Research As a Voyage of Discovery

Alden G. Clayton, Marketing Science Institute, Cambridge
ABSTRACT - The proper leadership role for ACR in the field of consumer behavior research is being re-examined. A position is taken, and supported, that ACR should encourage a broad rather than narrow vista for research, that innovation and creativity should be encouraged, and that the practice of marketing needs continual nourishment from multi-disciplinary research of the type distinctively associated with ACR. It is also proposed that encouragement of multiple streams of inquiry is in the best interest of researchers (to follow their natural interests) and marketing practitioners (who can selectively utilize the new knowledge that emerges from these varied streams).
[ to cite ]:
Alden G. Clayton (1986) ,"Research As a Voyage of Discovery", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 13, eds. Richard J. Lutz, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 425-426.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 13, 1986      Pages 425-426

RESEARCH AS A VOYAGE OF DISCOVERY

Alden G. Clayton, Marketing Science Institute, Cambridge

ABSTRACT -

The proper leadership role for ACR in the field of consumer behavior research is being re-examined. A position is taken, and supported, that ACR should encourage a broad rather than narrow vista for research, that innovation and creativity should be encouraged, and that the practice of marketing needs continual nourishment from multi-disciplinary research of the type distinctively associated with ACR. It is also proposed that encouragement of multiple streams of inquiry is in the best interest of researchers (to follow their natural interests) and marketing practitioners (who can selectively utilize the new knowledge that emerges from these varied streams).

ACR has invited reflection on its current state and its future direction. It has been suggested that "the pendulum has perhaps swung too far in the direction of broadening consumer research" and that because the domain of consumer behavior rests both empirically and definitionally on the effects of marketing activities on consumers, "special sessions and workshops devoted to the study of the effects of marketing variables on consumer behavior" should be encouraged. This point of view implies that the proper field of inquiry for ACE research should be narrowed and focused on issues of direct application to practitioners.

This position paper will argue that the proper domain of consumer behavior research is broad rather than narrow, that marketing has been historically an eclectic discipline that benefits from a flow of ideas, concepts, and theories from outside of its traditional boundaries, and that multi-disciplinary research on all aspects of consumer behavior should be encouraged for its own sake and as a source of applied research for marketing management, thus satisfying both innovators who do not wish to be constrained and practitioners who need fresh insights and new understanding of consumer behavior. Finally, it will be stated that the Association for Consumer Research is the appropriate, in fact the desired agent for encouraging broad inquiry on consumers.

This perspective with respect to research is consistent with a broad view of marketing itself, as expressed by Corey (1983) "Marketing is the function that relates the organization creatively and profitably to its customer environment." If marketing is to fulfill this function in a dynamic and continually changing environment it must also be dynamic and flexible in response. Thus, "marketing variables" identified as of 1985 may not be permanent, and if research attention is paid only to these, important new variables may not be identified and studied

What are the reasons for taking this position? We will examine some key factors.

1. Marketing is an eclectic discipline

The dates and contributions shown in Table 1 have been selected from "The History of Modern Marketing: A Time Line," Evans and Berman (1981). Only those individuals who were clearly from disciplines outside of the traditional academic fields of marketing are listed.

TABLE 1

1857 Ernst Engel: Engle's Law of Consumption

1929 L.L. Thurstone: Thurstone Attitude Measurement Scale

1932 Rensis Likert: Likert Attitude Measurement Scale

1941 W. Lloyd Warner and Paul Lunt: Social Class Structure

1943 Abraham Maslow: Theory of Human Motivation

1948 Paul F. Lazarsfeld, Bernard B. Berelson, Hazel Gaudet: Two-step Flow of Communication

1951 George Katsona: Psychological Analysis of Economic Behavior

1955 Wilbur Schramn: Communications Process Model

1957 Charles Osgood, George J. Suci, Percy Tannenbaum: Semantic Differential

1957 Leon Festinger: Cognitive Dissonance

1958 Fritz Heider: Attribution Theory

1962 Everett Rogers: Diffusion of Innovative Concept Sources

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Other contributions to the field of marketing would include the work on multi-attribute scaling by Fishbein and Rosenberg; "brain-wave" research, originally associated with the study of psychophysiological phenomena (e.g., 'phantom limbs') but recently applied to measurement of advertising response; and the concept of 'corporate culture' from cultural anthropology, originally developed in conjunction with the study of 'primitive' societies now applied to the study of corporate (and individual) behavior. In addition, the many contributions from mathematics have been enormously important and should be recognized.

2. There is a continuing need to enrich and expand marketing knowledge

Top managers have high expectations for marketing. in his study of how top management executives view the marketing function in their firms, Webster (1980) quotes some of the CEO's he interviewed.

"Marketing is the greatest leverage factor in the management mix. It is the mainstream of our business and always has been."

