What is not marketing?

Prof Ashok Pratap Arora is a Fellow from IIM Ahmedabad. He has been a teacher at IIM Calcutta, MDI and IIM Udaipur. He was invited to talk about the theory of marketing. He started off with some history. When we were hunter gatherers, we had limited needs. All that we got was used for satisfying our own needs and possibly our immediate family members. Then agriculture happened – and our nomadic life got replaced with village life. That was around the time we realised that all us people need not be involved in agriculture. So division of labour happened, and some of us became weavers, some cobblers. This was more efficient. And this led to the first exchange – barter, if you want to call it that. The next stage in our civilisation was the industrial revolution which led to low cost mass production. This was the production era – the focus was on product. Producers were looking to sell to us whatever they made. Their focus was to change our mind to create a need for what they produced – this was selling. Most salesmen became terrors – as they attempted to change our mind to buy stuff we do not need. 

Our next shift was from a production mindset to a consumer mindset. Some of the producers started becoming customer centric – and they actually started thinking about what we need. This saw a transition from sales to marketing. Marketing, in the true sense, is two-way and truly an exchange. Marketing is defined as everything that facilitates an exchange. Exchange can be of anything. Sometimes students from Prof Arora’s marketing class ask the question – Can a mother’s love be exchanged? Prof Arora then asks if there are mothers in the audience. There typically are. He questions them: ‘Do you get something in return when you love your child?’ In that sense of the word, everything is marketing. But the question of what is marketing or what is not marketing is not really relevant. Problems and situations can be looked at through different lenses – psychological, sociological, physical for example. Marketing is also a way of looking at a phenomenon. We have to use a lens that is appropriate to our objective. Labour problems should be looked at through an HR lens. When do we need the lens of marketing? Marketing is the appropriate lens when you want to focus on exchange. We ended with a Q and A.

Does marketing apply to fields like medicine and law, when doctors and lawyers are not allowed to advertise? Marketing is much broader than advertising. A good lawyer’s biggest tool is his reputation. He does use marketing tools like pricing, segmentation etc. These guys are as much into marketing as the rest of us. 

How does one go about the marketing function in a lockdown? Prof felt that the  channels have been constrained, but not eliminated. Electronic channels are still open. To which one audience member, who we could identify only as Galaxy, commented that he spends all day watching Netflix, where all ads are blocked. Will this not be a hurdle for marketing? Constraints make it more challenging, but marketing will go on. You will need to find out the best way of communication in such situations.

Marketing has already entered the education system…  isn’t it affecting teacher parent student relation… shouldn’t we make education a non profitable institution at private level. Marketing is about increasing efficiency of exchange. The question is about ownership and control of the marketing process or system. This question should better be addressed by using the lens of political science.

Today’s B School students view marketing negatively. It’s only when students start working that they realise that all work entails exchange – and if not anything else, self marketing is definitely required. Can B schools do something to reverse this negativity associated with marketing. Prof Arora has been in management education since 50 years. When he started his career as a teacher, he had to explain to students what marketing is. Today’s students in contrast are more aware. Most of the tier I B school students do realise the need for self marketing. Some fine tuning may be required on product /  target audience. 

How do we reconcile profit with ethics? The origin of exchange is in the interaction of the person with the environment, as she goes about satisfying her needs. Completing this need leads to the marketing process. In the process of exchange the perception of value can be manipulated. This is exactly what the entire field of advertising serves to achieve. Marketing is simply a tool that makes exchange more efficient. Just as we cannot voluntarily renounce the laws of physics, the rules of marketing have a universal application. A smuggler is also marketing – though his exchange may be viewed to be violating legal laws. The orientation of either of the parties can color this process of exchange. So this question is best answered using a moral lens.