Curative international marketing: next step up
Even though much economic growth has been built by marketing, the field increasingly has a poor reputation. Marketing is becoming a pejorative term, which sets back the prospects of understanding and satisfying consumers.
Curative international marketing must be the next step to restore the marketing field’s reputation and application. Marketers must make up for past errors and again deliver joy, pleasure, fulfillment, safety, and personal growth across borders, and advance us all toward a better society.
Curative international marketing accepts responsibility for problems caused in the past. It then uses marketing’s capabilities to heal and set things right. Curative marketing’s two perspectives consist of looking back for what marketing has wrought and delivering compensatory future action. It needs to draw on jurisprudence, cultural anthropology, philosophy and history and acknowledge that marketing is too important to be left to marketers alone.
Past disregard of local idiosyncrasies has been like bringing snakes to Guam which almost exterminated all local birds. European outsiders inflicted the smallpox, flu and typhus viruses on the Inca of Peru. During Eastern Europe’s transition from socialism to market practices, consumers were disappointed, since they did not win the “promised” car, or look like Heidi Klum. Local foods (and their producers) disappeared because newly entering chain stores already had suppliers. Meanwhile, marketers and their sophisticated research ensured consumption addiction.
At the business level more keeps being expected. Executives planning to only maintain market share, would last a short time in their job. “Citius, altius, fortius” (faster, higher, stronger) may be a great motto for the Olympics, but leads to unexpected repercussions for markets, marketers and customers.
Negative effects may stem from marketing’s misleading claims, unawareness or neglect. International marketers must understand local conditions, avoid causing short or long-term harm and make restitution for any damages. Not everything that can be done should be done. We need a binding marketing Hippocratic Oath: “First, do no harm.”
Four pillars can set marketing right again: truthfulness, simplicity, expanded participation and personal responsibility.
International marketing has either actively mislead expectations, or created a sense of ambiguity. It must base itself on fact rather than emotion, on insights rather than speculation, and do so within societal expectations.
Marketing must simplify life. Simplicity adds value and is linked to truthfulness by helping people understand the implications of their decisions. It is hard for a frontline marketer to be truthful about something, if one does not comprehend how the system works. Understanding how a product works is a valuable product attribute in itself.
Outsiders need to be included with their terms. For example, using only English as the “language of business” denigrates the use of other languages and reduces the idiosyncratic and precise participation of non-local actors. If Eskimos could talk about snow only in English, the rich diversity of this theme in their own language would be sharply diminished.
Inclusiveness also helps with future change. History indicates that power waxes and wanes. Just think of the Greeks, the Icelanders, or the Persians. Collaboration can convert crashes into soft landings.
Explanation is essential. Not everyone shares marketing’s fundamental belief in the virtues of risk, competition, profit and private property. When the rising tide lifts boats, the sails must be tight and strong, vessels can’t leak, and the crews must have been trained.
Personal responsibility and understanding
Marketers sometimes don’t want to know. Though the chairman of a multinational corporation may feel removed from local issues, the locals take all of the firm’s actions very personally.
We are said to understand each other well, but the actual overlap between societies is miniscule. Some Chinese leaders may have developed a good understanding of the world, but the average Chinese understands as much about Muscatine, Iowa, as the average American knows about Xiying, Henan.
Governments play a growing role in international marketing. It is not clear whether the signals of the market place or the mandates of governments are more accurate. Markets are not always successful in their constraints and self-regulation, and governments are not always free of fault and ambition.
A key tenet of marketing is reverence for the customer. Some firms take a predatory approach which is inappropriate, unjust, and ultimately counterproductive. Typically, this takes place when the key consumption decision has already been made, but circumstances allow for additional offers.
Curative Marketing can help overcome past shortcomings and provide new opportunities for the field. Ludwig von Wittgenstein stated: “A philosopher who is not taking part in discussions is like a boxer who never goes into the ring.” It’s time for international marketers to enter the ring.
Michael Czinkota teaches international business and trade at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. He has served in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administration. His book “International Marketing” (10th edition) is published by CENGAGE. His blog is michaelczinkota.com. Reach him at CZINKOTM@georgetown.edu.