes distortions in strategic vision and can lead to business failure. This “new marketing myopia” stems from three related phenomena: (1) a single-minded focus on the customer to the exclusion of other stakeholders, (2) an overly narrow definition of the customer and his or her needs, and (3) a failure to recognize the changed societal context of business that necessitates addressing multiple stakeholders.
The authors consider two examples of the new marketing myopia: the obesity crisis and the plight of the U.S. auto industry. For generations, food marketers catering to children have focused only on satisfying the short-term appetites of young consumers with little thought given to their longer-term well-being. These marketers have excluded other stakeholders’ concerns about health and nutrition. What if they had led the way by recognizing the long-term needs of customers and collaborating with, rather than resisting, stakeholders who were championing healthful eating? Likewise, with their narrow reading of consumers’ preferences, the Big Three U.S. automobile manufacturers have largely ignored admonitions from scientists, environmentalists, politicians, and journalists to attend to the problems posed by oil and develop the potential of alternative energy sources. They have held fast to their long-time emphasis on large, gas-guzzling cars, trucks, and sport utility vehicles. Lured by large margins on big vehicles, they have catered to only one component of consumer preference and have ignored the need for cleaner, fuel-efficient vehicles. There are many other examples of the new marketing myopia in marketing practice and marketing research, but suffice it to say that when marketers give insufficient attention to stakeholders, they do so at great peril; their customers, their companies, and society likely will be adversely affected.
The authors offer a vision of marketing management as an activity that proactively engages multiple stakeholders in value creation, suggesting that marketers can bring a particular expertise to bear. Attention to stakeholders beyond the consumer often means engaging with groups that managers sometimes view as adversaries, such as activists, scientists, politicians, and the local community. However, such collaborations provide many benefits, including helping marketers develop foresight regarding the markets of the future and providing the impetus for innovation. The authors offer five propositions that might help marketers correct the myopia: (1) map the company’s stakeholders, (2) determine stakeholder salience, (3) research stakeholder issues and expectations and measure impact, (4) engage with stakeholders, and (5) embed a stakeholder orientation. The propositions suggest many avenues for research, from researching communication practices that are salient and effective for different stakeholders to developing methodologies and metrics for the measurement of stakeholder orientation and corporate social performance more broadly. Both marketing practitioners and researchers need to comprehend better the firm’s deeply embedded position in society and shift from a narrow focus on customers to a stakeholder orientation if firms are to prosper in the unpredictable business environment of the twenty-first century.
N. Craig Smith is the INSEAD Chaired Professor of Ethics and Social Responsibility at INSEAD, France. He was previously on the faculties of London Business School, Georgetown University, and Harvard Business School. His current research examines ethical consumerism/consumer activism, marketing ethics, deception in marketing, stakeholder engagement, and strategic drivers of corporate responsibility/sustainability. His recent research publications have appeared in Business Ethics Quarterly, California Management Review, Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, Journal of Consumer Psychology, Journal of Marketing, Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, and Sloan Management Review. He has two recent books: Mainstreaming Corporate Responsibility (with Lenssen; John Wiley & Sons, 2009) and Global Challenges of Responsible Business (with Bhattacharya, Vogel, and Levine; Cambridge University Press, forthcoming). He consults with various organizations on business/marketing ethics and corporate responsibility/sustainability and serves on the Scientific Committee of Vigeo, the Advisory Board of Carbon Clear, and the Ethics Advisory Board of SNS Asset Management.
Minette E. Drumwright is an Associate Professor of Advertising & Public Relations in the Department of Advertising & Public Relations, College of Communication, at the University of Texas at Austin. She is the faculty chair of the Bridging Disciplines Program in Ethics and Leadership. She is also a faculty fellow of the RGK Center for Philanthropic and Community Service and teaches in its Graduate Portfolio Program in Nonprofit and Philanthropic Studies. Previously, she served on the marketing faculties of the Harvard Business School and the McCombs Business School at the University of Texas. Her current research is in the areas of corporate social responsibility, marketing for nonprofit organizations, and business ethics. Her articles and cases have been published in various books and journals, including Journal of Marketing, Journal of Advertising, California Management Review, and Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science. She has a PhD in Business Administration from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Mary C. Gentile, PhD, is Senior Research Scholar at Babson College and Director of Giving Voice to Values (www.GivingVoiceToValues.org), launched by Aspen Institute and Yale School of Management, with ongoing support from Babson College. This pioneering curriculum for values-driven leadership was featured in the New York Times, Financial Times, and Harvard Business Review, with more than 100 business school pilots on five continents. Gentile was previously at the Harvard Business School. She holds a BA from College of William and Mary and PhD from State University of New York at Buffalo. Gentile’s publications include Giving Voice to Values (Yale University Press, 2010); Can Ethics Be Taught? Perspectives, Challenges, and Approaches at Harvard Business School (with Thomas Piper and Sharon Parks); Differences That Work: Organizational Excellence Through Diversity; Managerial Excellence Through Diversity: Text and Cases—as well as cases and articles in Academy of Management Learning and Education, Harvard Business Review, Risk Management, CFO, BizEd, and Strategy+Business, among other outlets. Gentile was content expert for the award-winning CD-ROM, Managing Across Differences.Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, Volume 29, Number 1, Spring 2010
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