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Rethinking Marketing: Andrea Morales

Andrea Morales

Andrea Morales
Arizona State University

What is marketing? Consider the marketing concept: “The key to achieving organizational goals is to get people to buy stuff they don’t need with money they don’t have.” While this is not the real marketing concept, we’ve all met a lot of people who feel this way. When they hear that you teach marketing management, they hear “Trickery & Deceit Management.” That people have this perception is really negative, especially since the real marketing concept is completely antithetical to these perceptions. 

At its core, marketing is about figuring out what people really want and need and to deliver the desired benefits more effectively and efficiently than the competition. Thus, in order to develop better marketing for a better world, we need to think about what this really means. What do customers really want and need? And what does it mean to be more effective?

Asking simple questions like these that get to the core of marketing is easy, but coming up with the answers in real-life situations is difficult. For example, lots of research suggests that what consumers want is to be happier. How can consumer researchers help them achieve that goal? It’s not as straight forward as we tend to treat it; increasing well-being in one domain within an individual often decreases well-being in another domain. This also happens across people, or groups of people, and across time. Eating indulgent foods, for example, might increase happiness in the moment, but at the cost of one’s long term health or in terms of the ability to care for family members.

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I’ve noticed these same tensions in my own research. For example, in recent research my colleagues and I have found that using aesthetic payment forms (e.g., a credit card with a beautiful design on it) increases happiness at the point of purchase. But does it increase well-being? It also increases spending. Is that what people want? Is it making people happier, or worse off? There’s a similar tension in my recent work on edible products that are personalized with people’s photos. You can order M&M’s with a picture of someone’s face on them, for example. People seem to really love buying these personalized candies, but it makes them feel creepy when they actually consume them. 

In the domain of football, people can simultaneously be big fans but also be concerned about brain damage. We’ve found that if you zoom in on the players, it increases sympathy for players and the desire to protect them, but it decreases the desire to watch. Given that football is one of the most popular programs on television, this is a big trade off. Likewise, in some of my research on scheduling and happiness, we’ve found that participating in self-growth activities, such as Spanish class, is more fulfilling than other activities, but they are less enjoyable in the moment. Which is it that people really want?

What I hope is clear is that there is not one definite answer to these questions—the issues and the answers aren’t black and white. But these complex and difficult question are precisely the ones we *should* be asking, and what we’re charged with as researchers is trying to come up with more comprehensive answers to these kinds of questions, so that we can gain the knowledge we need to try and develop better marketing for a better world.

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