Making Triangles: Marketing Positioning for the Social Media Age

ValknutA lot has changed about marketing  in the last decade. And therefore a lot has changed about marketing strategy in the last decade.

But our theories of  marketing strategy have stayed strangely the same.

I have been waiting for a reasonable solution the these challenges for over a decade. And while I have been waiting, I have also been working on a solution of my own.

I have cobbled together what I consider to be the best of existing theory and thinking, and tested it through MBA classrooms around the world with some of the best students in the world. And now I have tried to unify it into one theory, a theory that balances accuracy with elegance to try to answer the following question:

How Should We Analyze Marketing Positioning in this New, Complex, and Multifaceted Age of Many Media (traditional, new, and social)?

The Answer, It Turns out, Is In The Interlacing Tri-Triangular Shape of an Ancient Norse Symbol: The Valknut.

The Shocking Truth About Business Schools

Bill Clinton at NYU CommencementIn his address to NYU’s graduating class at Yankee Stadium on Thursday, former President Bill Clinton took square aim against one of the great evils of our time: business schools.  Here is a quote from his speech (the entire speech can be found on YouTube):

“I was probably the last generation of Americans until the present day who could have gotten an MBA, if I went to business school instead of law school, with the prevailing theory being that American corporations had obligations primarily to their stakeholders. Ever since then we’ve been teaching our young people that your primary obligation is only to the shareholder. The problem is that if you do that you ignore the other stakeholders.”

It sounds plausible to blame business schools. After all, we know that business and the financial industry are to blame for the major economic meltdown of the last several years. And we know that those businesses had to learn their bad economic and management theory from somewhere. When there is a lack of morality and integrity in the practitioners of management, why not blame the places that teach managers to manage. Blame the b-schools.

What I find so startling about this statement is that the 42nd President of the United States is speaking in such totalizing terms that he is actually ignoring a fundamental shift in business schools. In fact, the “stakeholder” model that he talks about as an inspired solution is a product of the very business schools that he is pointing towards as the problem. This stakeholder model has been taught as a part of understanding management issues since the mid-1980s at the Schulich School of Business where I work which, according to Dean Horvath, our long-standing Dean, was one of the first schools to implement it.

“Ever since then we’ve been teaching our young people that your primary obligation is only to the shareholder,” said Clinton. But reading his speech, I cannot help but wonder if President Clinton has heard of the “triple bottom line” approach that has become a common element of many business school’s curricula. The triple bottom line concretizes stakeholder theory by providing a system of measuring the 3 Ps of people, planet and profit, and managing by measuring how well each are being accounted for in the management of an organization. The system has not been perfected, but it is widespread and widely taught. As a marketing professor, I have always used stakeholder theory to discuss marketing ethics in my classes at Kellogg, University of Wisconsin, and of course at Schulich.

Clinton said that this profit-above-all viewpoint of MBAs and business schools “could be why wages have been virtually stagnant for the past 30 years”  because it misses the fact that “workers are stakeholders.” That bad b-school perspective could be behind communal stagnation, “because communities are stakeholders” and behind consumer apathy.

Humbug, I say.

I would like to invite Bill Clinton to learn more about (and perhaps even participate in) the work of the Aspen Institute, a foundation that is dedicated to fostering values-based leadership, encouraging individuals to reflect on the ideals and ideas that define a good society, and to provide a neutral and balanced venue for discussing and acting on critical issues. Every 2 years, the institute gives out an award called “Beyond Grey Pinstripes” to business schools. It ranks the top 100 MBA programs in the world for how well they are equipping future business leaders with a comprehensive and integrated understanding of social and environmental issues impacting business – everything from increased consumer activism and climate change to corporate social responsibility. Here are the current top 10 global business schools, according to this important ranking.

