Marketing Theory Vs. Practice — What is Actually Useful?
Some of you reading this blog for digital marketing advice may be marketing majors. A lot of you probably aren’t. If you are, then you’re probably wondering: is this degree useful?. If you aren’t then you’re probably wondering: what have I not known all this time?. And the crux of both questions is: does marketing theory actually apply to real life? This theory vs. practice question is deeply rooted in university critique and graduation anxiety. So from our experience with both marketing theory (university) and practice (digital marketing), we’re going to give you the practical theory that will actually benefit you. Some of this is textbook knowledge, other is theory adapted to reality and some of it is merely telling you what you don’t need to know i.e. which marketing teachings are the least useful.
The Four Ps/ The Marketing Mix
(Product, Price, Place, Promotion)
“What is marketing?”
Textbook answer: “The four Ps”
“Good job. A+. Pat on the back.”
“We need to market this new product.” [Pulls out the 4 Ps diagram] “Step one, Product.”
Out of these two scenarios which is more realistic?
The answer is ①, definitely ①.
① happens every day in marketing lectures. Albeit it is exaggerated and this example actually comes from a USYD marketing lecturer who used it to discourage students from depending on the theory.
② happens like never. And for good reason. If marketing graduates applied a multiple choice mindset to real world marketing problems, the results would be catastrophic.
But the 4 Ps are actually useful if used as a guide, not followed to the dot or neccesarily in order. They’re also just a good overview of all the factors of marketing. So here’s a summary of the 4 Ps:
- Product: functionality, brand, packaging, consumer needs and wants, point/s of difference, the product life-cycle, the product mix. (The What?)
- Price: relatively cheap/expensive, pricing strategy (commonly: market skimming, market penetration, neutral pricing), discounts, perceived value to consumer, price elasticity. (How much?)
- Promotion: target market, audience, marketing medium/s. (The Who, When, How?)
- Place: marketing channels. (The Where?)
In marketing, this list is good to reflect on. And business-owners would do well to understand every item on this list.
A similar mnemonic that we recommend learning is the 3 Cs: Company, Customer, Competition. These relate to business in general more than marketing specifically.
The purchase funnel asserts that before making a purchase, a consumer goes through each of these stages on this model: Awareness, Opinion, Consideration, Preference, Purpose.
It’s helpful to think of your customer base in this way. A large number will be aware of your product, a subset will form an opinion, a sub-subset will consider, etc. And your final consumers are just the small ending of this ‘funnel’. It makes you think about: how many consumers are at each stage of the funnel? Does any one stage lose a large portion of consumers? Etc.
But do people really go through this process for every litre of milk they purchase? No, I’m sure you don’t yourself. This model applies most to high involvement one-off decisions i.e. the purchase of a new car – where the consumer plans to spend a large portion of their wealth. It applies least to low involvement repeat purchase decisions like the purchasing of milk because it’s not worth bothering about and also many consumers are in the routine of buying the same brand every time.
For low priced routine products, the purchase funnel is a useful guide to the consumer decision-making process in the same way as classical economics models are useful guides to the economy.
For medium-involvement products, consumers often go through the process, but don’t thoroughly complete each stage. For example, they may form a preference with reference to only a small number of your competitors.
Good marketing lecturers (like ours) should explain all these caveats. Some even mention the McKinsey Consumer Decision Journey. This is a non-linear adaptation which is a good representation of how this process can differ and be more complicated, but isn’t something to pore over.
Other Useful Theory that We Will Gloss over because We’re not Writing a Textbook
SWOT Analysis, Porter’s Five Forces and Boston Consulting Group Matrix
Porter’s Five Forces
Very useful in evaluating products and companies and therefore, you actually see them used in the real world. There are marketing uses but mainly these are used in business, which is why we’re glossing over them.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
This pyramid is more pervasive in every field of study and insutition than the All-Seeing Eye (jokingly). The same maxim applies of course: reference generally, not literally. It’s main criticism must always be kept in mind: that it’s not an absolute hierarchy e.g. people in abject poverty still socialise.
What’s Not Useful…
Now we arrive at the part that Marketing Major’s have been equal-parts dreading and seeking this whole time. The parts of that degree that will be forgotten completely due to lack of use.
[This part is mainly for Marketing Majors.]
- The 7 Ps: W/r/t the other 3 Ps – People, Processes, Physical Evidence – do they add anything that is not already in the 4 Ps that is actually marketing and not an assumed regular function of a business?
- The Ansoff Matrix: because the product development strategy will include the obvious consideration of whether it will diversify the business or whatnot. And the matrix is not useful in deciding on the type of product development strategy in the first place because numerous important factors will determine the type, not a simple table reminding important decision-makers of the types.
- The Marketing Environment diagram: makes the terms ‘macroenvironment’ and ‘microenvironment’ easy for students to see. But besides that, it’s so general that it is nothing.
So for those who didn’t major in Marketing, that should have explained some terms and concepts, and also given you a lot of leads to further information. For Marketing Majors, that last part was to give you that masochistic sense of validation/deep loss that you came here for.