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 / Second Quarter 2002 / Issue 27(originally published by Booz & Company)


Marketing: Are You Really a Realist?

Generalizable knowledge of marketing phenomena is prominent primarily by its absence. Open a textbook or modeling report and you will find an analysis procedure applied to just one single set of data (SSoD). The romantic delusion is that this isolated result is then best.

The realist alternative is to build on many sets of data (what is called MSoD and is the empirical basis of all generalizations in science, versus SSoD). Success then is not an SSoD best fit, but a grounded benchmark known to hold across many different brands, products, or services, across years, across countries, and across other varying conditions, within known limits and with known exceptions.

This is called science (with a small s). It provides marketers with generalizable and reusable knowledge to manage, such as that loyalty does not vary from brand to brand except with market share, and that price promotions appeal merely to existing customers (i.e., you’re giving your money away), and brand A users say about A just about the same thing as brand B users say about B, as we have said.

Marketers complain that their business colleagues and the public don’t take their work as seriously as they would like. But marketers have only themselves to blame. They tend to set goals that cannot be fulfilled: sustained growth; brand differentiation; persuasive advertising; added values; maximizing profits or shareholder value; and instant new knowledge based on just a single set of isolated data.

When these romantic goals fail to materialize, marketing gets blamed. To combat that, the creation of more realistic goals will let marketing be appreciated for what it can and cannot do.

Reprint No. 02202

Andrew Ehrenberg, [email protected]
Andrew Ehrenberg is professor of marketing at South Bank University, London, and chairman of its international R&D Initiative. The coauthor of Television and Its Audience (Sage Publications, 1989), he is an active consultant on both sides of the Atlantic. This article was derived from ideas developed in a keynote address to the Market Research Society of Australia Conference in Melbourne.
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