  1. York University (Schulich School of Business)
  2. U. of Michigan (Ross)
  3. Yale School of Management
  4. Stanford Graduate School of Business
  5. Notre Dame (Mendoza)
  6. UC Berkeley (Haas)
  7. RSM Erasmus
  8. NYU (Stern)
  9. IE Business
  10. Columbia Business School

Seven of the top 10 business schools in this ranking are in the USA. Who is on top? It happens to be my own (shameless plug here…) Schulich School. Oh, and Mr. Former President, you were actually addressing the graduating class from the 8th ranked  business school in the world on these stakeholder matters. The MBA class, to be exact. Is it just me, or does anyone else find that fact that he overlooked that incredible fact incredibly ignorant?

Bill Clinton, in his speech, seems to be missing all the wonderful work done by business schools, business school Deans, business school leaders, devoted b-school professors, alumni, and students. Instead, painting with a broad and stereotyping brush, they are villainized as The Source and Fount of The Great Evil: the Spreaders of Bad Ideology. How absurd. How negative. Charging $100,000 per speech, Mr. President, you really need to be more careful to do your homework.

I’d give that part of your speech an F.

The astonishing and surprising truth that former President Clinton’s speech ignores is that, although some business schools may have at one time been a part of the problem, many of them today are building the solutions to social and organizational problems. They are far from perfect. But they are definitely not the unidimensional Profit-as-Monotheistic Religion institutions that Bill Clinton’s speech makes them out to be. 

And that is something not only to be surprised about, but to celebrate.

Journal of Marketing Appointment Announcement

jm_cover.jpgThis blog is getting some “red hot” editorial news about the State of Marketing Scholarship these days. My last post broke the news about the new editorial team at the Journal of Consumer Research (“JCR”).

And here is a very fresh one about the #1 Journal in the Marketing field.

As many of you are aware Gary Frazier is the editor elect of the Journal of Marketing (or “JM”) and will be taking over in July of 2011 from Ajay Kohli. For a while, Ajay, Gary, and Bob Leone have acted as co-editors of the journal. As with JCR, the manuscripts flows in the main journals in our field have been increasing dramatically, necessitating some editorial action to share the workload.

Gary has decided to change the structure of the Journal of Marketing to one that includes Associate Editors (or “AEs”). I think this is a very smart move. AEs at JM will have considerable latitude to make recommendations, but the final decision will always lie with the Editor-in-Chief, that is, Gary. Gary has appointed 16 AEs, some truly excellent people, and I believe he is looking for a couple more.

marketing_journals_411×211.jpgGary has asked me to be an Associate Editor of JM for his term and I have happily accepted. Thank you for the vote of confidence, Gary.

What this means, I believe, is that the Journal of Marketing is institutionalizing a role and a place for Consumer Culture Theory, cultural, or “qualitative” approaches to practical marketing issues in the field. This is big news. It is something that many of us in the CCT field have been working towards for many years. More top tier options for our publications is important to continuing the institutionalization of CCT work as an important and necessary (albeit minority) component of all Marketing Scholarship, Marketing Education, and Marketing Departments.

At the #1 journal in the Marketing field, we now have, perhaps more than ever before, the promise of a real presence and solidified representation at the top of the field.

I think that a look at the past 7 years of cultural work in JM will show that CCT work is getting more and more applied, and offering increasingly powerful pragmatic insights to the marketing industry.

The move is also presenting  a natural place for all types of social media and social media marketing research. One of my personal goals is to raise the quality and profile of research on social media and social media marketing research.

Officially, these will be the areas of the Journal of Marketing that I will have Associate Editor authority over:

Primary (substantive) content area

Internet and social media marketing

Secondary content areas

  1. Word-of-mouth marketing;
  2. entertainment marketing;
  3. brand and product management;
  4. retailing

Methods: 

  • Qualitative/ethnographic (e.g., discourse analysis, semiotics, phenomenological interviews, metaphor analysis),
  • Other methodological orientations as necessary (I am trained and versed in a variety of different methods)

If you do social media research using qualitative methods, you can pretty much guess who is going to be shepherding your work though JM.

So starting in July I will be looking forward to seeing all your best managerially-oriented work sent to us at the Journal of Marketing. I will do my very best to make sure it gets treated fairly or even better, and to publish the best work to keep our field of Marketing moving steadily forward.