"Marketing is becoming more important due to the rapidly changing environment facing this industry."

"I expect marketing to be the cutting edge of our business. Without it, nothing happens."

"We have taken a very aggressive growth position in our industry. Marketing is the key in the planning system. The undergirding of our resolve to move aggressively was a marketing judgment- Marketing is the key input."

"Marketing is change. Good marketing strategy brings out good technology, good manufacturing facilities, and so on. Good marketing is the glue that holds things together. Marketing is the key to the whole business."

"When I talk about marketing planning, I am talking about the very fundamentaLs of business and strategic planning, the basic selection of markets and products which is the fundamental strategic choice the firm makes."

"To me 80 percent of corporate strategy is marketing strategy and that is the guts of any business plan C how you win or lose in the marketplace based on your marketing decisions."

High expectations, of course, carry a large down-side risk if expectations are not achieved. Thus, some CEOs expressed concerns to Webster about the actual performance of marketing.

"The marketing function has had an inability to readily change direction and to accept new developments."

"Marketing has not provided the proper stimulus for R&D. I'm looking for guys who can find ideas."

"The marketing people have lacked foresight and have not been able to read what the market is going to be. So they run a product right into the ground. Marketing has not been supplying R&D with new product ideas."

"They haven't been as creative or innovative as they should be. For example, ROD and engineering have given them new products but they have not been terribly creative in developing marketing approaches for those new products."

"They haven't shown leadership in changing product orientation and product positioning. There is a real need to break out of the box and come up with fundamentally more challenging approaches. In general terms, marketing people are not risk-takers, not entrepreneurial enough in their approach."

"There is a real tendency for marketing to become ingrained. They are not open-minded, not able to anticipate change in the marketplace and to adjust accordingly, to develop and refine new approaches. They try to solve new problems with traditional marketing approaches."

Clearly, marketing managers need help. They need new ideas, new concepts, new insights about their markets, their consumers, and the changing world around them. These do not normally come from more exhaustive study of existing ideas nor from repeated iteration of conventional analyses. Practitioners need a continuous stream of innovative and creative research in all aspects of consumer behavior from which they can select those which have applications to marketing management. Thus researchers can do "their thing" without feeling pressure that it be "practitioner oriented." The trade-off that such researchers must accept, of course, is the risk that their work may be ignored by practitioners.

3. ACR is the appropriate agent for a broad research agenda on consumer behavior

ACR is one of the few multidisciplinary groups that does serious, high quality research. As science in all fields grows more complex, there is a corresponding need to pool resources and learn together. As stated by Lewis Branscomb (1985), vice-president and chief scientist of the IBM Corporation, "successful science is becoming much more heavily multi and cross-disciplinary, with the role of separate disciplines becoming that of 'gatekeepers' for quality-standards," ACR should continue and, in fact, nourish this tradition. If attention were focused on "marketing variables" much of the interaction and synergy of its multidisciplinary nature could be lost, thus reducing the distinctive value of the Association.

One final observation. The position expressed in this paper with respect to the domains of academic research and practitioner interest C and their areas of overlap C are consistent with the mission of MSI. This has been restated by the Executive and Research Policy Committee of the Board of Trustees (1983) as follows:

"The MSI position at the intersection of the business and academic research worlds embodies several important ideas about the MSI research philosophy.

We very clearly intend to exclude from the MSI research domain many kinds of business research projects that may well have great value to individual companies as well as great intellectual or technical merit C on the grounds that they do not contribute to the development of theory, basic knowledge, or techniques that have a reasonable prospect of being applied (over some reasonable time horizon) to understanding and/or solving marketing problems affecting more than one company or improving marketing education.

We equally clearly intend to exclude from the MSI research domain many kinds of academic projects that may well have great intellectual or technical meritCon the grounds that there is not a clear connection between the subject of the research and its eventual marketing application.

Since there is no precise definition of the boundary of the MSI research domain on either side, periodic questioning is necessary to test our sense of where the boundaries ought to be. Hence the need and value of priority setting, steering committees, mini-conferences, advisory councils, etc., to provide vehicles for collaborative decision making about where the boundaries ought to be for a particular zone of research.

MSI occupies a very special niche in the world of business and academic research. We will always need to reaffirm and to refine our understanding of that niche."

REFERENCES

Branscomb, Lewis M. (1985), Statement of candidate for President-Elect, AAAS.

Corey, E. Raymond (1983), industrial Marketing, Cases and Concepts (3rd Edition), Prentice-Hall.

Evans, Joel R. and Berman, Barry (1981), AMA Marketing News.

MSI Executive and Research Policy Committee (1983), Statement of Policy at May 1983 Trustees Meeting.

Webster, Frederick E. (1980), "Top Management Views of the Marketing Function," MSI Working Paper.

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