Changing Role of Marketing in Contemporary Issues

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THE CHANGING ROLE OF MARKETING IN THE CORPORATION
Frederick E. Webster, Jr.

For the past two decades, some subtle changes in the concept and practice of marketing have been fundamentally reshaping the field. Many of these changes have been initiated by industry, in the form of new organizational types, without explicit concern for their underlying theoretical explanation or justification. On the academic side, prophetic voices have been speaking (Arndt 1979, 1981, 1983; Thorelli 1986; Van de Ven 1976; Williamson 1975) but seldom heard because, representing several different disciplines, they did not sing as a singing group. More basically, perhaps, few listeners were ready to hear the message or to do the intellectual work necessary to pull the several themes together. Like the Peruvian Indians who thought the sails of the Spanish invaders on the horizon were some phenomenon of the weather and did nothing to prepare themselves for attack (Handy 1990), marketers may ignore some important information in their environment simply because it is not consistent with their past experience.

The purpose of this article is to outline both the intellectual and the pragmatic roots of changes that are occurring in marketing, especially marketing management, as a body of knowledge, theory, and practice and to suggest the need for a new paradigm of the marketing function within the firm. First, the origins of the marketing management framework, the generally accepted paradigm of the marketing discipline for the past three decades, are considered. Then shifting managerial practice is examined, especially the dissolution of hierarchical bureaucratic structures in favor of networks of buyer-seller relationships and strategic alliances. Within those new forms of organization, the changing role of marketing is discussed and a reconceptualization of marketing as a field of study and practice is outlined.

Marketing as a Social and Economic Process

It is sobering to recall that the study of marketing did not always have a managerial focus. The early roots of marketing as an area of academic study can be found, beginning around 1910, in Midwestern American land grant universities, where a strong involvement with the farm sector created a concern for agricultural markets and the processes by which products were brought to market and prices determined. The analysis was centered around commodities and the institutions involved in moving them from farm, forest, sea, mine, and factory to industrial processors, users, and consumers. Within this tradition, three separate schools evolved that focused on the commodities themselves, on the marketing institutions through which products were brought to market, especially brokers, wholesalers, and retailers in their many forms and variations (Breyer 1934; Duddy and Revzan 1953), and finally on the functions performed by these institutions (McGarry 1950; Weld 1917). All of these approaches tended to be descriptive rather than normative, with the functional being the most analytical and leading to the development of a conceptual framework for the marketing discipline (Barters 1962; Rathmell 1965). These early approaches to the study of marketing are interesting because of the relative absence of a managerial orientation. Marketing was seen as a set of social and economic processes rather than as a set of managerial activities and responsibilities. The institutional and functional emphasis began to change in 1948, when the American Marketing Association (1948, p. 210) defined marketing as:

The performance of business activities directed toward, and incident to, the flow of goods and services from producer to consumer or user.

This definition, modified only very slightly in 1960, represented an important shift of emphasis. Though it grew out of the functional view, it defined marketing functions as business activities rather than as social or economic processes. The managerial approach brought...
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