Why marketing does not understand sociology

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Why marketing does not understand sociology

We know well that customers are spoiled and their expectations have rightly been on the increase, as ever greater number of product attributes become a must. It has always been a real challenge to satisfy customers throughout the marketing mix and throughout the product lifecycle. For years, marketers have used mainly psychology to interpret consumer behavior. Psychology attempts to understand individuals, while sociology attempts to learn about groups of people. Sociology is a discipline which concerns human society, social relationships and interactions, communities, revolutions, social movements and changes. Sociology can provide a lot of insightful ideas for marketers, for instance whom to target and how customer preferences change over time.
My previous column discussed political correctness in marketing and why it fails. Similarly, marketing must remain focused on homogenous target groups with clearly distinct (demographic, psychographic, geographic, behavioral and/or lifestyle) characteristics. Where sociology makes a compelling point for equal opportunity, non-discrimination, a fair and level-playing field, marketers by definition capitalize on differences and reflect on differing customer desires. Where sociology sits on the side of objectivized universal human rights and needs, marketers rather address a plethora of distinct customer wants. Customer wants may or may not be in line what they need. Some customers just know what they want, some need to be prompted to become aware of what is available and how they can benefit from a particular product or a service.
Sociology by definition seeks to create unity among people and provide non-discriminatory environment for all human beings. In contrast, marketing comfortably uses for instance the wording of price discrimination and seeks to divide the market and rule its various parts separately. Sociology asks too much why things are happening. Traditional marketing does that as well. By asking customers that „why” question, marketers are likely to end up with a long list of semi-rational self-defensive arguments. Many affluent consumers feel guilty for consuming products and services and try to identify excuses for their excessive spending. Something, sociology would perhaps view as an important desirable societal movement. The primary role for marketers, however, is to proactively change human behaviors, learn about deep-rooted non-rational decision-making processes and build a chain of arguments for their brands, products and services to win over competitors.
Some say concisely: business and marketing is by definition more right-wing, whereas sociology stands left on the political spectrum. In a recent public statement, the Hungarian low-cost airline Wizz Air’s CEO Jozsef Varadi advocated it was about time for air carriers to eradicate business class seats, as business class travelers caused almost twice the carbon footprint. As correct as it sounds on the surface, not much can be worse when a business person resumes a position of (political) sociologist. Surely, there have been many other far more environmentally friendly options to travel, especially for short and medium distances. Why not to ban all airlines and allow for trains only? Why shall people be allowed to travel at all? What kind of needs and wants was the CEO trying to stimulate?
Although marketers may benefit from being versed in sociology, we shall not start thinking like sociologists and give up on business acumen. Socially responsible marketing is making a point for consumers who want to spend money to make an assumed positive difference. Resorting to messages which attempt to stop or substantially curb purchasing behaviors would truly bring the domain of marketing above and beyond (sociological) revolution.

Résumé

Proč si marketing nerozumí se sociologií

Marketing je tradičně ze společenských věd spojován spíše s psychologií, která má za cíl porozumět chování jednotlivců. Sociologie jako disciplína se však snaží pochopit chování společnosti či jejích jednotlivých skupin. I v situaci rostoucí personalizace a personifikace se zejména na masových trzích obrací marketing právě na takové dostatečně specifické skupiny kupujících – na zákaznické segmenty. Může být tedy užitečné pochopit základy sociologického přemýšlení a uplatnit z nich některé v marketingovém uvažování. Pozor však na některé základní rozpory mezi sociologickým a marketingovým viděním světa…

Kontakt na autorov/Address

doc. Ing. Pavel Štrach, Ph.D., Ph.D., ŠKODA AUTO Vysoká škola o.p.s., Katedra marketingu a managementu, Na Karmeli 1457, 293 01 Mladá Boleslav, Česká republika, e-mail: [email protected]