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Rethinking Marketing: Roland Rust

Roland T. Rust

Roland Rust
University of Maryland

Marketing can help build a better world in many different ways, some of which are not widely acknowledged in the prosocial research realm. Here are three somewhat overlooked ideas to spark thinking about better marketing for a better world: 

Idea 1: Consumer research should not just be about understanding consumers. Consumer advocacy is also important, for example, via consumers unions, PIRGs, and PACTs. That is, research that furthers the customer interest is important, even if it does not advance our knowledge of the customer. Further, it is relevant to also understand how organizational behavior affects consumers. In other words, understanding how what organizations do affect customer well-being is important, again, even if it does not advance our understanding of how customers behave.

Idea 2: Sometimes marketing for a better world means stopping bad things from happening. This could mean preventing negative occurrences like discrimination in service, privacy violations, or unethical business practice. For example, business practices may produce discriminatory service, even if there is no bigotry.  In addition, privacy violations are a major consumer problem. Big companies get hacked and consumers lose their data, but currently our field is not considering this topic as part of its domain. 


Idea 3: Marketing for a better world is not always about altruism. It’s nice to do nice things for people just to be nice, but often that is insufficient motivation for a company. For example, our field’s previous approach to customer satisfaction was that it was about making consumers happy, just because it was a good thing to do. Then, in my research I looked at how customer satisfaction could increase company profits. The idea of “return on quality” allows a company to improve service not just as altruism, but also as a route to profits. Similarly, research has shown that eliminating group bias in bank lending is actually more profitable. Nothing motivates CEOs like a win-win!

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Roland T. Rust is Distinguished University Professor and David Bruce Smith Chair in Marketing, and Executive Director of the Center for Excellence in Service, Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland, USA.